Friday, May 22, 2009

Pelosi Says She Stands by Previous Statement on CIA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by her statement that the Central Intelligence Agency misled Congress about harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists and refused to discuss the political controversy triggered by her assertion.

“I stand by my comment,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, said today at a news conference in Washington. “I have made the statement that I’m going to make” and “I won’t have anything more to say about that.”

Pelosi’s May 14 assertion escalated a political dispute over her insistence that she had never been briefed in 2002 about the use of waterboarding to simulate near-drowning. It drew a rebuttal from CIA Director Leon Panetta that Congress was “briefed truthfully.”

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio has challenged Pelosi to either produce evidence to support her claim or retract her assertion that the CIA “misrepresented every step of the way” its use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists.

Yesterday, House Democrats blocked a Republican attempt to force a vote to authorize a bipartisan investigation of Pelosi’s charge.

As she left the room today, the speaker didn’t respond to a question by a reporter who asked why there would be any harm in such a review of her charge. Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for the speaker, told the reporter the question was inappropriate.

‘First Important Element’

Asked the same question, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, California Democrat Xavier Becerra, said that finding out “what happened with regard to torture” is “the first important element” of any inquiry into alleged CIA abuses of detainees during the Bush administration.

“We need to first get to the bottom of what the administration did so we can forever convincingly tell the world we don’t torture,” Becerra said. “The focus will be on torture.”

He described the Republican attacks as an attempt to divert attention from the allegations of CIA abuse during the prior administration.

Pelosi, an outspoken critic of Bush administration treatment of suspected al-Qaeda operatives seized after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has faced questions about what she knew about the spy agency’s interrogation tactics. The CIA used waterboarding to question three al-Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody.

The controversy escalated last week when Pelosi accused the CIA of misleading Congress. She says she was only told that Bush administration lawyers had decided waterboarding was legal, not that the technique was being used.

George Little, a CIA spokesman, declined to comment today on Pelosi’s most recent statement.