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Over the past 16 months, what members of Congress knew and when did they know it has slowly emerged in newspaper accounts. Four select members of Congress were notified in September 2002 when the CIA gave a secret high level briefing regarding the use of "harsh interrogation" and "overseas detention sites".

U.S. law requires Congress be informed of covert activities, but allows for limited access to briefings in sensitive matters. In this meeting, four members of Congress were informed. They were Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss, and Senators Bob Graham and Richard Shelby. The ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees sometimes described as the "Gang of Four".

According to the Washington Post in December 2007, the four Congress members raised no objections to the "interrogation" techniques described, including waterboarding.

Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Over the following years, approximately 30 secret briefings were given to Congressional overseers. In addition, to the members listed above, Rep. Jane Harman, and Senators Jay Rockefeller and Pat Roberts were also briefed in 2003. The entire House and Senate intelligence committees were briefed fully in 2006.

According to the NY Times, "the 2002 Gang of Four briefings left a hodgepodge of contradictory recollections that, to some Congressional staff members, reveal a dysfunctional oversight system."

Pelosi "insists... that the lawmakers were told only that the C.I.A. believed the methods were legal — not that they were going to be used." In the 2007 WaPo story:

Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi's position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage -- they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice -- and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.

TPM has Pelosi's statement regarding what she knew in 2002. In part, she said:

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...

[To be continued...]

The NY Times notes that Rep. Goss, who George W. Bush later appointed to head the CIA, "recalls a clear message that the methods would be used."

"We were briefed, and we certainly understood what C.I.A. was doing," Mr. Goss said in an interview. "Not only was there no objection, there was actually concern about whether the agency was doing enough."

In the 2007 WaPo story, Goss explained, "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing... And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

Members of Congress briefed by the CIA were restricted from consulting legal experts, their staff members, or even from taking notes. The NY Times reported Sen. Graham "did not recall ever being briefed on the methods, though government officials with access to records say all four committee leaders received multiple briefings."

"Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn't object," Graham said.

However less than a month later, on October 9, 2002, Graham seemed to know certain things about the Bush-era disregard-for-the-law lawyering when he spoke on the behalf of Scott Muller's nomination to be the CIA's general counsel. Graham said in a statement to the Senate Committee on Intelligence that:

I would like a moment to speak about the issue of cautious lawyering at the CIA. I know from my work on this Committee for the past 10 years that lawyers at CIA sometimes have displayed a risk aversion in the advice they give their clients, particularly some of the lawyers assigned to the posts in the Directorate of Operations.

Unfortunately, we are not living in times in which lawyers can say no to an operation just to play it safe We need excellent, aggressive lawyers who give sound, accurate legal advice, not lawyers who say no to an otherwise legal operation just because it is easier to put on the brakes.

Among other links, Muller did not block the destruction of the CIA's torture tapes and defended its use to Rep. Harman.

For his part, Sen. Shelby refused to discuss the CIA torture briefings. However four months earlier, Shelby leaked classified intercepted messages to Fox News and CNN on June 19, 2002. The Department of Justice did not press charges, but such a breach may have been used as leverage over the senator. Shelby was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee in November 2005.

Harman took up Pelosi's seat on the House Intelligence Committee in January 2003. Recall in her statement earlier, Pelosi said "I had no further briefings on the techniques." The rest of her statement continued, stating:

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."

Pelosi is trying to shift the responsibility unto Harman. However Harman revealed at the time coinciding   with the 2007 WaPo story that she "filed a classified letter to the CIA in February of [2003] as an official protest about the interrogation program. Harman said she had been prevented from publicly discussing the letter or the CIA's program because of strict rules of secrecy. "'

In February 2003, Harman wrote a  letter (pdf) to Scott Muller at the CIA concerning the use of torture:

I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?

Muller responded (pdf), the Department of Justice determined the "use of these techniques is fully consistent with US law."

Changes were happening in 2003 in the Senate too, Graham was replaced by Sen. Rockefeller. According to the 2007 WaPo story:

Rockefeller also declined to talk about the briefings, but the West Virginia Democrat's public statements show him leading the push in 2005 for expanded congressional oversight and an investigation of CIA interrogation practices. "I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA's detention and interrogation activities," Rockefeller said in a statement Friday.

In October 2007, Rockefeller demanded the Bush administration release of the torture memos, which Obama released last week. At the time Rockefeller said in a statement: "The administration can't have it both ways... I'm tired of these games. They can't say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program."

Sen. Roberts has refused to comment on his role in the CIA torture briefings, but in a 2006 interview with Human Events, he said of the effectiveness of waterboarding:

Roberts: That is one of the techniques that will not be used anymore.

Human Events: It’s definite?

Roberts: I’m not going to make any further comment about it.

Human Events: Do you think that’s good for national security. I mean, if it was an effective technique, according to this report?

Roberts: I’m not going to speak to that. There’s a series of techniques, and I think, overall, what is most helpful in interrogation is the fact that the detainee does not know what can be used. It’s the fear of the unknown and the fact that basically we know more than he does in regards to his activities. The length of that interrogation is also important, but I think that the situation with the waterboarding, I’m not sure how helpful that is. Obviously, if he says that’s the case then with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, but I’d rather not get into the techniques. A lot of it still is classified, let alone that it’s been in the press and as chairman of the committee I really can’t comment.

Of the seven past and present members of Congress who were charged with oversight in 2002 and 2003 of the CIA's covert activities all but Rep. Harman failed almost completely. When Harman was stonewalled by the CIA, she apparently let the matter drop. She kept safe their dark, evil secret.

I feel each of these seven past and present members of Congress are not giving us the full truth of what they knew and when did they know it. The Republicans, obviously, will do everything in their power to protect their former leader from prison by making torture into a partisan issue. The Democrats seem content to shrugging their shoulders a la Sergeant Schultz saying, "I know nothing – NOTHING!"

For example, if Pelosi knew about the torture, then her complicity may be reason enough why she protected Bush and Dick Cheney when she became Speaker of the House in 2007. I think the time has come for the members who knew about the CIA torture program back in 2002 and 2003 to step forward and explain why they either failed to do their oversight job and how they will fix CIA oversight or why they've kept the truth about torture from the American people for the past 6 years.

When the people of United States finally investigate our country's use of torture, we need also to examine the role taken by Congress. We must hold responsible those members who were informed about the use of torture and kept silent, or hold accountable those members that approved of torture and pressed the CIA to do more.

Cross-posted from Docudharma.

Originally posted to Magnifico on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:38 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm trying to piece together... (48+ / 0-)

    the timeline of how Congress let this happen and what motivations they may have to prevent top Bush administration officials from being investigated and prosecuted.

    If you have any more details, please add them in the comments.

  •  good job. feingold also tried to get the (14+ / 0-)

    torture memos before the vote on bybee for federal judge, but no deal.

    well, bushie and dickie, some things just come back to bite ya!

    Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:48:06 PM PDT

  •  Here's what Pelosi said at her ... (20+ / 0-) conference Thursday:

    Here is the transcript from Pelosi's press conference today: Q: "At the time you were briefed, did you raise objections?

    Pelosi: "It is not appropriate for me to talk about what happens at briefings. It is very interesting that people are talking so freely. But I can say this: they have been talking about it for a while. At that or any other briefing, and that was the only briefing that I was briefed on in that regard, we were not -- I repeat, we were not -- told that water boarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

    "What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel -- the Office of Legislative Counsel opinions that they could be used, but not that they would. And they further -- further, the point was that if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time, A.

    "B, I know that there are some different interpretations coming out of that meeting. My colleague, the Chairman of the committee, has said, 'Well, if they say that it's legal, you have to know that they're going to use them.' Well, his experience is that he was a member of the CIA and later went on to head the CIA. And maybe his experience is that if they tell you one thing, they may mean something else. My experience was they did not tell us they were using that. Flat out. And any -- any contention to the contrary is simply not true.

    "Now, to your second point, there is no ability for members to take this any place because you cannot even take it to your other colleagues on the committee. They are talking about what their certain legal opinions are. That's what they're telling you. However, what I have tried to do when I became -- in the light of these things is to say that it's the responsibility of the executive branch, which controls all of that, to inform the committee, the Intelligence Committee, because the Intelligence Committee has to vote on these issues, has to make important decisions about them, and they don't even know it's happening. And you can't tell them. And I have always been truly faithful to never disclosing, because that is what the law is, what happens in those briefings.

    "And so, you know -- flat out -- they never briefed us that this was happening. In fact, they said they would if and when they did.

    : "This is obviously very important."

    Pelosi: "It is."

    Q: "In the filing that was released, it was by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday -- I am sure you are aware of it."

    Pelosi: "Yes."

    Q: "It does pretty specifically talk about the fact that Abu Zubaydah, they started using these tactics, including water boarding in 2002 and continued doing it in 2003 and 2004."

    Pelosi: "I was not briefed on that."

    "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." -Flannery O'Connor

    by Meteor Blades on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:48:13 PM PDT

    •  Pelosi... (10+ / 0-) trying to make the distinction that she was informed that waterboarding was an approved procedure, but that she was never specifically told that it was being used.

      Of course, she is also saying that she couldn't do anything about it anyway since she was sworn to silence, and given the secret handshake.

      And that worked out pretty well since she is now the Speaker of the House...

      Harmon, unfortunately, learned a lot more, and got wiretapped, and ran afoul of Pelosi, and now is tired of the House and would like an ambassadorship in the Obama Administration.

      •  Sworn to secrecy (16+ / 0-)

        The whole 'secrecy' aspect of Congressional oversight I find really troubling. I think secrecy should be null and void if a member learns of something that he or she believes may be criminal.

        Maybe there should be Congressional whistleblower protection? I don't know. But I feel many bad things are done on our behalf under the veil of secrecy.

        Aside from that, whatever happened to leaks and hints to reporters to "follow the money" or, in this case, "follow the flight plans" of the extraordinary rendition flights?

      •  Utter bullsh*t (0+ / 0-)

        Any claim that Pelosi "couldn't do anything" because she was "sworn to secrecy" is complete nonsense.  Suppose she was told (in utter secrecy) that the US was preparing and airstrike against Norway.  Omigod!  She can't do anything!  Well, Nancy, how about pushing a quick resolution through Congress that any such strike (without naming Norway explicitly) without explicit approval by Congress would immediately trigger impeachment procedings?  Do you think that Nancy could manage to get off her fat ass do something like that?  I guess not...

        Don't be a DON'T-DO... Be a DO-DO!

        by godwhataklutz on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 06:17:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  so she basically said, um, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rhfactor, tovan, VictorLaszlo

      well, to be honest, i'm not sure what she said of substance.

      just that she's not responsible. did i capture it right?

      "Well we don't rent pigs and I figure it's better to say it right out front because a man that does like to rent pigs is... he's hard to stop" Gus McCrae

      by pfiore8 on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 12:34:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Pelosi: "I was not briefed on that." (4+ / 0-)

      Disgusting Liar and the worst Speaker of the House in US History. It's bad enough to be Republican partisan hacks. But to pretend you're wearing the white hat and trying to drain the swamp and end the culture of corruption, you are on lying m** f** traitor to our nation.

      Please someone compile a list of all the things Nancy Pelosi has accomplished.

      I'd like to weigh those against all that she threw away, gave away, turned her back on, and lied about.

      -- FEEDBACK: - empty "marketing" of citizen access, or real idea-submit mechanism?

      by rhfactor on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 12:36:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ask questions (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rhfactor, tovan, truong son traveler

        Regarding Pelosi, I add 'sometimes you need to ask questions rather than just wait to be told.'

        Oversight of the CIA and other secretive agencies without curiosity and, in my thinking, suspicion isn't much oversight. It's more like rubber-stamping.

        •  and rubberstamping was her THIRD cliche (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          when she talked about the need to Drain the Swamp.

          It would make you puke to go back and see her pathetic little billboard placards on easels in our Congressional Chamber with a giant rubber stamp literally hauled out like a prop to brand the Republicans as "Rubber Stamp Republicans".

          It gets personal for me because she is my CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE in San Francisco, and between her and Feinstein, I feel voiceless and without representation in Congress. If anyone should be having Boston-style tea-parties, it should be me. I just paid a shitload of taxes -- and I don't have a voice in Congress.

          God only knows where Boxer went. For the past year she has been largely AWOL save for a periodic surfacing on Olberman from the halls of Congress. What in the world happened to her.

          I remember fondly the days, many years ago, now, when we sent her flocks of fresh roses for her office. She was awash in them. Where is she now?

          -- FEEDBACK: - empty "marketing" of citizen access, or real idea-submit mechanism?

          by rhfactor on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 01:13:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Harman and Pelosi (9+ / 0-)

    Both knew.

    Hell, we all knew!

  •  Congress let this happen (8+ / 0-)

    By Cheney ramming it up their asses.  And he thinks because some democrats knew that it's somehow going to save his ass.

    They tortured people to get false confessions to justify invading Iraq.

    by yet another liberal on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:52:14 PM PDT

  •  i'm just going to stick my fingers in my ears (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    truong son traveler, Magnifico

    and start humming REAL LOUD, and it will all go away!

    and for rahm emanuel: a song...

  •  For your timeline: McCain's contribution (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, Magnifico, Shhs

    This is from a December 2007 article at Slate:

    And what about Congress? When John McCain was trying to pass the anti-torture provisions in the Detainee Treatment Act in that very same fall of 2005, he faced stiff opposition from the White House. It was hard to beat down, and McCain wrestled his law into being only by accepting a "trust us" compromise. The government said it would no longer abuse the detainees, and McCain agreed to accept vague language for his statute rather than sticking closely with the internationally recognizable words that bar torture. This has allowed for all sorts of fuzziness about what is and isn't torture and whether it is or isn't happening. That's what the fight over water-boarding at Attorney General Michael Mukasey's confirmation hearing was all about.

    (This may fall outside of the period you're investigating. McCain wasn't part of the small group briefed in 02 & 03; he was probably responding to the Abu Ghraib scandal.)

    •  2002-2003 time frame (3+ / 0-)

      As best as I've been able to determine, only seven members of Congress knew about the CIA torture program before the torture and abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light in 2004.

      I suspect the openness to torture created a permissive anything goes attitude that led to what happened with prisoners in Iraq (and Afghanistan).

      The entire Intelligence committees were told in 2006. My primary interest with this essay is with the earliest period of "oversight".

  •  But what were the briefings like? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DianeNYS, JanL, Magnifico, philipmerrill

    Have any of the people who attended commented on that? I would think that HOW the information was presented might have had a huge effect.

    For example, were they actually shown a tape of somebody being waterboarded? Or were they given a clinical and sanitized verbal description? (The Slate article that I quoted earlier makes the point that had Congress actually been shown one of the torture tapes while debating the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005, it would have passed a law with teeth.)

    The WaPo article has this to say:

    Congressional officials say the groups' ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs. And while various officials have described the briefings as detailed and graphic, it is unclear precisely what members were told about waterboarding and how it is conducted. Several officials familiar with the briefings also recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.

    So the briefings were taking place in an atmosphere of fear, and those being briefed weren't allowed to consult with others or even take notes. In that sense, they were isolated and would have been much easier to influence.

    I think they were clearly buffaloed in the beginning, and that their real mistake was in not coming out and admitting that at the soonest opportunity.

  •  Saw a clip of Gates tonight (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, Magnifico, yoduuuh do or do not

    He basically said that the cat's out of the bag. An international Red Cross investigation of our treatment of prisoners is due to be formally issued (already portions have been leaked) and there are plenty of foreign governments who knew what was going on.

    Can't hold back the tide, was the gist of his remarks. He's in favor of full disclosure to get it all out in the open. And he's no librul.

    The brigadier general who took the fall for Abu Ghraib was on Keith Olbermann Wednesday night and said what's needed is a formal investigation by a panel comprised of U.S. representatives along with some from "the coalition of the willing," because they have an interest in how the US will address this issue.

  •  What if this whole briefing process was gamed? (4+ / 0-)

    Simple answers to simple questions. There is no reason to believe the briefing process itself was ever anything but a sham and a set-up to serve nefarious purposes.

    Today Digby shocked me.

    I have to say that even in all my cynicism about the Cheney gang, this didn't occur to me, but now it seems obvious. They used torture techniques that were specifically designed to get false confessions after all.

    I thought we all were clear about that. I didn't diary it because it was obvious. What if the administration's dealings with "briefing" Congress were just as 'obviously'* a sham? All the more reason to track who knew what when.

    * except non-obvious because classified

  •  Pelosi is weak and her argument is weaker (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CentralMass, McBain

    "I was not briefed" does not stand up to her statement she knew of it but did not think they were actually doing it is such bullshit.

    If she had even an inkling of what might or might not be happening or what was or was not happening, what did she do to garner more get to the truth as she swore to do? Did the cat get her tongue?

    It's been a long time coming that we've needed to clean house as many of us think there are too many rats and they are complicit in sinking the ship.

    No matter party affiliation. Anyone with knowledge should be tried in a court of law and held accountable for the "in"action as well as being knowledgeable about illegal conduct and punished.

    These rootin, tootin, crime ridden representatives have been riding the wave and are about to be wiped out.

    Good. They all make me sick.

    If this is the best and the brightest, it's time for the average and mediocre.

    by on2them on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 01:36:46 AM PDT

  •  I really hope... (0+ / 0-)

    that Speaker Pelosi is above board with her statements.  I know a lot of libs don't like her, but she is essential to helping President Obama, and a scandal involving her would be horrible.

    •  Propping up and making excuses for (0+ / 0-)

      these people has to end. The end does not justify the means. If they knew about torture and illegal warrantless wiretapping they should be investigated.
      If they were involved, they should be removed form office. If by no other means, by us voting them out of office.

      I wonder why Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein nominated Mike Mukasey for AG to replace Gonzales?  Then how is it that that when he would not call waterboarding torture, he was won the appointement anyway?

      Why did Bush find it necessary to go beyond what the existing FISA rules allowed as far as wire tapping. The laws already gave a wide berth in obtaining legal warrants even weeks after the surveillance. Why did Obama reverse himself and vote for changes to FISA and to give immunity to the telcom companies who aided in the illegal spying? Who convinced him to change his mind?

      My guess is the answer to both of he above question is that the democrats are covering their own @$$es. They were complicit in allowing the torture.

      Personally, I won't vote for anyone that is on my ballot, that isn't speaking out and or doing something about it. What the hell good is Obama's agenda if we are going to turn a blind-eye to the biggest abuse of power we've seen since Iran-Contra.

      •  How could they be involved, other than aware? (0+ / 0-)

        After all, they execute no policy. That's not Congress' job.

        At best, they could have known about it, but chosen to remain silent because the info was classified. Had they leaked it on the floor, they'd be protected by the speech and debate clause, but would have lost their clearances.

        If there is culpability for Congress, it is - and can only be - political. They need to be pressured into resigning, or be beaten in a primary.

        •  We all knew about water boarding and we (0+ / 0-)

          aren't even in government.  How can she say she didn't know about it?  She has the ability to ask questions and get answers and should have done so.

          •  That may well be (0+ / 0-)

            But unless you're a law enforcement officer, there's no affirmative requirement to report a crime you witness - even without the cloak of top secret classification looming over you.

            I don't buy her denial either. I think she should be primaried or resign and put out to pasture.

            I don't think anyone in Congress, Dem or Republican, is likely to have culpability of a legal sort. Just political and moral.

    •  If all of us knew about water boarding and we (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      aren't in government, how can she say she didn't know about it?  Give me a break!

  •  You say this as if it were a choice to be made. (0+ / 0-)

    When the people of United States finally investigate our country's use of torture, we need also to examine the role taken by Congress. We must hold responsible those members who were informed about the use of torture and kept silent, or hold accountable those members that approved of torture and pressed the CIA to do more.

    It is an inevitability if due process is followed. There will be no neat good-guy (us) - bad guy (them) cleavage. Nor will there be some soul-cleansing national torture consensus. It will make the McCarthy era seem tame.

  •  Libby vs. Pelosi (0+ / 0-)

    Scooter Libby went to prison for outing a CIA agent by "forgetting" conversations.  Pelosi has managed to "forget" entire briefings.  Is our country safe?

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