Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday became the latest high-profile Democrat to defend Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) from GOP critics who say she has not been forthcoming about what she knew about the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
“I think it’s a tempest in a teapot really, to say, well, Speaker Pelosi should have known all of this. She should have stopped it. She should have done this or done that,’— Feinstein told reporters. “You know, I’d say the same thing to others. It doesn’t usually happen that way. You have to understand it and that takes time.—
Feinstein said the classified briefing Pelosi received in 2002 — when the Speaker was serving as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee — was likely designed to be as vague as possible on the techniques the CIA planned to use or was using on suspected terrorists. Media reports have suggested that Pelosi’s initial briefing included information on the George W. Bush administration’s use of waterboarding and other methods that critics describe as torture.
Feinstein added that the release of CIA documents showing who in Congress was briefed and when was likely designed to shift the blame.
“I assume the aim was to do just what was done. Which is to essentially say, Well, they’re responsible because they knew,’— said Feinstein. “Well, what did they know? How did they know it? What was the circumstance? How were they notified? Was it really discussed what they were doing over what period of time? … I don’t want to go too far, but the answer to the question is, no, it was not.—
She added, “It’s very hard to know exactly what anybody was actually told unless you were there.—
Feinstein was the latest high-ranking Democrat to come to Pelosi’s defense on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also sought to deflect criticism of the Speaker on the matter.
Feinstein, who said she was not briefed on the interrogation methods until the end of 2006, said her experience has been that the CIA designs the briefings to be as “benign— as possible.
“They’re not going to tell you about excesses or problems. They do it in a benign manner,— she said.
Feinstein noted that it took her some time to piece together what she had actually learned at her initial briefing.
“It’s often hard to really pin it down. I know it took me a little bit of time when I had the first briefing,— she said. “What began to dawn on me is, all of this is dependent on how these things are administered, in what combination, over what period of time, what the detention circumstances are, what the sanitary conditions, how the detainee is treated, what he’s fed — until it becomes a very big circle that you’ve got to pierce to get inside to see what the real effect of something is.—
Feinstein also hinted that her own panel’s investigation into the interrogation techniques is at least partially focused on whether CIA agents who participated engaged in wrongdoing.
“Because you brief or notify doesn’t mean there’s any less responsibility of the CIA, any less responsibility of the individual who participates in this, in my opinion,— she said. “I mean, we’re all adults. We all know good from bad. And how you carry out an order is also very important.—
President Barack Obama, who has banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, has said CIA agents who followed the Bush administration’s legal advice should not be prosecuted. But the president has appeared to leave open the possibility that agents who overstepped the bounds of the legal justifications might be open to charges.