Media let GOP change the subject in torture debate
Research ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN, LILY YAN & HANNAH DREIER
Adopting the GOP's emphasis on what Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, some in the media have ignored evidence that the Bush administration began using the tactics before briefing Democrats, and that upon learning of them, Rep. Jane Harman unsuccessfully expressed concerns to the CIA.
By focusing on what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other congressional Democrats knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, as the GOP has advocated, some in the media have ignored evidence that the Bush administration began using the tactics before briefing congressional Democrats, and that upon learning of the techniques in 2003, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee expressed concerns to the CIA, but did not have the authority to force a change. Indeed, according to a May 2005 Bush Justice Department memo, following the Bush administration's authorization of the harsh interrogation techniques, CIA officials used one of the most controversial techniques, waterboarding, on Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002 -- before any congressional Democrats had been briefed on any of the tactics. According to the same Justice Department memo, CIA officials waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in March 2003 -- after Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) had reportedly raised concerns to the CIA about the techniques in February 2003.
In the May 30, 2005, Justice Department memo, then-principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury wrote that "[t]he CIA used the waterboard 'at least 83 times during August 2002' in the interrogation of Zubaydah." Yet, according to a chart of "Member Briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" (EITs) included in a recently released CIA document, the first briefing on the EITs was not given to members of Congress until the following month, on September 4, 2002. Then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) and Pelosi, at the time the two ranking members on the House Intelligence Committee, were the only two congressional members listed as having been present at the briefing, and the document does not detail which specific EITs were discussed.
The CIA document listed Harman as having been briefed on the EITs on February 5, 2003, when she was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. According to reports, Harman disclosed in December 2007 that she had sent a classified letter to the CIA on February 10, 2003, raising concerns about the EITs. Upon disclosing the letter, Harman reportedly noted that she had been prohibited from discussing the matter publicly. However, despite Harman reportedly raising concerns to the CIA in February 2003, according to the Bradbury memo, the CIA "used the waterboard" technique "183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM [Mohammed]."
Among the media outlets that have ignored these key facts in reports about what congressional Democrats knew is The Washington Times, which reported in a May 9 article: "Defenders of the [enhanced interrogation] practices argue in part that Mrs. Pelosi and others in Congress were told at the time of the techniques and made no move to stop them."
Similarly, on the May 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported that "Fox has obtained the official log showing which members of Congress were briefed about the enhanced interrogation techniques and what they were told," and aired Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) statement, "It's an opportunity for those members to be informed, to object, and to stop, I would assume, what they didn't like." Angle then claimed, "But no one did object." Later in the segment, Angle noted that "in September 2003, the log shows Porter Goss and Democrat Jane Harman were '[b]riefed on EITs, including a slide presentation, where non-enhanced and enhanced interrogation techniques were named, described and compared on the same slide.' " He added: "And on it goes for 10 pages, laying out in some detail what members of Congress were told, and all the while they were voting to approve intelligence funding without objection." Despite referring to Harman, Angle did not mention that Harman reportedly raised concerns about the EITs.
A May 8 Republican National Committee press release cited an earlier May 8 report by Angle in asserting, "Pelosi Had Several Opportunities To Raise Objections To The Enhanced Interrogation Techniques That She Had Been Briefed On In 2002." The release further stated, "The House Voted 13 Times To Authorize Intelligence Funds From 2002 To 2006; No Lawmakers Raised Objections Including Democrats Who Had Been Briefed On The Enhanced Interrogation Techniques."
From the May 9 Washington Times article:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday questioned the accuracy of an intelligence memo that appeared to conflict with her previous statements that she was not told of waterboarding at a classified briefing she attended in 2002 on CIA interrogation techniques.
The California Democrat is at the center of an intensifying debate on Capitol Hill over the Bush administration's interrogation policies, which critics condemn as torture. Defenders of the practices argue in part that Mrs. Pelosi and others in Congress were told at the time of the techniques and made no move to stop them.
A Director of National Intelligence memo released late Thursday said that Mrs. Pelosi was at a classified briefing in September 2002 in which the waterboarding of al Qaeda terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah was discussed in detail.
Mrs. Pelosi Friday stuck to her denial.
"As reported in the press, a cover letter from CIA Director [Leon E.] Panetta accompanying the briefings memo released this week concedes that the descriptions provided by the CIA may not be accurate," she said in a statement.
She did not address previous comments she made that put her at odds with the report, but noted that the September 2002 briefing was one of 40 such meetings she attended with lawmakers.
Mrs. Pelosi said she was told some enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, were thought by the Bush administration to be legal and could be used in the future.
The DNI report's summary of the agenda of the September 2002 briefing reads: "Briefing on [enhanced interrogation techniques] including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed."
"Some Democrats seem to have conveniently dis-remembered this briefing," said Missouri Sen. Christopher S. Bond, ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
BAIER: Well, what did she know? And when did she know it? The "she" is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The "what" concerns information about enhanced interrogation techniques that Pelosi has denounced. But has she painted herself into a corner? We report. You decide. Here is chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle.
[begin video clip]
ANGLE: Fox has obtained the official log showing which members of Congress were briefed about the enhanced interrogation techniques and what they were told.
ALEXANDER: It's an opportunity for those members to be informed, to object, and to stop, I would assume, what they didn't like.
ANGLE: But no one did object. Speaker Pelosi, for instance, was in on the earliest briefing.
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R-MI): If we're going to have a full investigation, Nancy Pelosi should be the first witness.
ANGLE: Ms. Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in September 2002, and one of the first to be briefed after the U.S. captured Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative. Though Ms. Pelosi has repeatedly acknowledged she was briefed, she recently and suddenly seemed to deny it.
PELOSI: We were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.
ANGLE: The emphasis seems to be on "were used." Speaker Pelosi would not appear on camera today, but conceded in a statement she was told the techniques would be used, saying she "was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was considering using in the future." But even that is at odds with the official record of the briefing that she got along with Republican Porter Goss.
The log says they received a "[b]riefing on EITs," meaning enhanced interrogation techniques, "including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of particular EITs that had been employed." A current member of the Intelligence Committee says Pelosi's explanation doesn't hold water.
HOEKSTRA: Well, I really don't remember what happened, and anyway, I -- there's nothing I could have done about it -- I mean, that's what the speaker is doing right now.
ANGLE: Pelosi wasn't the only one informed. Some 65 lawmakers took part in 40 briefings once the U.S. started capturing high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the planner of 9-11.
ALEXANDER: That means they had ample opportunity to say what they thought about it.
ANGLE: In early 2003, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Pat Roberts were told in detail how the waterboard was used, for instance.
And in September 2003, the log shows Porter Goss and Democrat Jane Harman were "[b]riefed on EITs, including a slide presentation, where non-enhanced and enhanced interrogation techniques were named, described, and compared on the same slide."
And on it goes for 10 pages, laying out in some detail what members of Congress were told, and all the while they were voting to approve intelligence funding without objection.
HOEKSTRA: The House voting record -- clearly Congress consistently voted to fund these programs and to move forward.
[end video clip]
ANGLE: Now, remember, much of this was in the first couple of years after 9-11 and the CIA was getting intelligence that helped disrupt several terrorist plots. Lawmakers apparently didn't want to stop that, but when it became public, some started criticizing a program they'd known about for years and had never objected to -- Bret.
BAIER: All right, Jim. Thank you.