By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Friday, April 24, 2009
Oversight: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's contention that she and other Democrats were not told about waterboarding terrorists is dubious enough. Her claim that they could do nothing anyway is blatantly false.
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The highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives says that back during the first term of President George W. Bush, when the 9/11 terror attacks were still fresh in the minds of Americans, she and other key Democrats briefed by the CIA "were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used."
That contradicts the statements of others who where there, such as former House Intelligence Committee chairman and CIA director Porter Goss, plus intelligence officials interviewed on the subject going back to 2007.
But Speaker Pelosi, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2002, further claimed that there was nothing she and her fellow Democrats in Congress could have done about it. "They don't come in to consult," the speaker said last week. "They come in to notify . . . you can't change what they're doing."
Funny that Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat who succeeded Pelosi as ranking member of the intelligence panel, and so was included in CIA briefings, didn't feel that her hands were tied. She sent the CIA a classified letter in February 2003 objecting to the interrogations.
In fact, Congress' oversight powers regarding the CIA have for years gone beyond just sending private hate mail. L. Britt Snider, who served as Bill Clinton's inspector general of the CIA, staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and investigator on the Senate committee that probed Nixon-administration intelligence abuses, calls the CIA "perhaps the most scrutinized agency in the executive branch."
Snider's 2008 book, "The Agency & The Hill: CIA's Relationship With Congress, 1946-2004," notes that since 1986, under the law "no funds could be spent for any intelligence activity for which Congress had denied funding."
To illustrate how swiftly Congress can jump into action when it discovers something the CIA is doing that it doesn't like, consider what happened after the leaders of the two intelligence committees and other congressional leaders were briefed at the White House on the Iran arms-for-hostages initiative in mid-November 1986.
"By the end of the year," Snider says, "no fewer than seven investigations had been launched of what had become known as the Iran-Contra affair." Some 300,000 documents were perused, more than 500 witnesses interviewed and 40 days of congressional hearings conducted.
In 1989, congressional oversight was further enhanced by the establishment of the office of CIA inspector general, giving "the committees a place they could go within the Agency to ask for oversight inquiries that exceeded the committees' own capabilities," as Snider describes it.
The 1992 Intelligence Organization Act went further again, specifying the CIA director's responsibility to provide intelligence to Congress that is, as the law states, "timely, objective, independent of political considerations, and based upon all sources available to the intelligence community."
In 1993, after hearing testimony accusing the CIA of misconduct in Guatemala, both the Senate and House panels investigated, as did the CIA inspector general, who followed the committees' requests and went all the way back to 1984 in examining agency knowledge of human rights abuses by its clandestine sources in Guatemala.
Those investigations led to major changes, including the CIA's setting up "on its own initiative, a systematic notification process to protect against another failure to notify Congress of significant information concerning its operations," as Snider writes.
Former CIA director of congressional affairs John Moseman, in describing the new process, said of Congress: "They couldn't come back to us anymore when something went wrong and claim they'd never been told about it. If they had a problem with something, then it was up to them to let us know about it."
It was up to Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and the other Democrats briefed by the CIA to let be known their objections to enhanced interrogations.
They didn't because back then 9/11 still stung. As Goss remembers of the briefings detailing waterboarding and other tough methods, "the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement." And as two officials present at such briefings told the Washington Post in 2007, at least two lawmakers in the room actually called on the CIA to push harder.
The speaker and her fellow top liberal Democrats were not powerless, as she now claims. But they were, and remain, gutless.