The Nancy Pelosi-CIA-Waterboarding drama has come to life again. Earlier this year, House Speaker Pelosi said that the CIA misled her by not disclosing during a 2002 national security briefing that the agency was using "waterboarding" as an interrogation method. The CIA denied Pelosi's account of the meeting.
The use of waterboarding by the Bush administration generated intense criticism among domestic and foreign human rights and civil liberties organizations. President Obama has banned its use.
It is unclear what Pelosi's objection to waterboarding would have accomplished in 2002. At the time, President Bush and the Department of Justice contended that the use of waterboarding was lawful, which means Bush would not have reversed course even if Pelosi had objected. Also, the information presented at the meeting was classified, which precluded Pelosi from launching a public campaign to abolish use of the technique. Nevertheless, some Republicans have seized upon the diverging accounts from the CIA and Pelosi in order to raise questions about Pelosi's veracity and to accuse her of demoralizing the intelligence community.
Although this story subsided after it initally broke, it has resurfaced in light of recent developments. First, six Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee have sent a letter to CIA Director Leon Panetta, which claims that Panetta recently told committee members that the CIA had withheld pertinent information from members of Congress for eight years beginning in 2001. The letter also demands that Panetta repudiate a statement from earlier this year that disagrees with Pelosi's contention that the CIA misled her. Panetta, through a spokesperson, stood by his previous position.
Second, a separate letter from House Intelligence Committee Chair Silvestre Reyes to ranking minority member Pete Hoekstra asserts that the CIA had "affirmatively lied to" members of Congress. Neither of the two letters from Democrats, however, indicate the specific "lies" or misrepresentations of the CIA. Furthermore, both letters were sent on the eve of Congressional debate over a pending intelligence bill. Republicans believe that the letters are politically motivated and intended to prop up Pelosi, who will probably face renewed scrutiny while Congress considers the intelligence bill.
The Republicans are probably correct to observe that the letters from Democrats are politically motivated. But -- this does not mean that the CIA has never misled Congress.
Expect a lot of grandstanding from members of both parties on this issue in the next few days. They will probably pay very little attention, however, to the merits of the intelligence bill. Unfortunately, the media will likely avoid having any in-depth discussion of the substance and merits of the proposed law as well. Currently, most of the stories on this issue focus exclusively or primarily on Pelosi and the CIA. Perhaps this will soon change.