15 May 2009

Pelosi Escalates War With CIA

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The Washington Post provides sideline commentary on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surprising decision to reiterate her claims that the CIA did not brief her on enhanced interrogation techniques, climbing further out on her own personal limb and handing irritated spooks in Langley a saw.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s extraordinary accusation that the Bush administration lied to Congress about the use of harsh interrogation techniques dramatically raised the stakes in the growing debate over the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies even as it raised some questions about the speaker’s credibility.

Pelosi’s performance in the Capitol was either a calculated escalation of a long-running feud with the Bush administration or a reckless act by a politician whose word had been called into question. Perhaps it was both.

For the first time, Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged that in 2003 she was informed by an aide that the CIA had told others in Congress that officials had used waterboarding during interrogations. But she insisted, contrary to CIA accounts, that she was not told about waterboarding during a September 2002 briefing by agency officials. Asked whether she was accusing the CIA of lying, she replied, “Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States.”

Washington now is engaged in a battle royal of finger-pointing, second-guessing and self-defense, all over techniques President Obama banned in the first days of his administration. Both sides in this debate believe they have something to prove — and gain — by keeping the fight alive.

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The much more conservative Washington Times essentially invites the CIA to leak some more and saw off the Speaker’s limb.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew a line in the sand at her news conference yesterday. In her bluntest language yet, she said she was never briefed about detainee waterboarding and accused the CIA of misleading Congress. Time will tell who is misleading whom.

Mrs. Pelosi’s carefully worded prepared statement admitted that in September 2002 the CIA briefed her on “some enhanced interrogation techniques,” known in some quarters as torture. She did not specify whether the briefers said the techniques were being used but noted that only waterboarding was singled out as not being used.

This new take is interesting. On the Feb. 25 “Rachel Maddow Show,” Mrs. Pelosi stated, “I can say, flat out, they never told us that these enhancement interrogations were being used … . They did not brief us with these enhanced interrogations that were taking place. They did not brief us.” Although this seems to contradict her current version of events, there is enough ambiguity in yesterday’s statement to leave the question open. Perhaps that was the speaker’s intention.

The confusion, she says, is the CIA’s fault. “The CIA was misleading the Congress,” she declared. However, one member of the intelligence community told The Washington Times that Mrs. Pelosi was “playing with fire.” The CIA will have saved documents that prove the case either way. “They know better after Iraq,” our source said. “They’re smarter than that now. All that stuff is saved. Nobody’s stupid.”

Mrs. Pelosi’s shifting story line is disturbing. She has accused the CIA of misleading Congress, but her full public record of statements on this issue seems misleading at best. She states that she “takes very seriously” her oath not to release classified information, but as we editorialized April 28, the cloak of government secrecy exists to protect agents who defend the United States, not to shield members of Congress from public inquiries about their records.

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