WASHINGTON – Four top members of Congress, including now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, got a close look at CIA overseas detention sites and interrogation techniques in September 2002 and offered no challenge to their legitimacy, according to a news article out Sunday.
On the contrary, at least two lawmakers involved in the briefing that day questioned whether the CIA was pushing hard enough, even after hearing the details of the now widely criticized technique known as waterboarding, two U.S. officials told The Washington Post.
"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," one official is quoted saying.
A virtual tour of the sites given by the CIA was among 30 private briefings with key legislative leaders during the 2002-2003 era when waterboarding was used. At the time, only one objection — filed by then-House Intelligence Committee Ranking Democrat Jane Harman — was made.
Waterboarding has since become the pariah of interrogation techniques. On Friday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey agreed to launch an inquiry into the 2005 destruction of tapes of CIA interrogators performing waterboarding on high value detainees.
"Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," Porter Goss, a former CIA director and congressman who chaired the House intelligence panel at the time of the briefings, told The Post. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
Congressional officials have argued that the inability of the group to write notes or consult legal experts because of the secrecy factor hurt lawmakers' ability to challenge the practices being explained at the time.
An official who discussed the details noted that the briefings took place while the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were still fresh in lawmakers' minds. "People were still in a panic. ... But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing."
By 2005 when the issue of waterboarding, or simulated drowning, became public, the CIA had already stopped the practice known to have been performed on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who helped plan the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda member.