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Pelosi Knocked Off Her Game

Speaker Under Fire on Torture

For Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), it’s a new week of old questions: What did she know about harsh Bush administration interrogation techniques, and when did she know it?

Usually a master of message discipline, Pelosi has been thrown off balance by a mounting firestorm over whether she or her staff learned six years ago that intelligence officials were using extreme tactics such as waterboarding.

For weeks, the Speaker has insisted she didn’t, though a declassified report last week suggested otherwise.

And Republicans, sensing a rare opportunity, are moving to keep the heat on the discrepancy over competing versions of what precisely was disclosed at the classified briefings in question. The GOP is demanding the CIA release more documents showing exactly what Pelosi was told in 2002, as they continue a wider offensive targeting Democrats on security issues like the planned closure of the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detainee prison.

With a series of torture investigations already in the works, Attorney General Eric Holder set to appear Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee and the likelihood of either a series of Congressional hearings or a “truth commission,” the issue simply isn’t going away.

Pelosi’s camp is braced for the buzz saw awaiting the Speaker upon her return today from a surprise trip to Iraq. Their strategy: stick to their script and blast the GOP attacks as a politically motivated attempt to distract from abuses sanctioned by the Bush administration.

“While Republicans continue ignore the truth, we’re going to continue to move forward answering the questions and point out that their actions are nothing more than political posturing,” one Democratic leadership aide said.

The Pelosi firestorm has been pushed by Republican leaders reacting to a call by some liberals for criminal prosecutions of Bush officials over what they characterize as torture. Those calls come in the wake of President Barack Obama’s release of memos arguing that waterboarding, “walling,” sleep deprivation and other harsh techniques were legal.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on Monday called on Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta to declassify and release memos that accompanied the briefings for Members of Congress.

“The American people should be given the full picture on what was known and agreed to on Capitol Hill on a bipartisan basis about the enhanced interrogation program,” Hoekstra said. “I think the administration should review the CIA notes and records from the briefings and, consistent with national security, make them available to the public.”

Hoekstra sent his request after he reviewed the records personally at CIA headquarters Thursday. He insisted the disclosure isn't just about Pelosi.

“This effort is not about one person, but what lawmakers in this institution, in both parties, were aware of and supported at the time,” Hoekstra said. “Releasing these records will help clear the air. Accountability for enhanced interrogation doesn’t begin with lawyers who offered opinions or interrogators in the field, it begins right here in the halls of Congress.”

It is not yet clear whether Pelosi will endorse Hoekstra’s request.

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