Docs Show Rockefeller Was Briefed On “How The Water Board Was Used”

May 8, 2009 8:31 a.m.

The hot story of the morning is the release of CIA documents appearing to show that Nancy Pelosi was briefed on “enhanced interrogation techniques” in September 2002. Things have already descended into a he-said she-said debate — literally — over exactly what Pelosi was told, and whether the new information contradicts what she’d said in the past.

But let’s set that aside for a second, because according to the documents, it was another Democratic lawmaker who received the first briefing whose summary in the newly released document specifically mentions waterboarding — the technique that has been at the center of the controversy, especially for Pelosi lately.In February, 2003, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, then the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, was briefed — along with Intel chair Pat Roberts and a staff member for each senator — on “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT’s, in the bloodless bureaucratic abbreviation.) (See Late Update below.)

The document‘s description of the briefing reads in part:

EITs “described in considerable detail” including “how the water board was used.” The process by which the techniques were approved by DoJ was also raised.

Over the next few years, according to the documents, the full House and Senate intelligence committees would also receive briefings that explicitly mentioned waterboarding. But that February 2003 briefing is the earliest one listed in the document that mentions the technique.

And here’s the description of another briefing given to Rockefeller and Roberts, in July 2004:

Briefed on interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, abdominal slap, and sleep deprivation. Also briefed on actionable intelligence derived from EITs.

It’s not news that Rockefeller was briefed on some aspects of the torture program. Nor has Rockefeller done nothing about the issue.

And of course, as far as we can find, he hasn’t denied that he was briefed on the fact that waterboarding was happening, as Pelosi essentially has. Indeed, the West Virginia senator, who this year moved over to chair the appropriations committee, has been relatively restrained in his comments about the torture debate.

Still, Rockefeller has, rightly, had harsh words for the Bushies who approved torture. CNN reported last month:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he agreed that CIA operatives shouldn’t face prosecution, but is “not prepared to say the same for the senior Bush administration officials who authorized or directed these policies in the first place.”

“The focus for right now should be on finding the facts,” the West Virginia Democrat added.

But if nothing else, the documents — which appear to show that Rockefeller had an early, detailed, look at what was being done — suggest that the senator, like many of his colleagues, was hardly a profile in courage on the issue.

Sen. Rockefeller’s office did not immediately offer a comment. We’ll update if and when they do.

Late Update: We should have noted that there’s an asterisk next to Rockefeller’s name in the document for the February 2003 briefing, under which it says: “Later individual briefing for Rockefeller.” The exact date isn’t specified. But the clear meaning is that the same topics were discussed at the individual briefing as at the Roberts briefing, since the description of what was talked about applies to both briefings. So if the document is accurate — something, we should note, that has been questioned — Rockefeller did hear in detail about water boarding, though the exact date remains up in the air.

Late Late Update: Sen. Rockefeller’s office emails the following statement:

Senator Rockefeller was briefed but was not presented with the full picture nor was he told critical information that would have cast significant doubt on the program’s legality and effectiveness. Senator Rockefeller became increasingly concerned about the program, and in early 2005 he launched a full-scale effort to investigate. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s review is ongoing and he believes it is critically important that there be a full accounting of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies.

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