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Pelosi Knocked Off Her Game

At the center of the dispute is a pair of briefings in which the CIA said Pelosi and Michael Sheehy, then a top aide, were briefed on “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the agency was applying to detainees. In September 2002, Pelosi, then the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed along with then-Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) that suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah had been subjected to the tactics and told of the “particular EITs that had been employed,” according to a report the agency released Thursday. That document said Sheehy attended a briefing in February 2003 that also discussed the techniques — specifically waterboarding, according to the Washington Post.

Pelosi responded Friday, stating again that the September 2002 meeting was her only briefing on the practices and that intelligence officials never disclosed they were actually using the tactics, only that they had the legal clearance to do so. And she pointed to a letter that Panetta attached to the declassified report suggesting it “may not be accurate.”

Pelosi appears to have earned some breathing room on the matter from human rights groups by calling publicly for an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees — a push that could include an examination of the Congressional role in signing off on the programs.

But those advocates nevertheless want answers from Pelosi.

“It’s unclear what the Speaker knew and when she knew it,” said Geneve Mantri, the government relations director for terrorism and counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International. “But it only goes to focus the call that Amnesty International is making that we need a bipartisan commission of inquiry to look at all these issues.”

Wherever the facts lie, some senior House Democratic aides are worrying about the political fallout of an extended she-said, they-said showdown between the Speaker and the CIA. “It’s awkward the way it’s coming out in dribs and drabs, but she’s staked out turf” that she now has to defend, one aide said.

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