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Pelosi's ducking on waterboarding

Peter Marshall | 18:10 UK time, Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Speaker embroiled in political controversy? It may have proved fatal for Michael Martin's career at Westminster but in the US partisan feuds have been meat and drink to Nancy Pelosi, the fuel on which the Speaker of the House of Representatives has thrived. Until now.

Rep Pelosi is one of the more polarising personalities to occupy a post which, in America, is always intensely party political. After all, the US Speaker leads their party in Congress and is thus expected to embody exactly what the UK Speaker must avoid: political bias.

But Ms Pelosi, a California liberal and always a lightning rod for Republican ire, has left herself wide open to attacks from opponents of all stripes over her recent confusion over the CIA and torture.

The issue, as ever, turns on what the politician knew and when she knew it.

Ms Pelosi has been a long standing critic of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" fostered by the Bush administration for suspected terrorists.

She, like many others, condemned the measures as torture and led the demands that those responsible be held accountable.

But then it was revealed that Ms Pelosi herself might be considered "responsible". As the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee it has emerged that she was briefed on the interrogations, and most significantly on the use of simulated drowning - or waterboarding - more than six years ago by the CIA.

She hadn't uttered a word of dissent.

While Ms Pelosi's initial denial and subsequent embarrassment has rumbled on for weeks the CIA has today been in court defending its right to keep its secrets over the interrogations.

At Westminster, Michael Martin's successor will be chosen before the month is out. Ms Pelosi, the Speaker across the ocean, will probably outlast Speaker Martin.

But even if the row over when she was in the loop doesn't prove her downfall, the torture issue lives on, more publically than ever, in a variety of court cases and congressional committees. It isn't going away.

Speaker Pelosi, facing accusations of humbug and hypocrisy, has to steel herself for months more duckings on the political waterboard.


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