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. carlo

    The Pelosi thing is a red herring and a GOP and media generated diversion. I don't know if I'm for prosecuting for torture or not, but I know for sure that if there are any prosecutions, Pelosi wouldn't be one of them. Get back to the main topic. Who ordered it? That's the biggest issue.

    May 15, 2009 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  2. RR

    Circle the wagons and defend Pelosi! Deny, Deflect, Defend, Distract!

    Pelosi is calling the CIA liars. This coming after she lied about not knowing Rep. Harmon was wiretapped 24 hours before she changed her story and said she did know of the wiretapping.

    Pelosi can NOT be trusted!

    May 15, 2009 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  3. Ken, Vail, AZ

    Republicans cannot be allowed to divert attention from the central issue of the legality ot illegality of the interrogation techniques employedby the previous administration. Their sophmoric attempts to distract by shifting attention to Speaker Pelosi and Bill Clinton (renditions) is a loser for the Republicans.

    May 15, 2009 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  4. David

    Just another example that Democrats operate under a different set of rules than Republicans do. They can lie, misremember, not pay taxes, flip flop and we are expected to not focus on that. It is time everone realizes that all politicians can not be trusted, they ALL have skeletons, and this country is not getting better, it is getting worse. When do we start to see the millions of jobs that are going to be created? When will unemployment start to go down, instead of continuoulsy getting worse? When will the flow of credit start to open up? When will Obama start making a difference? And don't tell me give hime time. He was all to eager to have another press conference to proclaim what a grett first 100 days he had. ENOUGH already.

    May 15, 2009 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  5. riiiiiiiight, about that......

    In my opinion, I think if they do create a truth investigation, then Madame Speaker should be fair game. Of course it won't play out that way because Democrats have too much to risk. Please tell me democrats you have someone better to offer than her. I understand you have a clear majority and public favor but after BHO, who are the leaders that really inspire. I know there's a lot of hoopla concerning a perception of the "fall of Republicans" but if the democrats are truely going to succeed, then shouldn't there be better representatives of your party? There has to be better than Pelosi, Reid, Rangle, Dodd, Frank, and Murtha. In all seriousness, Democrats have helped Republicans get rid of some terrible representatives. Now we need to return the favor and take the country back.

    May 15, 2009 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  6. ronvan

    This is the only mistake our new President has made. Should have kept everything SECRET and just stopped EIT. Now it has turned political and just a big mess. However, now that it is public you might as well release everything, let all the do-gooders get their publicity, and not solve anything! If this leads back to bush/cheney are we going to prosecute? NO. As more and more names come out that knew about EIT what are we going to do with them? It amazes me that we destroyed Nixon over watergate, yet, bush/cheney used their positions/power to make the illegal become legal, lied to all of us, put this country into the mess we are in and on & on.

    May 15, 2009 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  7. obambi

    from the mouths of liberals–"I was for torture before I was against it". "I was against John McCain until his Mother spoke against Rush–then I was for him".

    May 15, 2009 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  8. patsy shirey

    If I remember correctly wasn't it the CIA who lied to the Bush Admin. saying, they had evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Why would anybody act so shocked when Nancy Pelosi said the CIA lied when they said Congress knew Torture was being used within a year of 9-11?

    May 15, 2009 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  9. obambi

    from the mouths of liberals–"I was for torture before I was against it". I was against McCain until his Mom spoke up against Rush–then I was for him."

    May 15, 2009 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  10. Biff Hedrickson

    Too bad, Stenny, but the Congress of the United States has already charged our CIA with lying to the Congress which is fatal to Americans' reliance on that group. This must be answered–probably after Pelosi is back in CA to stay. Pelosi is just another democrat political truth-stretcher (LIAR!).

    May 15, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  11. David

    Quick: let's yell "Blame Bush" again because things aren't going smoothly.
    Obama's plan to close Gitmo is coming back to bite hime. Now that he is on the inside he realizes: These people have been treated pretty good, they are hardcore enemies of the US who want to kill Americans, we can not let them go, we can not put them in an American prison because it is illegal, we can not put them on a floating prison because it is illegal, the countries they come from know they are thugs and terrorists and don't want them back, etc....

    I think he is realizing Gitmo was probably the best solution. He has also realized that Bush's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan were pretty good as well, otehrwise why would he be doing the exact same thing?

    May 15, 2009 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  12. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It is important to note that the issue is that torture happened. That is the first and foremost issue. Who knew what where and when, that is the second issue of great importance. How much could the people who were briefed do about this? Was there really any way that they could said or done anything to stop or let the public know about the torture? Most likely the answer is no.

    May 15, 2009 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  13. laurence

    this is a nonstarter! somebody broke the law...somebody has a lot of explaining to do as to why people were tortured when this country as always claimed it doesn't. forget about pelosi, she's not the issue. politics will take care of her. what is important is who gave the authority to carryout this unlawful program, and then let the chips fall where they may.

    May 15, 2009 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  14. Greg from MA

    First, it doesn't matter what Pelosi knew or didn't know, or when. The Bush administration is responsible for torturing individuals in US custody, and that is illegal.

    Second, Speaker Pelosi demonstrated that she put her political career before the country by not speaking out against the government's use of torture in 2003 when she learned about it. She should resign immediately.

    Third, the Republicans attempting to turn this into a "she knew when" or away from the fact that the previous administration committed torture are despicable. They too are putting party before country, and should resign as well.

    May 15, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  15. R in Maine

    The use of torture is inconsistent with the beliefs and policies of the United States. There is no basis for trying to bring down the current administration on the basis of decisions and actions by the previous administration. Bush seemed to relish the opportunity to order torture to facilitate his views of his powers as president. Cheney seemed especially delighted to have that opportunity. Special prosecutor time is now here.

    May 15, 2009 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  16. Expat American

    The Republican Bush Administration will indeed be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American history. Global history will not forget the elected Republican ‘values’ of torture, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, lying, and spying on American citizens.

    May 15, 2009 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  17. elliott

    yes of course, take the spotlight off Princess Pelosi before she is caught in any more lies. She and Biden must have attended the same pathological liers workshop.

    May 15, 2009 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  18. mike

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

    Oh wait a minute here. Even she's admitted (until she changes her story again) that she became aware of it way back in 2003. If she's prouldy worked on human rights and she considers this torture why didn't she speak up before???

    To the back of the line with you Ms Pelosi. Your position of power is almost up.

    May 15, 2009 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  19. mother of a soldier

    Let's take the focus off of Pelosi....gee, the #2 democrat doesn't want the truth revealed about the lies #1 is selling this country. Can't we impeach this woman?

    May 15, 2009 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  20. lkb

    OK CNN, enough with I am duplicating myself. I am not repeating myself so please post this!

    Let's take the focus off of Pelosi....gee, the #2 democrat doesn't want the truth revealed about the lies #1 is selling this country. Can't we impeach this woman?

    May 15, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  21. Candy West Virginia

    Good move rethuglicans, go after someone who really doesn't matter for something trivial so that you can try and cover up your crimes. This is one reason i could never be a republican because I have a conscience.

    May 15, 2009 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  22. Mississippi Mike

    When a scoundrel loses and argument they try to redefine the argument to terms they can win. In this case, Hoyer thinks he can change the debate from Pelosi's bald-faced lies to prosecuting Bush officials who are currently unpopular. Pelosi promised the "Most Ethical Congress Ever!" How do you think she's doing?

    May 15, 2009 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  23. Laverne

    Hoyer is absolutely correct. Proper memos and documentation was not kept and this is turning into a "he said, she said" situation which at the end of the day is irrelevant from the standpoint of what was done. Even if Nancy Pelosi is not 100% truthful, she did not authorize the use of waterboarding. The focus should continue to be on Dick Cheney and George Bush, they are the two who ultimately are responsible for these actions even if they do claim they were legal. They should be on the hot seat, not Nancy Pelosi.

    May 15, 2009 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  24. Obama Victim

    well, I guess you do want to change the subject.....they got you and The Botox Queen

    May 15, 2009 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  25. Kurt C.

    Anyone with a brain can see the difference between the CIA being liable to be charged twice for lying, knowing that, and going ahead and lying anyway and Pelosi who, if she lies, thinks the media will cover for her. She certainly seemed like a deer caught in the headlights when she didn't get the softball questions she was expecting.

    Pelosi is lying and she's not very good at it. At one point I expected her to say, "Well, it depends on what your definition of "briefing" is."

    May 15, 2009 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
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