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Reid, Obama oppose independent commission on torture
Agence France-Presse
Published: Thursday April 23, 2009


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The White House and its top US Senate ally poured cold water Thursday on hopes of creating an independent commission to probe harsh Bush-era interrogation techniques widely seen as torture.

Lawmakers escalated their feud over who knew what, and when, and where, as well as what to do about the people who planned, justified and used tactics like the near-drowning known as waterboarding on suspected terrorists.

And there was fighting over whether the methods approved by then-president George W. Bush had produced intelligence that helped foil plots, or whether information could have been obtained with traditional questioning.

The White House pointed to increasing hostility between Obama's Democratic allies and his Republican critics as evidence that the president was right to say Tuesday that he would not champion the creation of a special commission.

"I think the last few days might well be evidence of why something like this would likely just become a political back and forth," said spokesman Robert Gibbs, who stopped shy of flatly opposing assembling such a panel.

"By (definition), an independent commission would probably not be something that I would weigh in on if Congress were to create one of those," he told reporters.

He spoke after Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he opposed talk of an independent probe at least until the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes its investigation into the interrogations and produces a public report, perhaps "sometime late this year."

"I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are. And I don't know a better way of getting the facts than through the Intelligence Committee," said Reid, senator from Nevada.

He spoke as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly favors creating a special commission, said lawmakers briefed on CIA interrogations were never told the agency was using the harsh methods.

"We were not, I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used," said Pelosi, one of the eight senior lawmakers who attended the classified briefings.

Pelosi said the briefers told lawmakers in the highly secret sessions that they had legal advice that the methods "could be used, but not that they would."

Republican congressional officials immediately pointed to a December 2007 Washington Post report that Pelosi was among a handful of key lawmakers to whom the CIA's special program and new tactics were disclosed in 2002.

And House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner declared that "all of this information was downloaded to congressional leaders of both parties, with no objections being raised."

Reid told reporters he had received "a number of briefings" over the years on the tactics being used and said: "When I disagreed with what was given to me, I raised those objections."

After talks at the White House, Boehner said he had pressed Obama to release classified documents detailing the results of harsh questioning and said the president was "examining whether to release this information."

The White House did not immediately comment, but Gibbs earlier said it was impossible to know whether information collected through harsh methods might not have been gathered through traditional interrogations.

"People will tell you that there was information that was procured that was helpful, and information that was procured that was made up. Nobody could ever likely tell you that any information derived couldn't also have been derived from another mean," he said.

The feuding came after a blizzard of disclosures -- including memos detailing the kinds of methods used, a timeline of CIA interrogation decisions, and a Senate report detailing how harsh interrogations became currency at Guantanamo Bay then spread to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Escalation could imperil Obama's legislative agenda, especially in the Senate, where the Democratic majority needs support from at least a few Republicans to ensure passage of major bills.


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