May 15th, 2009
05:16 AM ET
14 years ago

Hoyer looks to change torture discussion back to 'what was done'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The No. 2 Democrat in the House Thursday dismissed talk of what the House Speaker knew or didn't know about the CIA's interrogation techniques, saying that discussion "is a distraction from the central point" of determining what happened during the Bush administration and making sure it never happens again.

Responding to a question from Republican Rep. Eric Cantor about whether he believes that the CIA may have "misled" Speaker Nancy Pelosi in briefings, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he had "no basis (on) which to base such a belief, and I certainly hope that's not the case."

"But it is a distraction from the central point," the Maryland Democrat said. "And I will tell my friend that I think there is far too much discussion about what was said as opposed to what was done."

Hoyer said that a commission should look into the issue "not so much for what was done but to ensure that what we do going forward is legal, consistent with our values, consistent with our morals and consistent ... with protecting our nation and our people. In my view we have a responsibility to do all of those."

"I frankly think that upholding our values is consistent with protecting our security," he said.

Pelosi has been under fire from critics who say that she was briefed on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" - which included techniques that have been labeled torture in other arenas, including the United States at other times in its history.

The California Democrat accused CIA officials Thursday of misleading her in 2002. She reiterated an earlier claim that she was briefed on such techniques only once - in September 2002 - and that she was told at the time that the techniques were not being used.

A recently released Justice Department memo says that the CIA used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al Qaeda leader imprisoned at U.S. facilities in Guantanamo Bay.

Pelosi claimed that, one month later, she was only informed that the Justice Department had concluded that such techniques were legal - not that they were being used.

A former senior intelligence official said Thursday it is "inconceivable" that the CIA briefers would not have talked about interrogation methods that had already been used.

"I can't prove it," the official said, but added, "The whole point [of the briefings] was to make sure they [lawmakers] understood what we were doing." The official asked to comment anonymously so he could speak more candidly.

The official said it is important to put this all into the context of the time - less than a year after the 9/11 attacks.

"Back then, everyone was in the same boat trying to figure out what to do," the official said. "The executive branch, the Hill, DOJ [Department of Justice], the White House were trying to figure out what to do so this would not happen again."

Pelosi said the briefing she received from the CIA was incomplete and inaccurate, and she called on the CIA to release a full transcript of the briefing.

Pelosi also accused Republicans of jumping on the briefings because they want to cause a distraction. She reiterated her call for the establishment of an independent "truth commission" to investigate the Bush administration's use of enhanced interrogation techniques.

After Pelosi's news conference, CIA spokesman George Little said, "it is not the policy of this agency to mislead the United States Congress."

House Minority Leader John Boehner said Pelosi's comments "continue to raise more questions than provide answers."

"I've dealt with our intelligence professionals for the last 3 1/2 years on an almost daily basis. And it's hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress," he said.

Asked about Pelosi's allegations that Republican policy was leading the country astray, Boehner said, "I think the problem is that the speaker has had way too many stories on this issue."

"When you look at the number of briefings that the speaker was in and other Democrat members of the House and Senate, it's - 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.

Pelosi also suggested that the National Security Act of 1947 should be revised so that more members of Congress can be briefed on sensitive intelligence matters.

In 2007, Congress passed legislation banning torture and requiring interrogators to abide by the regulations of the Army Field Manual. Former President Bush vetoed the measure, but President Barack Obama enacted similar restrictions shortly after taking office.

"Throughout my career, I am proud to have worked on human rights and against torture," Pelosi said.

"I unequivocally oppose the use of torture."

Filed under: Eric Cantor • Nancy Pelosi • Steny Hoyer
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. pssst "You Got Caught!!!"

    My old man once said to me

    "The secret to breaking the dont get caught"

    I replied "what happens if I get caught?"

    he said "well then ...then we have to do something about it, we have to uphold the, me , the president of the united states, everybody"

    Nancy, Dick,...... whoever else, the secret got out......and thats to bad......but now if we dont do anything about it.......

    We disregard the law
    We destroy the Republic.

    Yup, it sucks to be a casualty in a war, when your not even on the battlefield......well at least youve still got both legs,

    May 14, 2009 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  2. Tony

    Anything to deflect the heat from Pelosi. She new about it, thought it was not an issue and went on with things. Now someone thinks it is torture and she is up in arms to get back in the graces of the liberals. FLIP FLOP she is, we can only hope she gets voted out, i doubt that will happen in her district. She is the worst thing for the democratic party. I can only wish she would do a specter and join the republicans, then all the idiots would be united........ Pelosi/Limbaugh 2012

    May 14, 2009 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  3. Proud DHS radical

    A democrat with values? That's a new one! Will Pelosi be gone before the summer is out?

    May 14, 2009 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  4. Brandon

    Will this ever end? The bleeding heart liberals just want to put the Bush Administration into some kind of BS all the time. First off, they were not tortured, and even if they were, WHO CARES??? They were terrorists. If you gave them a sword and you walked into a room with them, you would come out without a head!!! The terrorists want us dead. They don't want to "waterboard" us, they don't want to "electric shock" us, they don't want to starve us, or even hit us. THEY WANT TO KILL US! Get it through your heads! If your child, just happeed to be Daniel Pearl, would you want to put these "Terrorists" in a suite at the Ritz Carlton while they were awaiting trial? Think about that for a while! I am a hard core Republican who has morals and a deep love for his country. You far lefty's, you are making the world laugh at us with your "Torture" and "Green" and "Gay Rights". You all make me sick! Man up! respect this country. Stand up for your country.

    May 14, 2009 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  5. J.C.

    "Pelosi said that one month later, she was told only that the Justice Department had concluded that such techniques were legal, not that they were being used."

    Why would the Justice Dept. classify such techniques as being legal just for fun?

    May 14, 2009 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  6. Peter E

    By next month republicans will try to make believe that the whole idea of torture originated with Pelosi, and that Bush was completely innocent and ignorant of these practices. Practices that have been proven to be ineffective, slow, and unreliable. And that comes from the CIA interrogators themselves! Interrogation doesn't automatically mean torture! There are several better, more effective, quicker, and more reliable methods. Let's focus on our security first, and that means using the most effective, most reliable methods. We can worry about punishing these terrorists afterwards. Security first! Punishment later!

    May 14, 2009 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  7. Larry

    The Democrats have been going along with the Bush administration all along,but lying about it all along.Now the truth is coming out, let's see them continue to lie their way out of this.

    May 14, 2009 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  8. Larry

    War is Hell---it's supposed to be---that's why we call it Hell !!!

    May 14, 2009 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  9. America Shrugged

    Congressman Hoyer is correct that it is more important to find out what happened and make sure it doesn't ever happen again. What could the Dems done but protest? They didn't hold the power and the GOP would have made them hold hearings in the Capitol Basement or shut off the microphones on the House Floor.

    May 15, 2009 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  10. Susan

    With the new information that Cheney's office was not looking to prevent a new attack, but merely trying to gain info by any means to JUSTIFY our invasion of Iraq, it sheds new light on it. Their whole "kept us safe" argument doesn't hold water when they were torturing people for their benefit, to corroborate their lies, not to help the country. Shameful, illegal, immoral, and if not judged here, God will be happy to judge them.

    May 15, 2009 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  11. mike

    Hypocrite. I wonder if the Libs will be wanting to have Pelosi brought to justice for her war crimes. This administration is a pathetic, disgusting joke.

    May 15, 2009 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  12. Reggie Payne

    I'm sorry but I have to ask the same question. What good is this doing America NOW? To echo somebody I heard sometime ago, "It's The Economy, Stupid". All this finger pointing about stuff that happened is best left for when America can really, really deal with it. We cannot afford to now. What happened to common sense?

    May 15, 2009 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
  13. Hybridman

    You're wrong Hoyer. The fact of the matter is PeeLosie lied in our faces and that is the bottom line. She's a liar. Even if there is some impropriety found in the Bush administration, that does not change the fact that she's two-faced and is trying to squirm her way out of mess she's in. By the way, your president is a liar too. He told us all that he's not looking back but forward. If that is his promise to America, what the hell do you think you're doing? You're making your president a liar also. Is there anyone in the democratic party that can't speak the truth?

    May 15, 2009 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  14. Ain't life strange?

    In sales, one is taught the art of pre-framing the customer, leading the customer in a way that makes the customer feel they are in charge. Baiting the customer with open ended questions that can only be answered in the manner you want to hear. "Safety is important to you, isn't it?" In politics its all about the art of the deal. Now, we see those who wish to lead us away from the central point of this issue by drawing attention to "what did she know, and when did she know it" type crap. Who cares! In an impartial investigation ALL the truth will be revealed. So, sit back and enjoy the show.

    May 15, 2009 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  15. VON BISMARK,Vienna.

    Torture is not a policy.It is a crime.IT SHOULD be investigated.Mr.Boehner by dimissing the usefulness of a truth commission is equally trying to have it both ways. These guys have a skeleton in the cupboard.

    May 15, 2009 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  16. Cindy PA

    We know what was done; we know what the CIA's interrogation techniques are. Hoyer is covering up for the Speaker of the house lying to the American people. There is no leadership in this Democratic Congress.

    We wanted CHANGE, and this is not it.

    Pelosi has to GO, she needs to resign or be removed now, she is incompetent.

    May 15, 2009 07:21 am at 7:21 am |
  17. hongli

    The Bush Administration MUST be brought to JUSTICE for war crimes and torture. No man is above the LAW and that's the reason a country sets laws and by-laws. LAWS are to be RESPECTED and when broken punishment must be had.

    May 15, 2009 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  18. Bev

    Nancy Pelosi is a liar. She is so blinded by hatred for the Bush administration she can't even remember the truth...she just remembers her own spin. In 2002 it was not "politically correct" to stand up for terrorists. Everybody was terrified we were going to be attacked again. It was one of the few times the Democrats and Republicans actually got along. So now that it's politically popular to dump on the Republicans she wants to go back in history and accuse the CIA and Bush of doing things illegal. Well you can't have it both ways. Pelosi is the one making this an issue...not the GOP. She could have let this story play out but she is so full of herself she had to go out there and make herself look like an idiot. If the Chairman of the Intelligence committee was not privy to the interrogation methods used by the CIA after 9/11 then she was an idiot. She needs to get out of congress and go back to SF and play with the war protesters.

    May 15, 2009 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  19. Had It

    This is a distraction by the far-right-wingnuts - just something to deflect the conversation away from the guilty parties in their war crimes. It's a disgrace to everyone and everything this country and the people believe in. Shame on the republicans for what they did.

    Prosecute Bush/Cheney and if Pelosi had a part in it, prosecute her too. ANYONE that helped. ANYONE, no matter which party or what their role is in government or private life. CLEAN IT UP NOW – IT STINKS.

    May 15, 2009 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  20. Charles W. Skinner

    Well, well. Look who's now caught in a web of her own accusations. If she knew (which we all know that she did), does that mean that she's going to be calling for her own prosecution for war crimes?

    Rep. Jane Harmon at least sent a classified signed letter objecting. If Harmon knew, then Pelosi surely knew. I wonder if the ACLU will be consistent and start calling for Speaker Pelosi to resign given her ties to what they call torture.

    May 15, 2009 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  21. Reality

    Actually, accountability is exactly what this whole controversy is all about. The Dems want President Bush and anyone on his staff to answer for what they perceive as crimes. Shouldn't everyone in power be required to do the same regardless of political affiliation? Stop pointing fingers, Pelosi and show some accountability. I'm not a fan of Cheney, but at least we know how he feels. I am so tired of the political system that we have in this country. I just wish that the party system were abolished, people were elected based on their ideals and then were held accountable. Alas, this will likely never happen.

    May 15, 2009 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  22. John H

    Lets quit fooling around and move on to the real topic. Who is responsible for authorizing torture? If it was Cheney, along with Bush, then lets charge them . This pair has done more to harm the United States than will ever be known.

    May 15, 2009 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  23. Karen - Missouri

    Let's get off the Pelosi kick, shall we? And just WHERE were the Republican "critics" who could have also protested Bush's tactics? The whining Republicans who keep attacking are just using Pelosi as a "tactic" to take the heat off themselves. We're sick of hearing about Pelosi when the real issue is Bush and Cheney and who told them it was legal...or should I say that Bush and Cheney TOLD the lawyers it was legal or else get fired.

    Do the Republicans EVER do REAL work in Washington???? They're SUPPOSED to be working on our economy and digging into this issue. They have absolutely no intention of getting to the bottom of Bush's passion for torture and the illegal tactics. Instead they're using Pelosi as a means to block investigating Bush and Cheney.

    Republicans need to just shut one believes them anymore

    May 15, 2009 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  24. Gullible Nancy

    If Nancy Pelosi is so easily fooled then she probably should'nt be in the position of power she is. Or even in Congress for that matter. But, lets face it, she's lying through her teeth.

    May 15, 2009 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  25. Tony

    Why? Why not look at all of it? Who Knew, When They Knew, Why, ETC.....

    Did George Soros tell you to or what.

    Come on Steny. Have a back bone to do what is right. Investigate all

    Pelosi is sinking fast and the Dems are throwing her a life ring and avoiding the TRUTH COMMISSION

    May 15, 2009 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
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