The House majority leader reluctantly agreed Tuesday that congressional hearings should investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi's assertion that she wasn't informed, more than six years ago, that harsh interrogation methods were used on an Al-Qaeda leader.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called Republican challenges to Pelosi's assertion a diversion from the real question of whether the Bush administration tortured terrorist suspects. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the controversy should be resolved.
Democrats will hold a series of hearings on Justice Department memos released last month that justified rough tactics against detainees, including waterboarding -- simulated drowning -- and sleep deprivation.
While Democrats want the hearings to focus on what they call torture, Republicans have tried to turn the issue to their advantage by complaining that Pelosi and other Democrats knew of the tactics but didn't protest. Pelosi was briefed in 2002 while on the House Intelligence Committee.
Hoyer, asked at a news conference whether Democrats were inviting political problems for themselves by holding hearings, said, "I think the facts need to get out.
"I think the Republicans are simply trying to distract the American public with who knew what when. My response to that is, look, the issue is not what was said or what was known; the question and focus ought to be on what was done."
But he added that the controversy over "what was said and when it was said, who said it ... is probably what ought to be on the record as well."
Hoyer also was asked whether he believes Pelosi's support has been undermined among Democrats.
"No, I don't," he said.
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee holds the first hearing on the interrogation policy on Wednesday, but has scheduled testimony unrelated to the Pelosi matter.
A CIA document made public last week shows that Pelosi received a briefing in September 2002 on the tactics used on Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda leader and one of three prisoners subjected to waterboarding. Pelosi said she was told the agency was discussing its legal right to use the tactic in the future.
"We were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
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