My Words>> I think the Republicans are squirming, and trying to shift the blame~
Pelosi accuses CIA of lying in torture timeline
Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Friday, May 15, 2009
(05-15) 04:00 PDT Washington - -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently said her motto is "The best preparation for combat is combat."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeated her call for appo... View More Images
With both guns blazing at an extraordinary news conference Thursday, the Democrat from San Francisco made good on that, accusing the CIA of lying when the agency said she was told about torture in 2002.
In doing so, Pelosi turned a distraction into a conflagration. She had little choice after two weeks of Republican accusations that it was she who was lying, accompanied by a leaked CIA timeline that said she had been briefed on Sept. 4, 2002, that "enhanced interrogation techniques" - a euphemism for torture - "had been employed."
Democrats quickly closed ranks behind the speaker. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made clear whom she believes.
"I've know Nancy a long time," Feinstein said. "We lived a few houses apart for a couple of decades. I've never known her not to be truthful. Let me put that on the record."
Feinstein had this to say about the CIA, now headed by fellow Californian Leon Panetta of Monterey:
"The CIA on this issue is in a defensive mode. Who knows whether what they're saying is right or wrong? The CIA is not an agency that is above not telling the truth."
Republicans contend that Pelosi had known all along that that top al Qaeda suspects were being harshly interrogated for information on future plots, but only called it torture after the interrogations became public and inflamed her liberal base. They say it is unfair to investigate former Bush officials if Pelosi was also complicit.
Pelosi waited for her regular weekly news conference to address the issue, after a trip to Iraq had left unanswered for nearly a week media reports fueled primarily by GOP sources making accusations.
"Yes, I am saying that they are misleading - that the CIA was misleading the Congress," Pelosi said. She said she would "be very happy" if the CIA would release the notes from the 2002 briefing so that everyone could see for themselves. She repeated her call for a truth commission to air the facts.
Rare political damage
There is little doubt that Pelosi has sustained rare political damage, with even liberal late-night comedian Jon Stewart joking about her claim that Bush officials told her they had legal grounds to use torture but had not actually used it. The uproar has arrived at a delicate juncture when Pelosi faces a daunting challenge enacting President Obama's first-year agenda, including health care reform.
Yet those who think Pelosi is in any danger of being driven from power, in the manner of such past speakers as Newt Gingrich or Jim Wright, underestimate her strength, steadily cultivated over 22 years in Congress since arriving as a San Francisco backbencher in 1987. Pelosi's hallmark achievement has been to unify Democrats, not just her Bay Area allies but conservative Southern and rural Democrats. There is no sign that they will abandon her now.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, a top Pelosi confidant, said it was "ludicrous" to think Pelosi is in any political danger. "Obviously, it's an attempt by the architects and promoters of torture to try somehow to shift the blame to Democrats when for six, seven years, this is what they did," Miller said. "She's made her statement, and she made her record very clear."
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said he was "a little shocked" when asked three days ago whether Pelosi was in trouble. So Thursday, as the Pelosi news conference was blaring on every cable TV network, he said, "I've been asking around on the (House) floor, and people just look at me like I'm nuts."
If anything, Pelosi's no-prisoners stance may build support for the truth commission she has advocated to determine how decisions about the wars in Iraq and on terror were made. Her call for such a commission last month touched off the storm that has now engulfed her.
Pelosi accused the Bush administration of "misinforming" Congress not only about torture but about weapons of mass destruction as a way of pushing its war agenda with minimal interference from Congress.
"Let's get it straight," she said. "The Bush administration has conceived a policy. The CIA comes to the Congress, withholds information about the timing and the use of (torture). We later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions and told us that they were not being used."
GOP leader's perspective
Republican House leader John Boehner of Ohio said Pelosi's responses "continue to raise more questions than provide answers." He said it is "hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress."
Marc Sandalow, former Washington bureau chief for The Chronicle who covered Pelosi for 20 years and wrote her biography, "Madame Speaker," in 2008, said that what is clear is that "somebody's not telling the truth, either Nancy Pelosi or somebody at the CIA. And there is nothing in Nancy Pelosi's long public history to suggest that she lies. Hardball politics, yes. Lying, no."
Pelosi is also a notorious stickler for protocol. It comes as little surprise that she would leave it to her successor on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice (Los Angeles County), to send a letter to the White House objecting to the techniques after a later and apparently more complete briefing on Feb. 5, 2003, which Pelosi's national security aide attended.
Feinstein has opened what she expects to be a six- to eight-month Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the interrogations. She opposes a truth commission because her committee can look at secret documents and take less time. With a commission, she said, "I don't think you'll really get a professional job. I think you'll get a very controversial work product. Now, our work product may be controversial, but it will be sound."
Echoing the concerns of many members on the House and Senate intelligence committees, she said her own experience with CIA briefings is that they tend to be "very bland, very theoretical and with very little said. You cannot take notes. ... There is no opportunity for a lot of questions."
Push to expand briefings
Feinstein and others are pushing legislation to expand such briefings to the full intelligence committees, including professional staff. Some experts concur that limiting briefings to as few as four members of Congress who are sworn to absolute secrecy obstructs Congress' obligation to oversee the executive branch.
The controversy puts Panetta in a difficult spot, defending the CIA against a fellow Californian. In a letter accompanying the timeline that implicates Pelosi, Panetta said the information is based on the best recollections of the CIA briefers at the time and may not be accurate.