Bob Graham: Congressional Leaders Could Have Acted on Waterboarding

By Lindsey Ellerson

May 15, 2009 2:12pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: On ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” today, former Sen. Bob Graham told us that — as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also claims — he was never told about waterboarding in his role as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee in 2002. But at the same time, Graham questioned Pelosi’s assertion that there was nothing congressional leaders could have done to stop waterboarding and other harsh techniques from being employed. “There has been a history that in these covert action activities where there is a blowback from the members of Congress to the proposed activity that the administration has stopped, reconsidered, and not infrequently cancelled their original plans,” Graham, D-Fla., told me and ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “Apparently [Pelosi] was also told either by statement or absence of statement [in September 2002] that these activities were not in fact being utilized.  I think it’s the statement that, ‘This is what we are actually doing, and here are the people to whom it has been done,’ that would be such that would motivate you to go to the executive branch, to the president, and say, this is not in the American tradition.” Graham was not at the briefing attended by Pelosi Sept. 4, 2002, though he was briefed just three weeks later. The intelligence community’s report to Congress described Graham’s briefing in an identical fashion to the way it described Pelosi’s. Graham — like Pelosi — maintains that the report’s description of a briefing that included “the particular [enhanced interrogation techniques] that had been employed” is inaccurate. “There was nothing exceptional about my briefing. It did not refer to waterboarding,” Graham told us. “It did not refer to Abu Zubaydah and what interrogation techniques he’d been subjected [to]. It was a fairly bland brief. It was done under circumstances that were quite unusual and that was there were staff members in the briefing.  Generally if the CIA is gonna brief on a highly contentious and clandestine activity such as torture, they would only do it to the leadership of the committee and the leadership of the Congress [and] would not include outsiders, other members of the committee, certainly not staff.” Graham left the intelligence committee in January 2003, and did not receive any further briefings on the subject on enhanced interrogation techniques. Neither did Pelosi — though she acknowledged yesterday that she became aware that waterboarding was used after a top national-security aide, Michael Sheehy, was included in a CIA briefing in February 2003. Graham said that, if he had been told about waterboarding, “I would have reacted with great disagreement with that practice which broke 200 years of American history. There are a limited number of things that a member of the leadership can do. You can’t talk to members of the committee, you can’t talk to staff, you can’t consult with experts. About the only thing you can do is go to the administration which has initiated this policy and urged them to reconsider.” Asked if Pelosi should have registered stronger objections once she learned of waterboarding, Graham responded: “I think you ought to ask the question of the speaker. I don’t know enough of the circumstances. I was off the intelligence committee in January of [2003] so I had no further briefings on the subject.” Pelosi said yesterday she did what little she could to stop the Bush administration’s actions, but was essentially powerless. “Well, they didn’t tell us everything that they were doing. And the fact is that anything we would say doesn’t matter anyway. We had to change the majority in Congress,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. Graham also wouldn’t go as far as Pelosi did when she accused the CIA of misleading her. “I wouldn’t say they misled me, they just left that out of the briefing and I think it had to do with the fact that they did not feel the circumstances of the briefing were such that they could discuss information of that high level of classification,” he said. But, like Pelosi, Graham linked the CIA briefings with the Bush administration’s push to go to war with Iraq in late 2002. “Let me put this in a broader context. This [briefing] also happened to be the very week that the CIA submitted its national intelligence estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Graham said. “That was what people were focused on and as we have come to learn, that was rife with misinformation or inadequate or lack of information which led us to an unnecessary war only to find that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This could’ve been part of that larger misinformation effort that surrounded Iraq.” Click HERE to see our interview with Bob Graham. Also today, we spoke with Jane Hamsher, of the liberal blog FireDogLake, about concerns brewing on President Obama’s left, after he’s shifted positions on a few key areas. “I think that a lot of people are concerned because he made specific promises during the campaign that he’s now backtracking on,” Hamsher said. “I think that that’s just a consistent concern of anybody who votes for somebody, if they start changing their tune once they’re in office and it seems to be happening with some frequency as with the backtracking on the photographs as with the military commissions. And people are concerned. They’re wondering what’s up.” Watch our full interview with Jane Hamsher HERE.

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