The controversy over Nancy Pelosi’s accusation that the CIA repeatedly misled her and Congress as to detainee interrogation has taken a new turn: Word games.

What Pelosi knew, when she knew it, and what she did in reaction, rightly has become a center of attention because it is a test of the Democratic party’s credibility. If Bush administration officials are to be prosecuted, which appears unlikely but still hoped-for by some, then Democratic leaders have to explain why they went along with the interrogation program. I don’t know if Pelosi is telling the truth that she was misled, but by making such an accusation she should either give the evidence under oath, or withdraw the charge.

But those who are defending Pelosi don’t seek to hold her to that test. Instead, what we are getting is the equivalent of Bill Clinton’s argument over what the meaning of “is” is.

In a post in TPM Muckraker, widely linked in the left-wing blogosphere, an argument is made that the statement of CIA Director Leon Panetta that Pelosi was given accurate information at a September 2002 briefing and later briefings, is suspect because of a term used in a recently-compiled document listing dates of briefings.

According to this argument, the briefing list uses the term “EIT” (enhanced interrogation techniques), but there is no public record of such term being used prior to 2004. Therefore, the argument goes, since the term EIT was not used in 2003-2003, but is used in the briefing list, there is doubt that Nancy Pelosi was briefed on EITs in 2002-2003.

This argument is so weak, it is almost hard to know where to begin. First, the briefing list, being recently compiled, is a summary of underlying documentation. Panetta’s defense of the CIA was based on the underlying documentation of what was covered in the briefings. If the briefing list used a descriptive term for interrogation techniques which term was not in use in 2002, that does not negate that the techniques were discussed.

Second, TPM is basing it defense of Pelosi on public databases. I have no idea if the term EIT was used within the intelligence or defense communities prior to 2004, and neither does TPM. Since the information was classified until recently, it would not be surprising if the term was used internally earlier than used in public. My guess is as good as TPM’s, except at least I admit to guessing.

Third, Pelosi herself admits to having the techniques in question described to her in September 2002. The area of dispute is whether, as she claims, she was told that waterboarding specifically had not been used. We also know that at least one Pelosi staff member was briefed in early 2003 that waterboarding had been used, and reported that information to Pelosi. So regardless of whether the term EIT was used, Pelosi’s own account of events concurs with that of the CIA briefing list except on the issue of how waterboarding was described to Pelosi in September 2002.

The entire argument in defense of Pelosi based on the use of the term EIT is just one big word game which, if carried forward, ends up contradicting Pelosi’s own account. Not much of a defense.

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