Pelosi's Tortured Explanation

Debra J. Saunders

4/30/2009 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been pushing for a "truth commission" to investigate the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding -- until Republicans started shining the spotlight on Pelosi herself. Now she is not so adamant.

Spokesman Brendan Daly told me that Pelosi wants a truth commission, "but she still realizes the political reality" -- as in the opposition of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The rest of the reality may well be this: Pelosi knew that White House lawyers had sanctioned waterboarding in 2002 -- and did not protest.

According to the Senate Intelligence committee, the CIA briefed Pelosi, then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah -- who was waterboarded -- in 2002.

The Washington Post reported in 2007 that the 2002 briefing provided Pelosi and company with a "virtual tour" of interrogation techniques. At the time of the story, a congressional source speaking for Pelosi, however, told the Post that Pelosi thought waterboarding was in the planning stages. The source admitted Pelosi did not object.

Who then is Pelosi to go after Bush lawyers for sanctioning waterboarding, which she now refers to as torture? This is what Pelosi told reporters last week: "We were not -- I repeat -- we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used." Yes, the Bush Office of Legal Counsel said the techniques "could be used," she explained, "but not that they would."

So Pelosi thought that just because the Bushies were sticking out their necks and authorizing the CIA's use of waterboarding, that did not mean the CIA would use it. And the Democrats called George W. Bush dim and ineffective?

Note that Pelosi used the term "enhanced interrogation methods" when referring to her CIA briefing. Not torture. On Tuesday, Pelosi added a twist to the story. She told CNN that the briefers "said they had a legal opinion they said they weren't going to use and when they did they would come back to Congress to report to us on that."

Daly added, "There's really not a whole lot you can do when you're being briefed" and you're a member of the minority. Then what is the point of having a bipartisan intelligence committee? Why not just buy a rubber stamp? Porter Goss, the House Intelligence Committee chairman in 2002 who went on to become director of the CIA has a different recollection. As he wrote in the Washington Post, he, Pelosi and the ranking Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed extensively, "understood what the CIA was doing," and "gave the CIA our bipartisan support." Goss was "slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were actually to be employed."

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, has called on the director of national intelligence to release complete CIA briefing documents -- including information as to who attended and what was said, so that Americans will know what congressional leaders like Pelosi knew. Daly told me that Pelosi supports that effort, as she generally believes in transparency.

Good riddance to a "truth commission." It's pretty sickening to think some Democrats have been poised to investigate and possibly prosecute those who sanctioned waterboarding in 2002. Yet when Pelosi knew the White House was pushing it, she did not try to move heaven and earth to make sure it never happened.