Rep. Jane Harman, facing a likely primary challenge from the left flank of the Democratic Party, was one of the only lawmakers in 2003 to challenge the CIA’s program of harsh interrogations, according to a little-noticed letter to the CIA that was declassified last year.
The California Democrat’s position contrasts with that of a longtime colleague and rival, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mrs. Pelosi has in the past two weeks said she was powerless to stop the interrogation program, which critics say included torture, and that she was never told that the program was actually being implemented.
Mrs. Harman, on the other hand, did voice some objections in 2003.
A Feb. 10, 2003, letter she sent to the CIA said that the interrogation program “raises profound policy questions and I am concerned about whether these have been as rigorously examined as the legal questions. I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined.”
In the letter, she also urged the CIA not to destroy tapes of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda operative said to have been waterboarded, after an inquiry by the CIA’s inspector general.
These positions and also objections she raised in December 2005 to the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program paint a different picture of a lawmaker that some Democrats have said hews too closely to Republican positions on national security. Mrs. Harman supported the 2003 Iraq war and resisted proposals to withdraw entirely from Iraq in 2006 and 2007 - a position that undermined her efforts to become chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence after Democrats won a majority.
She is expected to face a primary challenge from the president of the Los Angeles chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, Marcy Winograd, who has established an exploratory committee with an eye on a run against Mrs. Harman in 2010. Mrs. Harman defeated Ms. Winograd in 2006.
Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, said Monday the 2003 exchange between Mrs. Harman and the CIA “is further evidence that Congress, rather than having approved CIA torture, was not properly briefed and was largely kept in the dark.”
He added, “The fact that congresswoman Harman raised questions about the CIAs treatment of detainees provides yet more support for a full investigation into the Bush administration’s authorization of torture.”
Ms. Harman sent the letter to Scott Muller, general counsel of the CIA, without informing the House intelligence panel’s chairman, Rep. Porter Goss, Florida Republican, who went on to become CIA director in 2005.
Some press accounts have speculated that Mr. Goss ordered an investigation in 2005 of Mrs. Harman after she popped up on an electronic surveillance of a purported unidentified Israeli spy.
The purported Israeli operative offered to help Ms. Harman in her quest to secure the chairmanship of the intelligence committee, suggesting that in return, she could help persuade the Justice Department to drop the investigation of two pro-Israel lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman. She never accepted the deal, ending the conversation abruptly, saying, “This conversation is over.” The case against Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman, charged with obtaining and leaking classified information, was dropped last week.
A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of not being named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Mrs. Harman’s query was one of very few the CIA received about the program from members of Congress at the time.
The ranking Republican and former chairman of the House intelligence panel, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan confirmed this. He said Monday, “Harman at least raised some questions. And as far as I can tell, and as far as the comments from the current speaker goes, Nancy Pelosi did nothing because she felt powerless.”
Mrs. Pelosi prevented Mrs. Harman from becoming chairman of the intelligence committee in 2006, an abrogation of a deal Mrs. Harman said she had struck with former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.