Pelosi knew of waterboarding in 2003

Accusations of hypocrisy follow disclosure

By Carl Hulse
New York Times / May 15, 2009
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WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged yesterday for the first time that she knew by early 2003 that the Central Intelligence Agency had subjected terror detainees to waterboarding but saw little recourse to challenge the practice except by achieving Democratic control of Congress and the White House.

Pelosi offered her account at a tense news conference as she was pressed for a full accounting of when she became aware that the Bush administration sanctioned harsh interrogation methods

The issue is emerging as one of the toughest tests of Pelosi's tenure, as she finds herself fending off accusations of hypocrisy from Republicans for criticizing the interrogation methods when she had known about them and from liberal critics who say that she should have raised the alarm earlier. In her roles as both Democratic leader after 2004 and then speaker after Democrats won control of the House in 2006, Pelosi has been an outspoken critic of the administration's treatment of detainees, saying the specter of torture had damaged the nation's reputation and imperiled US forces.

It was disclosed, however, in late 2007 that, as the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Pelosi had been briefed to some degree on the interrogation methods.

Pelosi, a Democrat from California, was at a CIA briefing in September 2002 that a recently released CIA account says included discussion of techniques that "had been used" against a terror suspect.

That briefing was the only one that Pelosi attended in person, and yesterday Pelosi repeated her assertion yesterday that the only mention of waterboarding during the session was that while it was deemed to be legal, the technique was not being used.

"We later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions and told us that they were not being used," she said.

But Pelosi went on to acknowledge that she had been told five months later, in February 2003, that top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed on the use of tough interrogation methods on terror suspects, including waterboarding.

Pelosi said the account had been provided by a staff member who attended the briefing. She said she did not speak out at the time because of secrecy rules and contended that her silence did not make her complicit in any abuse of detainees.

"The speaker's comments continue to raise more questions than provide answers," said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio and the Republican leader. "It's pretty clear that they were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were; they were well aware that they'd been used; and it seems to me that they want to have it both ways. You can't have it both ways."

Other Republicans have sought to drive the point home, suggesting that Pelosi tacitly supported the interrogation techniques in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks but sought to back away when disclosures about mistreatment of detainees shifted public opinion.

"We know that if the CIA proposes something that we believe is wrong, we could do something about it," said Senator Christopher S. Bond, a Republican from Missouri and a senior member of the Senate intelligence panel, "It's no excuse to say that I was powerless."

The controversy swirled around Pelosi as the CIA revealed yesterday it had rejected former Vice President Dick Cheney's request to release secret memos judging whether waterboarding and other harsh techniques had succeeded in securing valuable intelligence information. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the request was turned down because the documents are the subject of pending litigation.