What Did Pelosi Know About Torture And What Could She Have Done About It?

ABC News reported last night that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was “was briefed on the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah in September 2002,” according to a documents prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The documents appear to contradict Pelosi’s previous claims that she did not know that the Bush administration had employed the “enhanced interrogation techniques” authorized by the Office of Legal Counsel.

In a February 25 interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Pelosi explained what she knew about the Bush administration’s use of torture, saying that she had been briefed but was not told that the techniques had been used:

PELOSI: They did not brief us that these enhanced interrogations were taking place. They were talking about an array of interrogations that they might have at their disposal. … We were never told they were being used. … The inference to be drawn from what they told us was that these are things that we think could be legal. … But they never told us that they were being used.

Watch it:

Pelsoi’s spokesperson, Brendan Daly, reiterated this position yesterday, stating, “As this document shows, the speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not been used.” But in a one-sentence description of the meeting, the CIA document states the Pelosi was given a “description of enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used on Abu Zubaydah. Based on Daly’s statement, it appears that Pelosi was in fact aware that at least some of the “enhanced techniques” — though not waterboarding — had been used.


That said, in a letter accompanying the new documents, CIA Director Leon Panetta explains that it is possible that the CIA’s description of the briefing is inaccurate. Panetta explains that its report is based on the “best recollections” of those in attendance and states that the Senate Intelligence Committee, to whom they sent the report, “will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened”:

While it remains unclear what Pelosi knew and when she knew it, it should not be forgotten that Pelosi did not write the memos authorizing the use of torture or carry that torture out; the Bush administration did. Further, the CIA briefed Pelosi without staff, told her their practices were legal, and forbade her from discussing the meeting with colleagues. As such, Pelosi could not work to “outlaw the practices.” Marc Ambinder notes that the only way Pelosi could have registered her objections at that time was to “walk out of the briefing, telling those CIA officials who came that what she just heard did not constitute a formal briefing.” The result? The CIA would have simply tried to re-brief her at a later date, but the Bush administration would have continued to carry out torture anyways.