May 14, 2009 — -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused CIA briefers today of lying to her and other lawmakers about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, and said she had only been informed of their use five months later.
"The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002 in my capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed," Pelosi said today, reading from a prepared statement.
Terror suspect Abu Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in August 2002, the month prior to when Pelosi was briefed about enhanced interrogation techniques.
A report released last week directly contradicted Pelosi's recollections of the briefing. The Director of National Intelligence's report indicated that the speaker was in fact briefed about such techniques used on Zubaydah -- one of three terrorist suspects subjected to waterboarding, an interrogation tactic that simulates drowning.
The DNI report said then-House intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, Pelosi -- who was the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee -- and two aides were told about "the particular EITs that had been employed" on Zubaydah.
Pelosi and her staff, along with some other Democrats, have maintained that House Democrats did what little they could to register objections to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, but that the Bush administration wouldn't or couldn't be stopped.
Pelosi's remarks today provoked a stern reaction from Republican lawmakers.
"It's outrageous that a member of Congress should call a terror-fighter a liar," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. "It seems the playbook is, blame terror-fighters. We ought to be supporting them."
Bond questioned Pelosi's claim that the speaker could do little to influence the Bush administration, saying that when lawmakers are briefed, they can ask for more information and also voice their displeasure or disagreement to the speaker or other leaders in the House.
"It's no excuse to say, 'I was powerless.' That's what oversight is all about," he said. "There are a whole range of actions, and she did not take them."
Hoekstra Says Pelosi Lost Credibility
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the House intelligence committee said he finds it "very difficult to believe" that intelligence officials would intentionally mislead leaders of the House intelligence committee, as Pelosi is alleging.
"What I heard her say -- and I was quite taken aback by her when she said -- was that politics are more important than national security," Hoekstra said. "That's a very dangerous precedent."
Hoekstra told ABC News earlier this week that that in his eyes Pelosi has lost all credibility on interrogation tactics.
House minority leader John Boehner said "the speaker's comments continue to raise more questions than provide answers."
"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, and -- and it seems to me that they want to have it both ways. You can't have it both ways," he said.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. -- a possible 2012 presidential contender -- told ABC News today that Pelosi is trying to be "politically popular" on the issue of interrogation.
"She never raised concerns -- others did. People like John McCain have been raising concerns for a long time about some of the enhanced interrogation techniques. She never did until just recently, when she thought it was politically popular," Ensign said on "Top Line." "I think that there is a question of veracity of her comments today, and if you look at her body language she certainly didn't look comfortable in what she was saying."
Pelosi today said she would welcome the release of the September 2002 briefing but that she could not disclose much more from it.
"Those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information," she added. "At the same time, the Bush administration -- exactly the same time -- September of 2002, the fall of 2002, at the same time, the Bush administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
Pelosi said she was first informed about the use of waterboarding in February 2003. Per the DNI report, Pelosi's national security aide, Michael Sheehy, participated in a February 2003 briefing in which interrogation methods used on Zubaydah, including waterboarding, were discussed. Pelosi said Sheehy told her simply that the Intelligence Committee chair had been briefed about the use of waterboarding, without going into details, and she lodged a letter of complaint to register their protest.
The CIA had little to say about Pelosi's accusation. A spokesman said only that "the language in the chart -- 'a description of the particular EITs that had been employed' -- is true to the language in the agency's records. … This information, however, is draw from the past files of the CIA… and notes that summarized the best recollections of those individuals."
Pelosi Wants 'Truth Commission'
Pelosi reiterated her demands for a "truth commission" to further investigate the issue of the interrogation techniques. She also lashed out at Republicans for playing political games over what she knew and when she knew it.
"I don't know how you can fall prey to this -- this is their policy, all of them. This is their policy. This is what they conceived. This is what they developed. This is what they implemented. This is what they denied was happening," she said. "And now they're trying to say, 'Don't put the spotlight on us. We told the Congress.' Well, they didn't tell us everything that they were doing."
Boehner questioned Pelosi's call to investigate further the issue of interrogation techniques.
"I think this is dangerous, and I think it's wrong. But if they insist on pressing forward with these hearings, I think everything should be on the table, including, what Speaker Pelosi knew and when she knew it and, frankly, more importantly, what she did about it," Boehner said.
Pelosi tried to downplay any impact Democrats could have had on the administration's decision to use such techniques.
"No letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they're going to do," she said.
Pelosi today maintained her earlier stance, that she was only present for one of the more than 40 briefings for members of Congress on enhanced interrogation techniques, and that she was told only that the Bush administration had legal opinions that would have supported the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, not that these tactics were actually being used.
"In that or any other briefing ... we were not, and I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used," Pelosi said at a news conference in April. "What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel ... opinions that they could be used, but not that they would."
The issue of the use of these interrogation techniques -- and which lawmakers were aware of them -- were first raised after the Department of Justice decided last month to release memos written by Bush administration lawyers providing legal justifications for harsh interrogation techniques that are considered torture by the United Nations and by President Obama.
Cheney: People Were 'Forgetful'
Republicans today continued to question Pelosi's involvement.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the speaker needs to clarify her stance on the issue.
"Her own majority leader in the House, Steny Hoyer, has said we need to get to the bottom of this. I was in a meeting with the speaker, and she indicated that we ought to have a truth commission on all of this, and part of that is, to make sure at this point, that we know -- and the American people know -- what she knew," Cantor said in an interview today with WLS radio in Chicago.
While steering clear of voicing an opinion on whether Pelosi knew about waterboarding, former Vice President Dick Cheney -- who has been at the forefront in criticizing the administration for releasing the memos -- said earlier this week that congressional leaders, including the speaker, were onboard with the administration on other issues, such as the terrorist surveillance programs.
"I think what happened with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques is the CIA did go up. They did brief the relevant people, and I think what often happens in these circumstances is once a controversy develops, then some of the people that were briefed get forgetful," Cheney said in an interview with Fox News Tuesday.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz contributed to this report.