WASHINGTON — The House majority leader said Tuesday that Congress should investigate whether the Bush administration authorized the torture of terrorism detainees, and he contended that the Republican focus on what Speaker Nancy Pelosi learned about harsh interrogation methods was a distraction.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was asked at a news conference about a controversy over what Pelosi was told during a 2002 intelligence briefing. Saying the focus of upcoming hearings should be on the interrogation tactics, he also responded: "What was said and when it was said, who said it, I think that is probably what ought to be on the record as well."
Hoyer said after the news conference that he only was referring to an investigation of what many Democrats call torture, not of Pelosi.
Democrats plan to hold hearings on Justice Department memos released last month that justified rough tactics against detainees, including waterboarding — simulated drowning — and sleep deprivation.
Republicans have tried to turn the issue to their advantage by complaining that Pelosi and other Democrats knew of the tactics but didn't protest. Pelosi was briefed in 2002 while on the House Intelligence Committee.
Asked at the news conference whether Democrats were inviting political problems by holding hearings, Hoyer said: "I think the facts need to get out. I think the Republicans are simply trying to distract the American public with who knew what when. My response to that is, look, the issue is not what was said or what was known; the question and focus ought to be on what was done."
He then added: "What was said and when it was said, who said it ... is probably what ought to be on the record as well."
Hoyer also was asked whether he believes Pelosi's support has been undermined among Democrats.
"No, I don't," he said.
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee is expected to hold the first hearing on the interrogation policy on Wednesday, but it has scheduled testimony unrelated to the Pelosi matter.
A CIA document made public last week shows that Pelosi received a briefing in September 2002 on the tactics used on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida leader and one of three prisoners subjected to waterboarding. Pelosi said she was told the agency was discussing its legal right to use the tactic in the future.
"We were not — I repeat — were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used," said Pelosi, D-Calif.