House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her eyes wide, her hands gesticulating wildly, on Thursday laid out a third version of what she knew and when she knew it about the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, edging ever closer to debating what the meaning of the word “is” is.
With even her own second-in-command now demanding more answers, the California Democrat, her voice barely audible at times, read a rambling statement at her weekly press briefing about her prior knowledge of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) employed under President Bush, insisting that she was not told in a September 2002 briefing that the U.S. government used waterboarding.
Minutes later, though, she acknowledged for the first time that her top security adviser had learned details of a February 2003 briefing in which lawmakers were told that American interrogators were in fact waterboarding suspected terrorists.
“My statement is clear, and let me read it again. Let me read it again. I’m sorry. I have to find the page,” said a flustered Mrs. Pelosi, shuffling through papers, her hands quivering a bit, as she sought to stick to her prepared text.
“When — when — when my staff person — I’m sorry, the page is out of order — five months later, my staff person told me that there had been a briefing — informing that there had been a briefing and that a letter had been sent. I was not briefed on what was in that briefing; I was just informed that the briefing had taken place,” she said.
The speaker’s weekly press conference drew a standing-room-only crowd of reporters tracking the steady drip, drip, drip of revelations that have come out over the past several weeks. Dressed in a key-lime green pantsuit and smiling broadly, Mr. Pelosi charged that the CIA lied to Congress and that House Republicans are using her as “a diversionary tactic” to deflect criticism from Mr. Bush.
Aside from not being briefed on what was in that briefing, she said she was very busy at the time — “I was fighting the war in Iraq at that point, too, you know” — and battling a Bush administration that was “misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
Repeatedly clearing her throat, she explained that she was briefed by the CIA in 2002, while on the House intelligence committee. Agency records indicate the Sept. 4 briefing included “a description of the particular EITs that had been employed” on al Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah, then the only suspected terrorist in U.S. custody. The previous month, he had been waterboarded a form of simulated drowning President Obama has declared is torture 82 times.
But the speaker said Thursday that “the only mention of waterboarding was that the briefing in the briefing was that it was not being employed.”
“Five months later, in February 2003,” she said, “a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member of the intelligence committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.”
But she later took issue with her own words.
In a press conference last month, the speaker said she never knew about waterboarding. “Why did you tell us at the press conference —” one reporter said Thursday before being cut off by an agitated Mrs. Pelosi.
“Well, I told you what our briefing was. And our briefing was… We were told — in the briefing that I received, we were told that they had legal opinions that this was legal. We were not told that it was. … And we were told specifically that waterboarding was not being used.View Entire Story
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