A Director of National Intelligence report on congressional briefings about enhanced interrogation techniques conflicts with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that she was never told that waterboarding would be used on terror suspects.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, indicates that a classified CIA briefing of Mrs. Pelosi included specific details of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah.
“Briefing on EITs included use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed,” the report said of the Sept. 4, 2002, briefing.
The U.S. government acknowledged in the “torture memos” that President Obama declassified last month that the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah included waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning and is widely denounced as torture, 83 times in August 2002, a month before the Pelosi briefing.
Mrs. Pelosi maintains that in the September 2002 classified briefing on CIA techniques, she was told that the agency considered waterboarding to be legal but was never told of any intention to use the technique.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the report does not contradict the California Democrat’s recollection of the briefings.
“As this document shows, the speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used,” he said.
The document emerged on the day that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. acknowledged that prosecuting Bush administration officials involved with its interrogation program could justify prosecutions extending all the way to members of Congress.
But Mr. Holder, who said he was speaking hypothetically about potential prosecutions, was quick to tell members of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that no conclusions have been made regarding the authors of the so-called torture memos. Mr. Holder similarly said that no final decisions have been made about where detainees from the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay will be released.
Republicans have warned that any investigation of Bush administration officials should also look at the approval of top Democrats in Congress, who they say had been briefed on what the CIA was doing but kept silent until it was politically opportune to denounce the practices.
Mr. Holder said he doesn’t want to do anything that would be seen as “political,” but added that his “responsibility as attorney general is to enforce the laws of this nation, and to the extent that we see violations of those laws, we’ll take the appropriate actions.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who expressed opposition to a criminal investigation, questioned just how far such an inquiry could go.
“If you’re going to investigate the lawyers whose opinion was asked about whether this is legal or not, I would assume you could also go to the people who created the techniques, the officials who approved, and the members of Congress who knew about them and may have encouraged them,” Mr. Alexander said.
Mr. Holder did not rule out such actions. “Hypothetically, that might be true, I don’t know,” he said before going on to elaborate on the internal investigation.
“What I want to do is look at in a very concrete way what that report says and get a better sense from that report about what it says about the interaction of those lawyers with people in the administration and see from there whether further action is warranted,” he said.
Mr. Holder has said multiple times previously and reiterated in his testimony Thursday before the subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies that people who carried out the interrogations relying upon legal opinion from the Justice Department will not be prosecuted.
Thursday’s hearing was held days after reports surfaced that an internal Justice Department ethics investigation of its lawyers’ having authorized the controversial interrogation techniques will suggest referrals to bar associations for professional discipline.
Mr. Holder said that report, which is expected to be released in the next several weeks, is not final and he has not reviewed it.
Internal ethics investigations can, but seldom do, suggest criminal prosecutions, and it is still within the attorney general’s authority to commence such prosecutions regardless of what an internal investigation concludes.
Meanwhile, House Republicans submitted a bill that would give individual states a veto over whether to accept Guantanamo detainees in their prisons or allow them to be released onto their streets.
“There are still terrorists around the world who are committed to killing Americans and destroying our way of life. A number of those terrorists are being held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay right now,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “If the administration is allowed to proceed, they won’t be there for long. In fact, they may be right here, in the United States.”
At the hearing, Mr. Holder said the Justice Department will inform state and local officials if it decides to release detainees into the U.S., but would not allow states to prevent the releases. He also said that no detainee who engaged in acts of terrorism will be released into the U.S.
“We are still in the process of making those determinations, making individualized determinations as to where these people should go, and paramount in our concern is the safety of the American people,” Mr. Holder said. “We are not going to put at risk the safety of the people of this country, and any determination we make with regard to the disposition of any of these individuals.”
He said he expects those decisions to be made final within the next few months.