Friday, May 15, 2009

Panetta Says CIA Agents ‘Truthfully’ Briefed Pelosi

Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta disputed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s charge that the CIA misled her about interrogation tactics, saying officers of the spy agency “briefed truthfully” in 2002.

In a message to CIA employees today, Panetta cited a chart of congressional briefings that showed Pelosi was present for a Sept. 4, 2002, discussion of tactics used to interrogate suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah.

“Our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed,’” Panetta said.

Pelosi insists she was never told that waterboarding, a technique to simulate drowning, was used on Zubaydah. She accused the CIA of misleading Congress and giving her “incomplete and inaccurate” information.

Asked yesterday if she was accusing the CIA of lying, the speaker replied: “Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States.”

Panetta’s memo to CIA employees said that “it is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values.” He said, “Ultimately it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.”

‘New Decibel Level’

A former member of Congress who, like Pelosi, is a California Democrat, Panetta told his CIA colleagues that while “there is a long tradition in Washington of making political hay out of our business,” the “debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.”

“Ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission,” Panetta said.

Pelosi responded with a statement late today blaming the Bush administration, not “the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community.”

“My criticism of the manner in which the Bush administration did not appropriately inform Congress is separate from my respect for those in the intelligence community who work to keep our country safe,” Pelosi said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to say whether the Obama administration agreed with Pelosi’s charge. “The best thing we can do is look forward,” Gibbs said.

Waterboarding Mention

During her Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, Pelosi said “the only mention of waterboarding” during the 2002 briefing “was that it was not being employed.”

Pelosi said waterboarding was discussed only as a tactic that Justice Department lawyers had declared was a legal technique for trying to extract intelligence from suspected al- Qaeda operatives.

A CIA chart of congressional briefings about interrogations that was disclosed last week showed that Pelosi, then the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed along with the panel’s Republican chairman, Porter Goss, later a CIA director. The chart “summarized the best recollections” of the CIA briefers, the agency said in a letter to the committee.

Interrogation Techniques

The Sept. 4, 2002, entry says that the briefing included “a description of the particular” enhanced interrogation techniques “that had been employed.”

Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times during the month preceding the briefing Pelosi attended, according to a 2005 Justice Department memo released last month.

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland declined yesterday to support Pelosi’s charge when asked about it on the House floor by Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia.

“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Hoyer said. “I don’t draw that conclusion.”

In a statement today, Hoyer said: “I have known Speaker Pelosi for more than 45 years, and I believe her. The Republicans’ focus on what she knew and when is a political distraction meant to divert attention from the question of whether the Bush administration allowed torture to be used.”

Graham Comments

Former Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham said in an interview on MSNBC today that when he was briefed, “about three weeks after the speaker,” the subject of waterboarding or treatment of any detainee didn’t come up. At the time, Graham was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The disclosure of Justice Department memos authorizing harsh interrogation tactics sparked the partisan debate over whether Pelosi and other lawmakers should have taken steps to stop the practices.

Pelosi supports creation of a truth commission to investigate the CIA’s treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects. Republicans accuse her of hypocrisy, saying she knew since 2002 the spy agency was using such tactics and didn’t protest.

The speaker acknowledged for the first time yesterday that she was told in February 2003 that the CIA waterboarded suspected al-Qaeda operatives. Pelosi said she learned of that from an aide, who attended a briefing for other lawmakers who were briefed by the CIA.

Pelosi said she didn’t object because Representative Jane Harman, who replace her as ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, “wrote the appropriate letter to protest that.”