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. Robin

    We waterboarded 3 very bad people. The last one in 2003. The waterboarding took place after months of using standard methods. Yes, that is a fact. I'm not spoon fed my politics.

    Did we get good information? Yes.
    Did it save Los Angelos from an attack? Possibly.

    Nancy Pelosi lied. She built the gallows to hang the Bush Administration never thinking that she would be counted among them. Well, if they are guilty, she is too.

    I still say release everything, but liberals can't handle the truth.

    May 15, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  2. Andy J, NY, NY

    these morons are on a witch hunt, but apparently they are only interested in finding folks who are both guilty and Republican... any democrats who may be guilty are just "distractions"...

    come on.

    people can't be dumb enough to look past the hypocrisy.

    Personally, i don't care if Pelosi knew. Just like i don't care that those scum bag terrorists were water boarded.

    So much for a "new era of politics". Seems like this is the most politicized and divided era in decades.

    May 15, 2009 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  3. Real Change

    "determining what happened during the Bush administration and making sure it never happens again."

    It happened, Congressman Hoyer, because nobody stood up to stop it !! You want to make sure it "never happens again?" Then make sure those who are complicit in it (including Nancy Pelosi) are held accountable.

    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

    May 15, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  4. Barbara Independent in NY

    You would only need to look at the cherry picked information involving WMDs to decide for yourself if the CIA would be willing to mislead Congress. I believe the Speaker. And the pathetic grown men trying to put the focus on Pelosi instead of where it should be–the Bush Administration– really need to man up. GOP=wimps.

    May 15, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  5. Pat F

    Translation from the Democrat-speak:

    "Wait, this is getting out of hand! This isn't about responsible government, and a serious policy question. It's about our vendetta against the prior administration, and our desire for show trials! How can we use this to maximum fundraising effect if you keep bringing up serious issues? All this does is force us to face the fact that the Democrats were behind this all the way – until it became politically more expedient to be against it. Next question....?"

    May 15, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  6. Obamalism

    oh heck no! The dems wanted a 'truth commission'...let's have one.

    Anyone with eyes and ears can see that Pelosi is lying. A perfect example of PLAYING POLITICS WITH OUR NATIONAL SECURITY. The only person out doing her is Obama.

    May 15, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  7. Julia Byrd- Hayden Idaho

    SMOKE SCREEN POLITICS. It's not releasing the photos of torture that put our troops in danger, it's the persons that approved the torture in the first place. There would be no photos if torture had not been approved by the Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld. Solution: Charge Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld with torture violation of the Geneva Convention and putting our troops in danger.

    May 15, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  8. Bob in Pa

    No it's not a distraction because these top dems knew what was happening and signed off on it. They can't put others in a bad light unless they do the same to their own.

    We need term limits so we won't have to deal with this any longer. Get them all out of Washington so they stop playing scripted reality tv with our government.

    May 15, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  9. LOKEL

    The truth shall set us free!

    Bring on the war crimes tribunal, it will show the World that the people of the US did not and will not approve of such behavior from our "elected" officials ever again.

    May 15, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  10. Mari( maybe one of my comments will be posted)

    Its always funny to read the comments by the GOPers, complaining about and criticizing President Obama!

    America KNOWS WHO LIED. Bush LIED about WMD's with the help of the CIA!

    The Bush regime had a history of secrecy, I am sure they revealed only enough information, but hid the TRUTH that would cause outrage!

    Let's see who to believe? Who to believe?

    Do I believe DICK? Or Nancy? I will believe, Nancy. DICK LIED.

    May 15, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  11. Lynn

    Hoyer is exactly right, and as a Democrat, if Pelosi was complict than she should be exposed as such.

    However, the Republicans and the press trying to change the discussion to when Pelosi knew is a pathetic attempt to turn the conversation of the whole issue of the use torture.

    May 15, 2009 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  12. Comradio

    Absolutely take Pelosi to trial just like the extremist right wingers call for! I'm willing to lose that woman. Just keep in my conservatives, you can't has it both ways either, if she should be investigated for what she KNEW then by any and all standards you just made the case that Bush and Chemey should absolutely be investigated and tried for what they DID! I'll lose pelosi for that, don't like the woman anyway. You might, for once, think about the ramifications of what you guys are calling for, you know the consequences, I know that's foreign ideal to you and all but, call for pelosi's head and you're giving up in saving the bush administrations just to get at this one woman. I say go for it, fools.

    May 15, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
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