Nancy Pelosi’s waterboarding questions No. 67 and 68

I am not exactly sure what the ethics committee would say about it, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Southwest Airlines hadn’t contacted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to see if she might appear in one of those wildly popular “Wanna Get Away?” television commercials.

Advertising $49 one-way specials designed to transport you instantaneously out of any embarrassing situation you might find yourself in, the commercials appeal to that universal desire to sometimes drop everything, run away, hop on a plane and get the heck out of Dodge for a few merciful days.

Although her weekend trip to Jordan and Iraq no doubt had been planned for weeks, it served the same purpose as those ads by offering Pelosi some precious breathing room and distance between her and the growing what-did-she-know-and-when-did-she-know-it controversy surrounding the use of waterboarding.

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But, like any getaway trip conjured up at the last minute to escape the pressure of bills, relationships or any number of other troubles back home, there is also the unfortunate reality that those same problems you left behind are right there, staring you smack-dab in the face the second you get back into town.
Such is the case this week as Pelosi returns to the Capitol and an antsy press corps loaded with dozens of questions about the controversy that has emerged as the most serious challenge to her credibility since becoming Speaker of the House in January 2007.

At the core of the matter is a recently released unclassified CIA memo outlining over 40 briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) conducted for members of Congress between September 2002 and March of this year.

The memo’s first entry, dated Sept. 4, 2002, details a briefing conducted for Pelosi (then ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee) and then-committee Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.), along with staffers Tim Sample and Michael Sheehy.

Under the “subject” category, a brief description of that meeting states: “Briefing on EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, briefing on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed.”

That past tense “had been employed” is a critical piece of information, because during an April 23 news conference in the Capitol, Pelosi emphatically denied that she had been briefed on waterboarding — or any other EITs, for that matter.

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“At that or any other briefing — and that was the only briefing that I was briefed on in that regard — we were not — I repeat, we were not — told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used,” Pelosi said. Pelosi not only denied it twice, but punctuated her remarks by waving her right hand and index finger for extra emphasis.
Pelosi insisted that the

Sept. 4, 2002, meeting dealt specifically with legal opinions and a discussion that EITs “could be used, but not that they would.” Further, Pelosi said that if, indeed, the EITs were going to be used in the future, she would receive an additional briefing, which apparently never came.

Despite the possibility of a legitimate discrepancy between the CIA’s take and Pelosi’s description of that meeting, the Speaker would do herself some good this week by holding a no-holds-barred, clear-the-air Capitol news conference to deal specifically with this issue, which threatens to become a major distraction.
Just a few of the areas Pelosi should be prepared to discuss:

• Assuming there is a legitimate difference of opinion regarding the substance of that September 2002 briefing, are you saying that the use of waterboarding never came up in any subsequent, personalized weekly briefings afforded you as minority leader or later as Speaker?

• Are you saying that the topic never came up in meetings or telephone calls between you and your top intelligence staffer, Mike Sheehy, any other staffers or any other members who may have been briefed?

• If you are correct that the September 2002 briefing dealt only with legal opinions and the possibility of future use, at any time after that did you follow up with any inquiries regarding the status of waterboarding to see if it had moved from concept to reality?

• You said that you concurred with the letter written by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) that raised concerns about waterboarding. Is there any documentation to back that up? Did you sign the Harman letter? Were you aware of it in real time, or only later, when it was declassified? Did you send your own letter? Did you ever express your concerns with President Bush during any of your meetings with him between 2002 and 2008?

These are just a few of the questions Pelosi needs to address; I am sure my Capitol Hill colleagues have their own. Until the Speaker does a better job of answering them — in the words of the Southwest commercial — she might not be free to move about the country without being hounded.

You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com.