Networks ignored Panetta's caveats about CIA summary of Pelosi briefing

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Each of the network newscasts reported that CIA records show Nancy Pelosi was briefed about the use of waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah, but did not note Leon Panetta's caveats regarding the accuracy of the information in the documents.

During their May 14 reports on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) statements regarding what she was told in secret briefings about the CIA's use of waterboarding, each of the network evening newscasts pointed to CIA records describing a September 4, 2002, briefing that, according to NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell, "show Pelosi was given a description of the particular enhanced interrogation techniques that had been employed" on Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. However, none of the reports noted that in a letter accompanying the documents, CIA Director Leon Panetta suggested the information in the documents may not be "an accurate summary of what actually happened," as blogger Greg Sargent noted a week ago.

On the CBS Evening News, justice and homeland security correspondent Bob Orr reported that "Pelosi was briefed ... on September 4, 2002," and that, "[a]ccording to CIA records, she was told about, quote, 'EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] on Abu Zubaydah ... and a description of particular EITs that had been employed.' " Orr continued: "While the word 'waterboarding' was not used, the CIA's description of the meeting suggests Pelosi was told Zubaydah had been waterboarded." On ABC's World News, senior congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl reported: "Pelosi's words seem to directly contradict a declassified timeline of congressional briefings compiled by the CIA, which says Pelosi was told of the specific interrogation methods used on Zubaydah."

As Media Matters for America has documented, Panetta's letter, sent to House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), ranking member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), and other congressional members, states that the information in the attached intelligence documents "is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs [memorandums for the record] completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections" of individuals involved. Each letter also states that "[i]n the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened." From Panetta's letter:

This letter presents the most thorough information we have on dates, locations, and names of all Members of Congress who were briefed by the CIA on enhanced interrogation techniques. This information, however, is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals. In the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened. We can make the MFRs available at CIA for staff review.

From the May 14 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

WILLIAMS: Now, to Washington: What did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi know and when did she know it? That's the question that consumed much of the capital city today. The subject here is torture and what the U.S. did to its prisoners.

We get more on all of it tonight from Kelly O'Donnell, who's on Capitol Hill. Kelly, good evening.

O'DONNELL: Good evening, Brian. The speaker has long been a strong opponent of waterboarding. And after new details came out that showed that she knew the technique was being used as early as several years ago, some of her critics are wondering what, if anything, did she try to do to stop it?

[begin video clip]

O'DONNELL: Today, Pelosi carefully read from her prepared statement to try to square what she's been saying against the CIA's differing accounts.

PELOSI: The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002.

O'DONNELL: A few weeks ago, Pelosi told reporters that, in 2002, CIA briefers had only told her waterboarding was considered legal for future use.

PELOSI: We were not -- I repeat -- we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

O'DONNELL: But there's a problem. When Pelosi got that briefing from the CIA in 2002, waterboarding had in fact already been used 83 times on suspect Abu Zubaydah. Today, the CIA said it stands by its own records from that briefing that show Pelosi was given a description of the particular enhanced interrogation techniques that had been employed.

Today, Pelosi said the CIA lied.

PELOSI: Yes -- misleading the Congress of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And also --

PELOSI: Misleading the Congress of the United States.

O'DONNELL: Adding to the controversy and confusion, Pelosi said that, months after her own briefing, it was one of her aides, and not the CIA, that first told her waterboarding was indeed being used. Today, Republicans lashed out at the speaker.

BOEHNER: I think the problem is that the speaker has had way too many stories on this issue.

[end video clip]

O'DONNELL: And, Brian, the speaker says that she has no regrets about not making her own personal or formal complaint to the Bush White House or the CIA. She says it simply would have done no good, and that her focus was on trying to get more Democrats elected, who would change the interrogation policy -- Brian.

WILLIAMS: Kelly O'Donnell on the Hill for us tonight. Kelly, thanks.

From the May 14 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

JEFF GLOR (anchor): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denied today that she was complicit in the waterboarding of terror suspects. She insists that she wasn't told waterboarding had been used and she accused the CIA of lying.

Justice correspondent Bob Orr has this story.

[begin video clip]

ORR: Rebutting charges that she knew about waterboarding nearly seven years ago and raised no objections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today launched an offensive.

PELOSI: They mislead us all the time.

ORR: In uncommonly strong language, Pelosi accused the CIA and the Bush administration of skirting the truth of the treatment of Al Qaeda terrorist suspects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you're accusing the CIA of lying to you --

PELOSI: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- in September of 2002?

PELOSI: -- misleading the Congress of the United States.

ORR: Pelosi says she was only briefed once about harsh interrogation methods and was not told waterboarding was being used against top Al Qaeda detainees. In a rare public response, the CIA pointed to recently released documents that raise questions about Pelosi's account. This declassified Justice Department memo shows that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002. Pelosi was briefed after that, on September 4, 2002.

According to CIA records, she was told about, quote, "EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] on Abu Zubaydah ... and a description of particular EITs that had been employed." While the word "waterboarding" was not used, the CIA's description of the meeting suggests Pelosi was told Zubaydah had been waterboarded. Pelosi denies that.

PELOSI: In fact, we were told that waterboarding was not being used.

ORR: But Republicans say Pelosi and other Democrats were fully in the loop. Between 2002 and 2007, CIA records show intelligence committee members from both parties received at least 28 classified briefings on harsh interrogations.

BOEHNER: It's pretty clear that they were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were. They were well aware that they had been used.

[end video clip]

ORR: Pelosi is pushing for a so-called truth commission to sort out who knew what when. But that could be a perilous course for Republicans and Democrats.

Bob Orr, CBS News, Washington.

From the May 14 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: Now, to the controversy over interrogation techniques used on terror suspects, a controversy that seems to grow by the day: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created something of a political firestorm today, accusing CIA officials of lying to Congress in 2002 about its interrogation methods. Did they lie?

Here's Jonathan Karl.

[begin video clip]

KARL: It's Pelosi versus the CIA.

PELOSI: We were not -- I repeat -- we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

KARL: That's what she said in April. Today, she went further, saying the CIA briefed her in September 2002 and told her, point blank, the technique had not been used.

PELOSI: The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.

KARL: By that time, however, Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah had already been waterboarded 83 times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you're accusing the CIA of lying to you --

PELOSI: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- in September of 2002?

PELOSI: -- misleading the Congress of the United States.

KARL: Pelosi's words seem to directly contradict a declassified timeline of congressional briefings compiled by the CIA, which says Pelosi was told of the specific interrogation methods used on Zubaydah. Pelosi is also contradicted by the only other member of Congress at the briefing, Republican Porter Goss, who wrote recently, "We understood what the CIA was doing. We gave the CIA our bipartisan support."

Although she says she was told it was not used, Pelosi acknowledged the CIA did tell her that they had legal approval for waterboarding. So why didn't she protest, perhaps in a letter to the CIA director?

PELOSI: No letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they're going to do.

KARL: Former Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat, had a similar briefing two weeks after Pelosi.

GRAHAM: The topic of waterboarding did not come up, and if they -- it would have been a term that I would have had to have asked them to define.

[end video clip]

KARL: This comes as Pelosi is facing a firestorm of criticism from Republicans who say if she knew about waterboarding but didn't do anything, then she, too, bears responsibility.

Jonathan Karl, ABC News, Capitol Hill.

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