Monday, May 11, 2009

What Congress Knew about interrogation techniques but now denies knowing

Pelosi... Rockefeller ... They were present at briefings about interrogation techniques. Madam Pelosi says she was never informed. And Senator Rockefeller claims the same. She can go on the Sunday news talk shows to answer questions and clear this understanding. Oh. She was suddenly called to Iraq, so she is not available. How inconvenient. What Congress Knew - On September 4, 2002, Porter Goss, then the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democratic member, were given a classified briefing by the CIA on what the Agency calls "enhanced interrogation techniques," or, in persistent media parlance, "torture." In particular, the CIA briefed the members on the use of these techniques on Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan the previous March. Abu Zubaydah was a name the future Speaker was already familiar with. That spring, information obtained from the terrorist had the FBI and other government agencies scrambling to prevent possible attacks on the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. It wasn't clear whether Abu Zubaydah was being truthful. "He is also very skilled at avoiding interrogation," Ms. Pelosi was quoted in Time magazine. "He is an agent of disinformation." It is precisely for such reasons that the CIA resorted to its enhanced techniques later that year, after gaining legal authorization. These days, Speaker Pelosi insists she heard and saw no evil. "We were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used," she told reporters late last month. "What they did tell us is that they had . . . the Office of Legal Counsel opinions [and] that they could be used, but not that they would." That doesn't square with the memory of Mr. Goss, who has noted that "we were briefed, and we certainly understood what the CIA was doing," adding that "Not only was there no objection, there was actually concern about whether the agency was doing enough." Ms. Pelosi's denials are also difficult to square with a chronology of 40 CIA briefings to Congressional Members compiled by the CIA and released this week by Director Leon Panetta... ... Amusingly, or almost, Senator Rockefeller's denial is flatly contradicted by his own report on the subject released last month, which notes that "On May 19, 2008, the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency provided the Committee with access to all opinions and a number of other documents prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel . . . concerning the legality of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. Five of these documents provided addressed the use of waterboarding." So much for the canard that the Bush Administration didn't keep Congress informed. But Congressional Democrats are being equally disingenuous when they pretend they could do nothing about what they were hearing from the CIA. Members could, and sometimes did, object to proposed CIA actions and could stop them in their tracks.

More importantly, Congress had the power of the purse. Pete Hoekstra, the House Committee's current ranking member, tells us there was "pretty bipartisan support for the authorization bills and the funding bills," at least until the issue blew wide in the pages of the press. Latter-day opponents of the interrogation techniques, he adds, "never used a tool that was available to them if they wanted to stop them."

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