- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reputation has been damaged in her dispute with the CIA over her prior knowledge of torture of terrorist detainees. It is a self-inflicted wound.

The speaker could have shown a little humility early in the process after press revelations in 2007 exposed that she had been briefed in 2002 on CIA interrogation methods. Instead, she deflected her culpability by saying that she had been briefed only on methods to be used “in the future.” As late as April 23, after the release of the George W. Bush administration’s “torture memos,” Mrs. Pelosi stated: “We were not - I repeat - were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.”

This claim was undermined by a 10-page summary of briefings of congressional officials prepared by the director of national intelligence and released on May 7. It states that Mrs. Pelosi was briefed on the fact that enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) were used on al Qaeda heavyweight Abu Zubaydah as well as on “the particular EITs that had been employed.”

At this point, Mrs. Pelosi could have backed off her original story, claiming faulty memory or dissembling in some other way. Instead, she escalated. At a May 14 press conference, a visibly nervous speaker flatly accused the CIA of misleading Congress. The dispute no longer could be written off as a misunderstanding. She had drawn a line in the sand.

A close reading of her prepared May 14 statement shows that Mrs. Pelosi gave ground. The statement notes that she was “briefed … on some enhanced interrogation techniques,” which neither confirms nor denies that she learned about their use. By omission, she abandoned the stance that she only was told what might be done in the future, with the exception of the politically charged practice of waterboarding.



Therein arises the central factual dispute. Mrs. Pelosi clings to the position that waterboarding was only mentioned in the 2002 briefing to make clear that the technique was not being used. However, a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum revealed that Abu Zubaydah had been subjected to waterboarding in August 2002. Mrs. Pelosi says the failure of the briefers to reveal this the following month constituted “inaccurate and incomplete information.” The intelligence community begs to differ.

Waterboarding aside, we have yet to hear Mrs. Pelosi say which interrogation methods she did learn about. Nine other enhanced techniques were approved for use on Abu Zubaydah: attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation and insects placed in a confinement box. How many of these techniques were described in the 2002 briefing? Did Mrs. Pelosi’s silence on the use of these methods constitute tacit approval? Was “bug in a box” another of those methods Mrs. Pelosi thought was reserved only for future use?

Mrs. Pelosi has tried to establish a pattern of deceit by saying the CIA was misleading Congress “at the same time the administration was misleading the Congress on weapons of mass destruction.” This claim opens the door to examine other examples of the speaker’s penchant for shifting her stories based on political expedience. In June 2006, she said there “was never anything in the intelligence that said Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States, never.” However, on “Meet the Press” on Nov. 17, 2002, she stated that “Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There’s no question about that.”

Mrs. Pelosi cannot claim she was under the spell of Bush-era politicized intelligence because she had made similar statements before Mr. Bush was in office. On Dec. 16, 1998, in the wake of air strikes against Iraq ordered by President Clinton, she stated: “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons-of-mass-destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons-inspection process. The responsibility of the United States in this conflict is to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. …” If there is a pattern of deceit, it is not on the part of the intelligence community.

The Pelosi imbroglio may have given the intelligence community a chance to redeem itself. For years, Mrs. Pelosi was safe behind the secrecy laws that protect ongoing operations and thus free to take stands publicly that seem to contradict her inside knowledge, the scope of which we have yet to learn. Now that she has directly challenged the intelligence community’s integrity, simple justice requires that all cards be revealed. All relevant documentation, from the executive agencies and Congress - particularly the offices of Mrs. Pelosi and other members who were informed about enhanced interrogation techniques - must be opened to public scrutiny. The facts will decide this case, not competing press conferences and selective leaks.

The more we learn, the worse it looks for the speaker.

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