WASHINGTON – CIA Director Leon Panetta on Friday rejected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s charge that the agency misled her about its use of coercive interrogation methods, escalating a controversy that has dogged the speaker for weeks and intensifying a debate over Bush administration policies that the Obama administration has tried to avoid.
Panetta, whom President Obama tapped to lead the CIA this year, reasserted the agency’s claim that it told congressional leaders about the use of such methods during a closed-door briefing in September 2002.
Pelosi, D-Calif., has acknowledged attending the briefing but says she was told only that the CIA was considering the use of waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.
“It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress,” Panetta said in a message meant to shore up employees of his agency, which is at the center of a relentless political firestorm over the Bush policies and the Iraq war. “Our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of (terrorism suspect) Abu Zubaida, describing the ‘enhanced techniques that had been employed.’ ”
The dispute over Pelosi’s knowledge of the interrogation techniques leaves the Obama administration caught between the speaker, a strong advocate of the president’s agenda on Capitol Hill, and the CIA, an agency Obama has defended even as he has described its interrogation methods as torture and released Justice Department memos that drew more focus on those methods.
The president, however, has also strongly resisted calls for the creation of a truth commission, something Pelosi has vocally supported. Such a panel, Obama has said, would devolve into partisan finger-pointing.
The White House saw no value in weighing in on Pelosi and the CIA Friday.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to comment at his daily briefing, telling reporters, “I appreciate the invitation to get involved, but I’ll decline to RSVP.”