- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she had no recourse to stop the use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding after receiving a classified briefing from the CIA in 2002 - an explanation the top Republican on the House intelligence committee called “the lamest of lame excuses.”

As scrutiny over who knew what about the controversial tactics has turned back to Congress, Mrs. Pelosi sought to distance herself from revelations that she and other key Democrats were kept in the loop by the CIA between 2002 and 2006.

“But don’t leave anybody with the impression that some of the things that they were doing, that there was something that was tacitly or in any way received approval from us,” she said.

Mrs. Pelosi, who was briefed by the agency as the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, suggested that the current system - in which sensitive information is shared chiefly with only the top members of the House and Senate intelligence committees - needs tweaking so that all members of the committees have the same information.

“They don’t come in to consult. They come in to notify,” she said. “You can’t change what they’re doing unless you can act as a committee or as a class.”

As for charges the lawmakers could have sought to cut off funding if they disapproved of the tactics, she noted that the Appropriations Committee ultimately has that authority.

But Rep. Peter Hoekstra, currently the ranking Republican on the House intelligence panel, described her comments as the “lamest of lame excuses,” saying she could have gone to then-Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt to discuss her concerns.

“The minority leader has the same type of clearances that she has,” said Mr. Hoekstra, of Michigan. “Guess what - so does the president.”

Within the past three years, Mr. Hoekstra said he “can think of at least specifically three or four cases” in which he raised concerns about an issue with Minority Leader John A. Boehner or former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. In a couple of instances, he was granted an audience with then President Bush.

“Last time I checked, the appropriators were part of the House of Representatives,” he said when asked about the intelligence panel’s influence over funding decisions.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, ranking member of the Senate intelligence panel, called Mrs. Pelosi’s comments “frightening.”

“The idea that a 10-year veteran of the intelligence committee would just rubber-stamp a program she thought was illegal or morally wrong is frightening, especially when the claim comes from a member who has never been afraid to challenge publicly the Bush administration,” said Mr. Bond, Missouri Republican. “As members of Congress we have the constitutional authority and responsibility to take serious our oversight role.”

The offices of current intelligence chiefs Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, declined to comment on the Pelosi remarks. Mrs. Pelosi also said some members would prefer not to get such briefings so they could raise public objections. She did not say how they would know about classified details without the briefings.

Several Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have called on President Obama to release more information regarding the interrogation techniques and the success of the program. Mr. Hoekstra has asked for an unclassified list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who were briefed on the techniques.

Mrs. Pelosi is one of several prominent Democrats, including Mrs. Feinstein, who is open to the possible prosecution of Bush administration officials who signed off on the use of the techniques, which Mr. Obama has deemed torture. Mr. Obama, who previously said he was opposed to such prosecution, now said it is up to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

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