It's a political squall that won't die: What did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi know about harsh questioning of detainees, and when did she know it?
The debate is sure to intensify with the Washington Post reporting Saturday that one of Pelosi's top aides was at a CIA briefing in early 2003 where officials explicitly discussed waterboarding the terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida.
Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning that President Barack Obama last week called torture.
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Michael Sheehy, Pelosi's aide, was present at the briefing with Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), then the ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, according to documents released yesterday to Congress. A Democratic source told the Post that it was "almost certain" that Pelosi would have found out about the use of waterboarding from Sheehy.
Republicans have accused the House speaker of knowing what the CIA was doing at the time, but only speaking out the program after word got out in 2007.
On Friday, Pelosi was forced to issue yet another press release, reiterating her past assertions that she had been briefed in 2002 only on new interrogation techniques that had been deemed legal and were planned for future use.
Her latest statement came three weeks after the Justice Department released formerly classified legal memos that detailed the once-secret CIA harsh interrogation program, and two weeks after she told reporters that when she got her sole CIA briefing on interrogation back in 2002, she had no idea the technique of waterboarding had already been used on a prisoner.
The House speaker was responding to this week's release of CIA records that show Pelosi was briefed in September 2002 on the harsh methods that were then being used. That appeared to contradict Pelosi's version, which said she understood the techniques were only planned for future use.
The CIA's records were vague on what exactly she and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss were told. The CIA identified 39 other congressional briefings on interrogation methods, spanning nearly seven years. In only 13 of them was waterboarding specifically noted as a topic of discussion. It was not specifically noted in the sole Pelosi briefing. That briefing only references "enhanced interrogation techniques" that had been approved and used. By inference, that would include waterboarding.
Goss claimed in an opinion piece in the Washington Post two weeks ago that Pelosi and he were specifically told waterboarding had been used against Abu Zubaydah, one of three CIA prisoners subjected to the method. But even the CIA suggests that its account of the meetings will not settle the debate over who knew what and when.
"In the end, you and the committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened," states the May 6 cover letter from CIA Director Leon Panetta to Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Pelosi is one of many Democrats who favor a truth commission to fully examine the CIA's Bush-era interrogation program. Her critics claim she is trying to distance herself from the program now that it has been publicly examined and condemned by the new administration.