As we said before: Whatever the specifics of exactly what was and wasn’t said during the September 2002 CIA briefing that Nancy Pelosi received about enhanced interrogation techniques, it seems clear that she was given enough information to conclude that we either had already conducted waterboarding and other harsh techniques, or that we very well might in the near future.
So the more important question, which seems to be getting less attention today, is what Pelosi did in response. And the short answer appears to be: very little.
The briefing was first reported by the Washington Post in December 2007, which revealed that lawmakers including Pelosi were given “a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.”
And Porter Goss, who attended that same briefing as the intelligence committee chair — and admittedly isn’t exactly an honest broker here — told the paper: “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”
The Post added:
With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter.
That exception refers to a 2003 classified letter sent to the CIA as an official protest by Rep. Jane Harman, who succeeded Pelosi as the ranking Democrat on the intel committee.
And later in the story, the Post reports:
Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi’s position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage — they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice — and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.
So it appears that Pelosi — who would leave the intel committee at the end of 2002 to become minority leader — did little.
Now, there are some significant caveats here:
- That same story also notes:
Congressional officials say the groups’ ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs. And while various officials have described the briefings as detailed and graphic, it is unclear precisely what members were told about waterboarding and how it is conducted. Several officials familiar with the briefings also recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.
In other words, we don’t know exactly what Pelosi was told, she couldn’t talk to lawyers or her staff, and there was legitimate fear of another attack.
Still, Harman, for instance — who admittedly seems to have received a more detailed briefing — sent a classified letter of protest. So it’s not true to say there was nothing whatsoever that Pelosi could have done.
Here’s the larger point: Whatever we end up finding out about the specifics of what was and wasn’t said in that briefing, it already seems clear that Pelosi didn’t do all that she could have. Of course, that’s not an argument — as some Republican torture supporters seem to think — against a full investigation into how these techniques were developed and approved. In fact, it’s yet another good reason why such a probe is exactly what we need.