WASHINGTON – Under strong attack from Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA and Bush administration of misleading her about waterboarding detainees in the war on terror and sharply rebutted claims she was complicit in its use.
“To the contrary . . . we were told explicitly that waterboarding was not being used,” she told reporters, referring to a formal CIA briefing she received in the fall of 2002.
Pelosi said she subsequently learned that other lawmakers were told several months later by the CIA about the use of waterboarding.
“I wasn’t briefed, I was informed that somebody else had been briefed about it,” she said.
The House’s top Democrat made her comments at a news conference where she was peppered with questions about her knowledge of a technique she and others have called torture. Republicans have insisted in recent weeks that she and other Democrats knew waterboarding was in use, but made no attempt to protest.
Pelosi renewed her call for a so-called truth commission to investigate the events in the Bush administration that led to the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. While President Barack Obama has banned waterboarding, calling it torture, he has been notably cool toward an independent inquiry that might distract attention from his domestic agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also has expressed opposition, as have congressional Republicans.
Pelosi was particularly harsh in describing the CIA.
“They mislead us all the time,” she said. And when a reporter asked whether the agency lied, she did not disagree.
She also suggested that the current Republican criticism marked an attempt to divert attention from the Bush administration’s actions.
“They misrepresented every step of the way, and they don’t want that focus on them, so they try to turn the focus on us,” she said.
Pelosi contended that Democrats did what they could to stop the use of waterboarding. The senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who received the 2003 briefing on the practice, sent the CIA a formal letter of protest, she said.
But Pelosi defended her own lack of action on the issue, saying her focus at the time was on wresting congressional control from Republicans so her party could change course.
“No letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. That was my job – the Congress part,” Pelosi said.