Nancy Pelosi - Approval of Torture and accusing the CIA of lying

Last Updated : Mar 05, 2011

In April and May of 2009, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was embroiled in a scandal involving her apparent approval of the use of enhanced interogation techniques coupled with denoucing these tactics in public.  When a CIA memo was leaked detailing the contents of a briefing she recieved in September of 2002 as apparent notification of inent to use waterboarding on a detainee, House Speaker Pelosi accused the CIA of lying.  When an image of the table containing the briefing notes was leaked, Speaker Pelosi noted that her understanding of the briefing was that EITs were being discussed in the abstract.

(Note that Nancy Pelosi assumed the role of House Speaker in January of 2007 after the Democrats took control of the House.  Many of these events took place before that.  The reference to her as House Speaker is in respect to her current office).



Not long after the war in Iraq started, allegations began to surface that President Bush had mislead congressional leaders, UN delegates, and the nation as a whole concerning the reasons for going to War with Iraq and removing Sadaam Hussein.  Despite the release of the Downing Street memo and a growing call for impeachment from lower ranking Democrats, the movement never gained traction at the highest levels of the party.  Here is a list of the efforts made by some congressional members:

  • June 16, 2005

    • Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) assembled an unofficial meeting to discuss the Downing Street memo and to consider grounds for impeachment.

  • December 18, 2005

    • Conyers files a resolution to create an investigative committee to consider impeachment. His resolution gained 38 co-sponsors before it expired at the end of the 109th Congress.  He did not reintroduce a similar resolution for the 110th Congress

  • May 2006

    • Then Minnesota state representative Keith Ellison leads efforts in the Minnesota legislature to impeach President Bush

  • April 22, 2007
    • Ellison meets with constituents and listed new conditions for his support for impeachment hearings, such as verifiable facts and the backing of a majority of the American people
  • January 20, 2006
    • At an unofficial meeting, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) called for the committee to explore whether Bush should face impeachment, stemming from his decision to authorize domestic surveillance without court review
  • May 10, 2006
    • Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga) submitted a resolution, H. Res. 1106, introducing articles of impeachment against President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice 
  • July 8, 2007
    • In a broadcast of This Week with George Stephanopoulos, John Conyers stated:  "We're hoping that as the cries for the removal of both Cheney and Bush now reach 46 percent and 58 percent, respectively, for impeachment, that we could begin to become a little bit more cooperative, if not even amicable, in trying to get to the truth of these matters."
  • October 30, 2007
    • In a Democratic Presidential debate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich states that Bush and Cheney should be impeached for the Iraq war
  • November 6, 2007
    • Congressman Kucinich introduces a resolution to impeach Vice President Cheney
  • December 2007
    • Congressman Robert Wexler starts a website to promote impeachment hearings against Vice President Cheney
  • June 9, 2008
    • Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduces H.Res.1258 to impeach President Bush.  This list includes 35 counts in the articles of impeachment
  • July 14, 2008
    • Congressman Kucinich introduces another impeachment resolution (H.Res. 1345) and limits it to a single count


Despite these actions, and Democratic control of congress, the movement had begun to loose steam.  House Speaker Pelosi herself had steadfastly refused to pursue impeachment and referred to it as "off the table" [Source, Source].  She did however state that she "would probably advocate" impeaching President Bush if she were not in the House nor Speaker of the House [Source].


Letter from Jane Harmon Opposing EITs

Prior to January of 2003, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  She left her position on that committee at that time to become the House Democratic Leader [Source].  As both the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and as the House Democratic Lead, Congresswoman Pelosi would have been one of eight members of the House who had the highest clearances to access classified information [Source]. 

On February 4, 2003, new members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques and according to officials the briefings "described in considerable detail . . . how the water board was used".  The next day, Congresswoman Jane Harman in her new position as Pelosi's replacement as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee received a similar briefing.

Congresswoman Pelosi's chief aide, Michael Sheehy was present at this meeting.

On February 10, 2003 Congresswoman Harman issued a letter to the CIA's General Council to question whether the interrogation methods "are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States."  She asked  "Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the president?"

Congresswoman Harman stated that she was surprised at what she learned in these briefings, particularly that intelligence officials had video of the waterboarding of Abu Zubaida and were planning on destroying it.  Abu Zubaida, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, was captured in 2002 and faced months of standard interrogations before being sent to a CIA-run facility where the harsher techniques were used [Source].

House Leader Pelosi never issued a letter of protest and did not sign Congresswoman Harman's letter [Source].


Truth Commissions

As the 2008 elections approached, a growing number of Democrats began to shift away from attempting to impeach President Bush, and began to call for what they termed "truth commissions".  The purpose of these commissions would be to look into actions taken by Bush administration officials concerning torture.  The idea was that if the Bush Administration used legal opinions to justify its actions concerning Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), then those that wrote the opinions would be pursued to determine their culpability.  Specifically, the truth commissions would have targeted UC Berkeley law Professor John Yoo, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Bush Justice Department who was instrumental in crafting the interrogation memoranda, and his former boss, Jay Bybee, now a judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco [Source].

Speaker Pelosi and President Obama both noted that they were open to the idea of establishing truth commissions.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) announced on February 23rd that he would be holding hearings on creating a panel to investigate alleged crimes committed by Bush administration officials, including torture of detainees and illegal wiretapping. Leahy had said the panel would avoid criminal charges except in cases of perjury.

Pelosi said she supported the investigation, but any plan should hold open the possibility of prosecution.

On February 25, 2009, in an interview with Rachel Maddow, congresswoman Pelosi spoke about Senator Leahy s proposal of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and noted that she would be against giving immunity even to those who complied with the commission:

  "What I have some concern about there is it has immunity. And I think that some of the issues involved here, like the politicizing of the Justice Department and the rest, may have criminal ramifications, and I don't think we should be giving them immunity." [Source]

In response to these allegations, Republicans began to make accusations that if Democrats were going to pursue these truth commissions, then their role in the use of EITs would be brought to light.



Interview with Rachel Maddow

On February 25, 2009, Nancy Pelosi gave an interview with Rachel Maddow where she is asked about allegations that she had been briefed by the CIA as to the use of EITs and had in fact signed off on their use.  She admits that the briefing took place and states that they went over EITs as a list of things they saw as at their disposal but were not being used.  She notes that in her opinion they were telling her only what was deemed lawfully at their disposal and not what they were in fact doing.




Response to Questions concerning briefing

Eventually, the combination of the Maddow interview and the Harman letter strengthened Republican whispers that Congresswoman Pelosi may have been aware that the use of EITs was ongoing and done nothing to stop it.  On April 23, 2009, Speaker Pelosi made the following statement concerning the possibility that she had been briefed in September of 2002 on the specific use of EITs [Source]. 

"In that or any other briefing...we were not, and I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used," said Pelosi. "What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel...opinions that they could be used, but not that they would."


Speaker Pelosi then stated that it was her understanding that they had promised to inform Congress if they ever intended to waterboard a detainee. 


Release of CIA Briefing Memo

 In April of 2009, a Senate Committee report was released that showed that Congresswoman Pelosi was present at a CIA briefing on September 4, 2002 in which CIA briefers informed Pelosi and Porter Goss about the use of EITs.  On May 7, 2009, the following table of meetings was released which described the meeting in this way:

Briefing on EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] including EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed. [Source]



Other sources have indicated that instead of being outraged after this meeting or sending a letter like Congresswoman Harman did, the participants in the briefings questioned whether these techniques would be enough to get the required information. [Source].

Speaker Pelosi was quit to point out that this report confirmed that she had only been briefed once (in September of 2002) concerning the topic of EITs and their use.  However, the timing of the briefing with Congresswoman Pelosi is especially important because Abu Zubaydah was captured in August of 2002 and waterboarded 83 times.  The conclusion reached by many is that this is exactly what Congresswoman Pelosi was briefed on in September of 2002 [Source].



 Response to CIA Memo

 On April 23, 2009, Nancy Pelosi responded to questions asked by reporters concerning the possibility that she was specifically briefed on torture.  She reiterated what she had said to Rachel Maddow that she was briefed on water boarding in the abstract.  She says that she was informed that they had legal opinions that noted that these types of techniques could be used, but she felt as if they would be briefed again if there was a time that they were going to be implemented.  This press conference took place after the release of the memo, but before the release of the table above and the description of that briefing.  Her actual words are:

“In that or any other briefing …we  were not, and I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used. What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel ... opinions that they could be used.”

"Further to the point was that if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time," 

"I know that there's some different interpretations coming out of that meeting. My colleague, the chairman of the [intelligence] committee, has said, well if they say that it's legal you have to know they're going to use it. Well, his experience is that he was a member of the CIA and later went on to head the CIA. Maybe his experience is that they'll tell you one thing but may mean something else."  "My experience was they did not tell us they were using that, flat out. And any, any contention to the contrary is simply not true," she said.

Speaker Pelosi is referring to then-GOP Rep. Porter Goss when she noted her "colleague"






The reasons these events have caused such an uproar depends on which side of the Iraq debate you sit on.  Hard core leftists are angry that Congresswoman Pelosi seemingly knew of these tactics throughout her tenure in the Intelligence Committee and said nothing.  There seems to be an overwhelming consensus that if Speaker Pelosi did indeed feel that her 2002 briefing was only in the abstract, all doubt should have been erased when Mr Sheehy informed her of the contents of the briefing he attended with Congresswoman Harman which initiated the letter.  They feel that she took the impeachment of President Bush off the table in part to prevent the public from knowing that she had not only been aware of these techniques, but signed off on them.

 Those on the right note that Speaker Pelosi encouraged the aforementioned impeachment proceedings, hearings, and truth commissions with one hand, while using the other to sign off on the very techniques she was encouraging them to condemn.  She openly and repeatedly condemned the Bush administration whenever EITs were publicly discussed, and yet privately gave approval and consent to their use.

The possibility was been raised by Mrs Pelosi herself, that maybe what others saw as a briefing on the current  use of EITs, she  interpreted as discussions of torture in the abstract (Note her comments concerning Porter Goss).  If the leaked CIA memo is to be believed, this may be the only option that exists outside of outright lying.   

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