Seeing a Catfight Where There Is None

Spencer Ackerman has a more complete version of Nancy Pelosi’s statement about when she was briefed on torture techniques.

On one occasion, in the fall of 2002, I was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was considering using in the future. The Administration advised that legal counsel for the both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded that the techniques were legal.

I had no further briefings on the techniques. Several months later, my successor as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, was briefed more extensively and advised the techniques had in fact been employed. It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred.

And then he makes what I consider a gross misreading of the statement.

One: Pelosi isn’t saying that she knew how detainees were interrogated. She’s saying she was told that all techniques used in those interrogations were considered legal. So did she know what those techniques were, and what they entailed? We’ll find out, or get stonewalled trying.

Two: Never mind the brief mention of Jane Harman’s protest. Pelosi just threw Harman under the bus. It’s no secret that the two Californians don’t get along. But she didn’t need to put the blame on her committee successor in her statement on this controversy.

Let’s take the key clauses from Nancy’s statement. I’ve bolded them up there in the statement so it’s crystal clear that they’re direct quotes, written in plain language.

  1. I [Nancy Pelosi] was briefed on interrogation techniques
  2. Jane Harman, was briefed more extensively and advised the techniques had in fact been employed
  3. Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred

So, Pelosi in fact says clearly she was told about the interrogation techniques–albeit not in great detail. She notes only that Jane Harman got a more detailed briefing and got notice that the intelligence community was actually using them. But how, if she mentions Harman’s protest and says she concurred with it, is that throwing Harman under the bus? If anything, it’s Nancy trying to claim that she just didn’t have enough gory details in the 2002 briefing to make the correct objection that Harman made after the 2003 briefing. But she’s not denying that she was briefed on interrogation techniques and she’s not throwing Harman under the bus.

We all know these two have had some disagreements. But this, at least according to Nancy Pelosi, was not one of them.

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  1. alank says:

    There’s no letter to corroborate the story of either. Just a statement last Friday asserting this act of the quill. Is that not correct?

    • emptywheel says:

      Alan K

      Harman has asked Hayden to declassify her objection to the torture tape; I’m not sure if that’s the same letter where she objected to the torture itself (they were both written in 2003). So I do believe there is at least one letter.

      • alank says:

        I posted a comment on the earlier blog with a quote from the CIA showing the cozy relationship between Hayden and Harmon. It was positively oozing with unction.

        Objections to the tape seem a bit tangential to objections to torture. But you see the point that the letter seems to be what these Gang members are hanging their claims on. It’s a bit tendential, to say the least.

  2. Leen says:

    I agree sounds like they are on the same page on this one. Wondering who were the CIA attorneys who “designed and cleared” these techniques?

  3. TeddySanFran says:

    But won’t it be easier for The Village to understand all this icky complicity with torture if it’s framed as a catfight? It’s not that either woman did anything wrong by approving of, or not protesting effectively, the torture done in our name. It’s that they hate each other. That’s a better way to understand this messiness: doesn’t involve actual complicity and is more handily covered by Robin Givhan, Maureen Dowd, and Sally Quinn.
    /s

    • PJEvans says:

      And after all, women are far too delicate to be involved in politics. They’re supposed to be decorative accessories when outside the home. [/snark]

      Even if Pelosi and Harman hate each other, it’s clear that Pelosi didn’t get the same level of briefing as Harman. (Or is claiming she didn’t, at least. I’m starting to think that just about all of those committee members can lie with a straight face.)

  4. looseheadprop says:

    MArcy re: you #1 I read it: Pelosi was briefed on a range of interrogation techniques that the CIA and DOJ lawyers had cleared as leagl, which were under consideration for use, none of which were yet in use (or so they told the gang of 4)

    • billinturkey says:

      Just amplifying a bit – if Pelosi was only told ‘these measures might be used, and have been found legal’ she might not have been told anything that wasn’t incredibly vague about what circumstances they might be used under.

      It also strikes me that 5 years ago, people’s responses to ‘ticking time-bomb’ scenarios might not have been quite so finely honed as they are (or should be) now.

      It still looks to me as though Dems might be better off with Harman still on the committee, though. And since primarying her seems to have made it easier for Pelosi to do (or harder for her not to do), I’ve still some doubts about whether it was the right thing to do.

      • nomolos says:

        Just amplifying a bit – if Pelosi was only told ‘these measures might be used, and have been found legal’ she might not have been told anything that wasn’t incredibly vague about what circumstances they might be used under.

        One wonders did they tell Pelosi “waterboarding” specifically? If they did surely she would have had an inkling that it was sort of like torture and therefore illegal?

    • Ann in AZ says:

      I have just one problem with the idea of waiting until methods are implemented before they’re objected to. That’s insane! The time to say no is before the crime is done.

      Otherwise, I didn’t see this as Nancy throwing Jane under the bus at all; I thought she was using her for cover. I doubt that this is the source of their problems.

  5. scribe says:

    You’re leaving out a very important fact:

    Pelosi was briefed on techniques which were (as of the time of her briefing) Ok’d to be used in the future.

    Harman was briefed, later and more extensively, on techniques which had already been used (as of the time of her briefing) in the past.

    Future, past.

    Pelosi had two reasons not to “protest”: (a) the use of the techniques hadn’t, per her briefing, happened yet, and (b) there was a representation to her that the techniques had been vetted for legality.

    Further, we do not know whether the techniques briefed to Pelosi were the same techniques briefed to Harman. I doubt Pelosi and Harman know – given that the information is surely TS-compartmented and neither would, necessarily, have access to the same compartments.

    Finally, there’s no way of knowing (from any of the public statements I’ve seen so far) whether any protests from Harman or Pelosi or any Dems (or, for that matter, any Repugs in Congress) would have made any difference to the WH in going forward with their torture program. More likely, the WH had decided to torture and used the requirement for “oversight” to tell the Congress what they were gonna do.

    The Establishment press is stirring this tempest in a chamberpot, desperate to somehow tar the Democrats with something that was purely a Republican decision, effort, and operation.

    • emptywheel says:

      Pelosi was briefed on techniques which were (as of the time of her briefing) Ok’d to be used in the future.

      Harman was briefed, later and more extensively, on techniques which had already been used (as of the time of her briefing) in the past.

      Future, past.

      Pelosi had two reasons not to “protest”: (a) the use of the techniques hadn’t, per her briefing, happened yet, and (b) there was a representation to her that the techniques had been vetted for legality.

      Sorry. This was an oversight hearing. If you’re briefed on something that hasn’t happened yet, you raise no objections, and then it happens, you are responsible for not objecting when there was time to stop it (putting aside the fact that Abu Zubaydah had already been water-boarded by the 2002 briefing). On this logic, the only time Congress should object to the Iraq war is after that war started…. and that didn’t turn out too well.

      Further, we do not know whether the techniques briefed to Pelosi were the same techniques briefed to Harman. I doubt Pelosi and Harman know – given that the information is surely TS-compartmented and neither would, necessarily, have access to the same compartments.

      If Pelosi says Harman got a more detailed briefing, doesn’t that suggest she learned what Harman learned? If Pelosi concurred in teh letter, don’t you think she has at least a general sense of the content? And while they apparently didn’t do a Gang of Eight briefing, it was technically legally required, so teh compartmentalization is kind of dubious in this case (that is, it would be a dubious claim for BushCo to make).

      I agree with the rest of your statement–the objections obviously didn’t do a bit of good. What’s going on here, though, is that the spooks are trying to limit the oversight hearings associated with the tapes to the tapes, and not the torture, but making it clear that Congress did not object to the torture. In Jane Harman’s case, that is not true.

      • scribe says:

        Fair enough on your observations, but unless and until we get to see both what Pelosi was briefed on, and what Harman was briefed on, we are to some degree speculating. That does not affect the primary thrust of my commentary – that this is a tempest in a chamberpot stirred up by the Admin/Estalblishment media to somehow tar the Dems with a purely Republican project.

        Back to Pelosi – I would suppose that there may have been some degree of communication to Pelosi, post the Harman briefing, as to what was briefed to Harman, maybe as simple as “very detailed” or as in depth as a complete brief to Pelosi. We don’t know.

        On to Harman – if she’s been briefed in depth, and everything points to that, then I have a couple things to say. If I were her, my letter to Hayden “asking” that the letter protesting the techniques implies (if it doesn’t state so explicitly) that he’d damn well better declassify it. Today.
        Second, and probably regardless of whether the letter is declassified or not: if I’m Harman, I’m pulling a Gravel and going into the well of the House to speak, at length, about “what I was briefed on and what my reactions were”. And, if Hayden doesn’t like that, or disagrees that whatever I might have said is the unvarnished truth, then he will have to provide people, under oath and on TV, to contradict that. And, I will always have the option of saying that what the CIA puts out (should it tend to exculpate the CIA) is a recent fabrication to protect the CIA’s own ass. And, of course, I will be protected by Speech and Debate against any retribution, likely including the Administration pulling my clearance.

        Or, in so many words, run into the tackle.

        • nomolos says:

          I agree, particularly about Harman. And what is it about these two, three women “in power” in America right now do they have to prove that they have more testosterone than cheney?

          • selise says:

            And what is it about these two, three women “in power” in America right now do they have to prove that they have more testosterone than cheney?

            i don’t think it’s about them. i think it’s about us and our culture – and what we demand of women who are the first to take on roles / jobs that we’re not used to seeing women in.

        • Ann in AZ says:

          That does not affect the primary thrust of my commentary – that this is a tempest in a chamberpot stirred up by the Admin/Estalblishment media to somehow tar the Dems with a purely Republican project.

          I was wondering if you’re thinking that Spencer Ackerman is MSM, but he’s not; he’s TPM. In my opinion, there’s more than enough blame to go around for Rethugs as well as Dems. But the fact that Dems are complicit might explain the way they’ve been tap dancing with so much that they appear like they are spineless, ineffective, weak, and out of touch.

          Also:

          Second, and probably regardless of whether the letter is declassified or not: if I’m Harman, I’m pulling a Gravel and going into the well of the House to speak, at length, about “what I was briefed on and what my reactions were”. And, if Hayden doesn’t like that, or disagrees that whatever I might have said is the unvarnished truth, then he will have to provide people, under oath and on TV, to contradict that. And, I will always have the option of saying that what the CIA puts out (should it tend to exculpate the CIA) is a recent fabrication to protect the CIA’s own ass. And, of course, I will be protected by Speech and Debate against any retribution, likely including the Administration pulling my clearance.

          I just have a problem with this theory; the Speech and Debate Clause might work, or they could call divulging classified information on the floor of the House or Senate “treason” which makes it punishable! I’ll grant that it would be the height of disingenuous for this admin to try to prosecute such a case considering their involvement with disclosure of the identity of a CIA agent and her whole cover organization during a time of war. But revealing to the world from the house floor that our President is likely a co-conspirator in war crimes might not be taken to kindly, either. It would truly depend on the definition of “treason”.

          • scribe says:

            1. TPM got some clarification from Pelosi, here.
            2. The Speech and Debate Clause states, in pertinent (my boldface) part:

            …shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony, and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same, and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

            You’re conflating the “privilege against arrest” part of the clause, which was enacted to prevent monkeyshines like the King used to use against worthies like Wm. Penn, to arrest them on the way to Parliament to prevent their participation in vote/debate contrary to the King’s interests, with the core “Speech and Debate” provision, which immunizes all statements made during Speeches and Debates on the floor (or in committees, or in preparation for legislative work) against any inquiry in any place, including (arguably) a criminal court. The anti-arrest provision is pretty useless – ask Larry Craig, as he was enroute to a session of the Senate and did vote later that day (and made the cop aware of same). The speech and debate immunity, however, is highly prized and well-guarded.

            Go read Gravel v. United States and the Jefferson ($90k in the freezer) case – I’m rushed and can’t find links right now, but the former is available through the any of the various US Supreme Court collections and the latter through the DC Circuit.

          • MadDog says:

            From commenter wmhogg over at Glenn Greenwald’s place:

            I’m sure that he will be on other shows this evening, but I thought I’d mention that Jonathan Turley, the constitutional scholar, said that there is no obligation to keep a State Secret, or abide by a pledge of secrecy, if one is reporting a crime.

      • Ann in AZ says:

        Didn’t Harmon say that she knew of the tapes’ existence and objected to their destruction, but did not know that they had been destroyed? Did anyone ask her if she, maybe, saw the tapes, and that it was what she saw on the tapes that she was objecting to? If she knew about the tapes, wouldn’t she have wanted to see them, asked to see them, so that she would know what she’s dealing with? There’s just so much more to know about all of this stuff, and so little time, when you consider the enormous amount of time that is yet to be spent on campaigning.

  6. nomolos says:

    I hope it is OK to go OT a little and I apologize most profusely to EW

    This is still about torture though

    http://news.independent.co.uk/…..239372.ece

    Clive Stafford-Smith, the legal director of Reprieve representing Mr Mohammed, said that he also knows the identity of the agents who were present when his client was allegedly beaten and tortured. Writing to Mr Miliband, he said: “Given the opportunity, we can prove that the evidence was the fruit of torture. Indeed, we can prove that a photographic record was made of this by the CIA. Through diligent investigation we know when the CIA took pictures of Mr Mohammed’s brutalised genitalia, we know the identity of the CIA agents who were present including the person who took the pictures (we know both their false identities and their true names), and we know what those pictures show.”

    My bold. Now how in the heck did they get those photos.

  7. emptywheel says:

    I rather suspect that if Pelosi hadn’t been briefed on water-boarding specifically–in however vague a way–she would have said so, as it is in her best interest to do so. She wouldn’t even have to name it. She could have just said “I wasn’t briefed on all the techniques that have subsequently been discussed.”

    • billinturkey says:

      If that’s intended as a response to me, and not just nomolos, it misses the mark.

      My suggestion was that in Pelosi’s briefing they might have been vague/misleading about the circumstances in which the technique might have been used (here’s something which is legal, not about what techniques had been approved. EG: ‘Of course we’d only use this one in way out circumstances, such as if we’d caught Moussaoui as the attacks on the twin towers were going on.’)

      I’d still criticise Pelosi’s judgment if that is what happened, but she’s come out a lot better than she does so far (though the forward-looking/backward looking briefing difference between her and Harman already improves things as far as I’m concerned.)

      Also I’m with you on ‘no catfight’ (and indeed on how demeaning and absurd it is to see things through those spectacles). OTOH someone suggested on an earlier thread that Harman might have been the ’source familiar with Pelosi’s position. If so this could be taken as a jab back. (But – I don’t think Harman is the sfwp – but possibly Ackermann does?)

  8. LS says:

    Well, I’m guessing the legality was based on whatever Bush ultimately authorized as “legal”, since whatever he deems is legal for the CIA to do, is legal according to the Administration, and that the President is the CIA’s “client”…..(leads back to Whitehouse’s assumptions, based upon whatever documents he viewed).

    The fact that Pelosi apparently just accepted whatever she was told at the time just smacks of stupidity (no surprise there). Harman’s protest letter is nothing more than a CYA move on her part, because she probably realized this would come back to bite her in the butt in the future. No matter how any of them twist it, the fact is that Bush authorized and ordered torture, which his minions executed; people knew, and nobody stopped them. That is the bottom line. The buck stops with Bush. Where are the signed memos? What did he sign, what did others sign? Why isn’t impeachment on the table today??

  9. Phoenix Woman says:

    Thanks for this, EW. The extreme disdain which many netrooters hold for Pelosi is causing them to see things that just plain aren’t there. (As for why she didn’t have a statement out immediately: Well, she was kinda preoccupied, as her seventh grandkid was born this Saturday. She was probably counting on a quiet weekend to bond with her family and the new arrival.)

    The mere fact that the Bushies are resorting to this sort of smear attempt should show everyone that they really fear what Pelosi’s pushing of the CIA tape-destruction probe is likely to reveal. I fully expect to see hookers from the Tenderloin being paraded around as Pelosi’s lesbian lovers before this is all over.

  10. radiofreewill says:

    Nomolos – Mr. Mohammed’s source for the photos and the names, if true, is almost certainly a member of the torturing government’s intelligence community (not a contractor himself) involved in the chain of custody, perhaps, of the ’collateral’ contracted for by the CIA – including the trophy photographs.

    Ianap, but Bush’s Craven Hate-Ideation is a strong candidate for gratification through Torture Pr0n, imho.

    My guess is that every Torture session was Contracted to be check-list driven, punitive and humiliating as well as interrogative, and include transcripts, video and trophy photos, as collateral.

    It’s known that Hitler used to serially watch the films of the meathook and piano-wire hangings of the Bomb Plotters in a state of excitation. Frankly, it’s hard NOT to imagine the Supporters of Torture enjoying the suffering of others on film – that’s part of the point, right, all in the name of ’intelligence’ gathering?

    For all we know, Bush is addicted to watching Waterboarding sessions…

  11. billinturkey says:

    ‘Fair enough on your observations, but unless and until we get to see both what Pelosi was briefed on, and what Harman was briefed on, we are to some degree speculating.’

    Might now be a good time for Pelosi and Harman to follow Glenzilla’s advice and invoke the ‘Speech and Debate’ clause to get this out. Easier and quicker, in the first instance than a Congressional Enquiry.

    • billinturkey says:

      Oops – I’ll read the whole comment next time. Sorry scribe. But I do think Pelosi should invoke Speech and Debate, not just Harman.

      • scribe says:

        I think Harman is in the much stronger position than Pelosi to go ahead, speak out, and invoke Speech and Debate and let the chips fall.
        Pelosi could also come out and do likewise later, perhaps putting impeachment back on the table if the pushback gets too heavy in the interim.

        In other words, we can pimp-slap you, too, Georgie-boy.

  12. CanuckStuckinMuck says:

    How soon before we start mailing our representatives to ask Pelosi to step down for her complicity?

  13. lambertstrether says:

    Larry Johnson at TPM today:

    And last but not least. The top two Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees–the so-called “gang of eight”–were fully briefed in interrogation techniques [torture] several times during 2002-3. They concurred unanimously that the interrogation techniques [torture] were OK. This means that Democrats as well as Republicans backed this process.

    Isn’t this really a pretty simple issue? Don’t hold hearings on the tapes, even if that is a narrative our famously free press understands. Hold hearings on the entire torture regime.