Friday, May 8, 2009

Did Nancy Pelosi Know About Torture In 2002?

The Internet seems to be abuzz over the news that Nancy Pelosi, along with Porter Goss, was briefed by the CIA on its so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT, AKA "torture") back in September of 2002. That would be really big news, provided one could infer that from the evidence provided. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

The principle evidence appears to be this document (PDF), a summary chart of briefings given by the CIA to various members of Congress between 2002 and 2009. Let me first emphasize that this is a summary, as in it's almost certainly been derived from other notes and recollections about these meetings. I don't see how it can be considered a primary document. That's probably the most important thing to keep in mind as you're reviewing this.

As Greg Sargent noticed today, there are what I'd term inconsistencies in the details provided in this document. As he notes:

“EIT” refers to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” As you can see, the document says that on September 4th, 2002, she was briefed on the “use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah” and a “description of the particular EITs that had been employed.” It’s the only time Pelosi was briefed.

This does not say whether she was told specifically about waterboarding. By contrast, elsewhere in the documents, descriptions of other later briefings to members of Congress repeatedly specify they’d been told about waterboarding.

CIA Documents Don’t Prove Pelosi Was Told Of Waterboarding

I think it's safe to assume that's what's on this document is true, as Sargent seems to have. What I can't assume is that it's the whole truth. For that, we'd need to see the notes and materials from the meetings themselves. That doesn't seem to be the sort of evidence we're discussing here.

This particular question also occurred to the Los Angeles Times:

The CIA declined to comment on why the chart does not make it clear whether waterboarding was covered in the Pelosi briefing. But a federal official familiar with the list indicated that the agency's records may not have been that specific. "The descriptions don't go beyond what the records themselves say," said the official, who requested anonymity when discussing intelligence matters.

Records Suggest Pelosi, Others Were Told Of Harsh Interrogations

So, yes, this was a summary constructed based on other records. That's a less than perfect process at the best of times.

However, Marcy Wheeler has identified some inconsistencies in the document with other known facts:

Note, too, that the CIA claims to have discussed legal issues in the July briefing with Harman and Goss, but not in the July briefing with [Senator] Jello Jay [Rockefeller] and [Sen. Pat] Roberts. We know this to be false.

In July 2004, the CIA briefed the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Committee on the facts and conclusions of the Inspector General special review. The CIA indicated at that time that it was seeking OLC’s legal analysis on whether the program was consistent with the substantive provisions of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.

Given the way the SSCI narrative focuses on the constitutional amendments named under CAT (the 5th, 8th, and 14th), I suspect CIA was informed in no uncertain terms they would have to account for these in the briefing. If they did not record the fact, it suggests they were trying to claim deniability for that key issue (though that is speculative on my part).

The CIA seems to have no memory of the details of the 2005 briefings (and, as WO has pointed out, seems to have been unsure who was HPSCI Chair and who was DCIA, since it claims that Porter Goss, then head of CIA, attended a March 8, 2004 hearing as HPSCI Chair). That's rather curious as Mary McCarthy has alleged that the CIA briefers in two hearings in 2005 lied to Congress. At least one of these briefings would have also featured the Senators asking why they fuck OLC ignored the 8th Amendment (and the CAT generally) in its December 2004 opinion. It includes briefings when Jello Jay was beginning to ask for more details on the torture program, to no avail. And, finally, it includes briefings when Congress should have been briefed about the destroyed torture tapes, but wasn't. All of that? The CIA seems to have little memory of it.

Breaking News!! CIA Manipulating Briefing Process!!

[links from original]

So, a reconstructed document that is contradicted by reality is the basis for this charge against Pelosi. While it's possible that she was briefed on waterboarding at that meeting, there's no evidence to think so, and there is clearly some evidence to suggest that the CIA's version of events is not accurate.

As both Sargent and Marcy have pointed out, that didn't stop ABC News from running with the story:

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah in September 2002, according to a report prepared by the Director of National Intelligence’s office and obtained by ABC News.

The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics. Instead, she has said, she was told only that the Bush administration had legal opinions that would have supported the use of such techniques.

The report details a Sept. 4, 2002 meeting between intelligence officials and Pelosi, then-House intelligence committee chairman Porter Goss, and two aides. At the time, Pelosi was the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

The meeting is described as a “Briefing on EITs including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of particular EITs that had been employed.”

EITs stand for “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a classification of special interrogation tactics that includes waterboarding.

Intelligence Report: Pelosi Briefed on Use of Interrogation Tactics in Sept. ’02

Anyone who paid attention to what I wrote, and then clicked on the links those quotes came from would probably recognize the problem with this. ABC assumed that:

  1. A reconstruction of events was entirely accurate

  2. The CIA was not manipulating this document's contents for its own purposes

  3. The inconsitencies in the level of detail mean nothing

  4. That a briefing on "enhanced interrogation techniques" would necessarily include all the techniques used.

That's a buttload of assumptions. As Taylor Marsh observed:

Porter Goss pontificating on what should have been deduced means nothing if the specifics weren’t delineated. People are now assuming that a briefing on EITs automatically means that Pelosi knew that waterboarding was being used on prisoners.

Pelosi, EIT and the Briefing

[link from original]

In 2002 I hadn't even heard of waterboarding. If I'd known then what I know now about it, I would have assumed that the CIA wouldn't be using it, because it was torture, and thus illegal. I don't see how anyone could assume Nancy Pelosi would be more aware of what was going on, assuming she had not been told explicitly.

Right now, this is looking to me like a smear that the press is willing to go along with.


Anonymous said...

With Goss' links to funding terrorism and Pelosi's aid and comfort to the enemies of American freedom, perhaps waterboarding them both is the only appropriate solution in a post 9/11 world.

Cujo359 said...

What "aid and comfort"? For that matter, what enemies? At this time, we have no legitimate enemies. We have adversaries, and potential enemies, but there's no country on this planet that can hope to conquer us.

People like you, though, seem bound and determined to turn us into the sort of paranoid police states we feared back in the Cold War.

Please take your pants-pissing hatefulness elsewhere.