WASHINGTON — A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended a CIA briefing in early 2003 in which it was made clear that waterboarding and other harsh techniques were being used in the interrogation of an al-Qaida operative, according to CIA documents released Thursday.
Pelosi has insisted that she was not directly briefed that the practice was being actively employed. But Michael Sheehy, a top Pelosi aide, was present for a classified briefing at which agency officials discussed the use of waterboarding on suspect Abu Zubaida.
Precisely what Pelosi learned in classified intelligence briefings she received on interrogations has become a flashpoint in the battle over methods used to extract information from alleged al-Qaida operatives after the 2001 attacks.
Republicans have accused Pelosi and other Democrats who attended early classified briefings of knowing what CIA operatives were doing and offering their support for the methods, including waterboarding. They argue that Pelosi objected only after the use of the techniques became public several years later.
The absence of any description in the documents of her being briefed on waterboarding has become a critical distinction for Pelosi.
"The speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002," spokesman Brendan Daly said Friday. "The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used."