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Posted by on May 14, 2009 in At TMV | 37 comments

Nancy Pelosi Goes on the Offensive

Good for her. It’s about damn time. Here is her prepared statement (via Marcy Wheeler), which she gave before taking questions at a press conference today (emphasis is mine):

Throughout my entire career, I am proud to have worked for human rights, and against the use of torture, around the world.

As Ranking Member of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in the 1990s, I helped secure the first funding for the Torture Victims Relief Act to assist those suffering from the physical and psychological effects of torture.

I unequivocally oppose the use of torture by our government because it is contrary to our national values.

Like all Members of Congress who are briefed on classified information, I have signed oaths pledging not to disclose any of that information. This is an oath I have taken very seriously, and I have always abided by it.

The CIA briefed me only once on some enhanced interrogation techniques, in September 2002, in my capacity as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.

I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.

Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.

Congress and the American people now know that contrary opinions within the Executive Branch concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. However, those opinions were not provided to Congress.

We also now know that techniques, including waterboarding, had already been employed, and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information.

At the same time, the Bush Administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.

Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller by the new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, the appropriate person to register a protest.

But no letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership of the Congress and the White House. That was my job.

When Democrats assumed control of Congress in 2007, Congress passed legislation banning torture and requiring all government agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual. President Bush vetoed this bill barring the use of torture. An effort to overturn his veto failed because of the votes of Republican Members.

We needed to elect a new President. We did; and he has banned torture.

Congress and the Administration must review the National Security Act of 1947 to determine if a larger number of Members of Congress should receive classified briefings so that information can be utilized for proper oversight and legislative activity without violating oaths of secrecy.

I have long supported creation of an independent Truth Commission to determine how intelligence was misused, and how controversial and possibly illegal activities like torture were authorized within the Executive Branch.

Until a Truth Commission is implemented, I encourage the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues.”

Recapping: In September 2002, when Pelosi was the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, she was told that the Department of Justice had given the CIA opinions concluding that certain enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) were legal. She was specifically told that waterboarding was not being used. She was not told that, at the time of this briefing, CIA interrogators had already been using these EITs, including waterboarding, on detainees in U.S. custody for at least a month.

Five months later, Jane Harman — the new Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee — was briefed on the EITs that had been authorized by the DOJ’s legal opinions. Following that meeting, Harman sent a letter to the CIA’s General Counsel expressing concerns about legal issues she felt were raised by these EITs. Pelosi supported the concerns Harman raised in that letter.

This was the limit of what Pelosi or Harman or any other member of Congress in those briefings could do to protest even the limited information they were given, because they all signed an oath not to disclose or discuss the content of the briefings with anyone. And because so few members of Congress were in those briefings — only a handful — it was not possible to end or change the policy. And that was the way the CIA and the White House wanted it. This is the policy — like it or not. Take it, or if you don’t want to take it, take it anyway.

No letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership of the Congress and the White House. That was my job.”

And although God knows I’ve never been a Nancy Pelosi fan, I do think that those of us who believe in and support the rule of law owe her a debt of gratitude for that.