Friday, May 15, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew a line in the sand at her news conference yesterday. In her bluntest language yet, she said she was never briefed about detainee waterboarding and accused the CIA of misleading Congress. Time will tell who is misleading whom.

Mrs. Pelosi’s carefully worded prepared statement admitted that in September 2002 the CIA briefed her on “some enhanced interrogation techniques,” known in some quarters as torture. She did not specify whether the briefers said the techniques were being used but noted that only waterboarding was singled out as not being used.

This new take is interesting. On the Feb. 25 “Rachel Maddow Show,” Mrs. Pelosi stated, “I can say, flat out, they never told us that these enhancement interrogations were being used … . They did not brief us with these enhanced interrogations that were taking place. They did not brief us.” Although this seems to contradict her current version of events, there is enough ambiguity in yesterday’s statement to leave the question open. Perhaps that was the speaker’s intention.

The confusion, she says, is the CIA’s fault. “The CIA was misleading the Congress,” she declared. However, one member of the intelligence community told The Washington Times that Mrs. Pelosi was “playing with fire.” The CIA will have saved documents that prove the case either way. “They know better after Iraq,” our source said. “They’re smarter than that now. All that stuff is saved. Nobody’s stupid.”

Mrs. Pelosi’s shifting story line is disturbing. She has accused the CIA of misleading Congress, but her full public record of statements on this issue seems misleading at best. She states that she “takes very seriously” her oath not to release classified information, but as we editorialized April 28, the cloak of government secrecy exists to protect agents who defend the United States, not to shield members of Congress from public inquiries about their records.

We reiterate the need for a comprehensive accounting and release of documents related to all classified briefings, private information sessions, facility tours and other relevant actions that took place with respect to detainees from Sept. 11, 2001, forward. The public should be allowed to see any relevant notes, e-mails or other documentation generated by any members of Congress or their staffs related to these briefings. This process, if fairly executed, may separate truth from fiction, clarify foggy memories and expose those motivated more by political expediency than deeply held ideals.

In April 2007, Mrs. Pelosi criticized then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for reportedly false statements he had made regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006. She said, “The nation cannot have a chief law enforcement officer whose candor and judgment are in serious question.” Mr. Gonzales later resigned. The speaker should be held to her own standards. The nation cannot have a speaker of the House whose candor and judgment are in serious question. Mrs. Pelosi should safeguard her authority and the integrity of the House by coming clean about what she knew or when she knew it.

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