Pelosi tries to backpedal on CIA criticism

Posted: 05/16/09 11:32 AM [ET]
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has backed down slightly in her fight with the CIA, saying that she really meant only to criticize the Bush administration rather than career officials. 

“My criticism of the manner in which the Bush Administration did not appropriately inform Congress is separate from my respect for those in the intelligence community who work to keep our country safe,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Pelosi caused an uproar Thursday when she accused the CIA of lying to her about its use of waterboarding – which she considers torture – on terrorism suspects.

Her comment came after President Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, challenged her version of events, insisting that his agency told her the truth in a controversial September 2002 briefing. 

Panetta, who served with Pelosi in Congress as a fellow California Democrat, had issued a memo to CIA staff Friday reiterating that agency records show “CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed,'” according to CIA records.

“We are an agency of high integrity, professionalism and dedication,” Panetta said in the memo. “Our task is to tell it like it is — even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.”

In her statement and answers Thursday, Pelosi had switched back and forth between criticizing the CIA and Bush administration officials. Republicans said she was unfairly criticizing non-political career officials doing the briefing when she claimed “they mislead us all the time.”

In what is so far the most difficult episode of her speakership, Pelosi is under fire about what she knew of the abusive interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration and when she knew it.

At the same news conference where she accused the CIA of misleading her on the topic, Pelosi acknowledged for the first time that she knew in 2003 that terrorism suspects were waterboarded. She said she learned that from an aide who sat in on a briefing in February 2003.

Republicans have called her a hypocrite for criticizing techniques as “torture” when she tacitly agreed to the practices after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One lawmaker — Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) — called on Pelosi  Friday to step down as Speaker.

At the same time, liberal groups could question why she didn’t push back harder against the Bush administration. Pelosi defended herself for not speaking out at the time about information disclosed in a classified briefing. Asked why she didn’t co-sign a formal objection by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who attended the briefing with Pelosi aide Mike Sheehy, Pelosi said any objection would have done little good.

“No letter could change the policy,” she said on May 14 at a news conference. “It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. That was my job, the Congress part.”

 

Is Nancy Pelosi’s speakership in trouble? Click here to join the discussion.

RELATED:

View the documents that detail which members were briefed on interrogation techniques
PANETTA: CIA director says Pelosi was told the truth 
AVOIDANCE: White House ducks Pelosi-CIA battle 
THE STORM: Pelosi deflects waterboarding criticism
PROBE: Lindsey Graham threatens to call speaker
NO. 2: Hoyer wants all the facts out  

 Read entire article here

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