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Who attended 'torture' briefings? A GOP lawmaker wants to know.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra seeks full disclosure about who on Capitol Hill knew about US interrogation methods – a move that may put certain Democrats on the spot.

By Staff writer / April 27, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, shown during a news conference earlier this month, said last week she had been briefed on 'enhanced interrogation' of terrorism suspects but was not aware at the time that waterboarding, or simulated drowning, was being practiced.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Washington

President Obama’s decision to make public four Bush-era memos authorizing “enhanced interrogation techniques” of terrorist suspects is now putting key Democrats on the spot, too.

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The top Republican on the House intelligence committee is calling for the release of the names all members of Congress briefed on these techniques, as well as the substance of those briefings.

The practice during the Bush years was to restrict highly classified intelligence oversight hearings to the so-called gang of eight – that is, the party leaders of both the House and Senate (speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, and minority leaders of the House and Senate), as well as the chairman and ranking minority-party members of the House and Senate intelligence panels. But attendance at these briefings varied. Republicans want clarification on who, exactly, attended the briefings, what they knew, and what they found out, and what they did about it.

In a bid to get a “full and accurate picture,” Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) of Michigan released Monday the text of a letter to the Director of National Intelligence calling for a full and accurate list of members who were briefed on the issue. The list provided to date is “incomplete and inaccurate,” he wrote.

Bipartisan support for methods?

It’s the latest volley in an escalating controversy over US use of techniques that some have deemed torture. Republicans, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, say the complete record will show bipartisan support for techniques that helped to keep Americans safe. Democrats say it's a bid to shift blame for torture away from the Bush administration to them, then the minority party, though they had little power to block it.

“After all, we were in the minority then. We couldn’t have stopped it,” said a Democratic aide, speaking on background.

Hoekstra's letter

The Hoekstra letter to DNI Dennis Blair, dated April 24, said the public needs to know what these members knew and when they knew it, including the release of the Central Intelligence Agency’s reports on the substance of the briefings and the names of all who attended.

“Since the documents already in the possession of the Committee clearly indicate that careful records were kept with respect to these briefings by the CIA, it is difficult to understand the delay in receiving a full and complete accounting,” the congressman wrote. “These documents should be provided immediately, and Congress is clearly entitled to records of its own briefings.”

If the documents are not released, the DNI must ensure that they are preserved, he added. “Serious question would arise if any such briefing records were destroyed or unavailable for review by the Committee.”

The rules of classified briefings

On both sides of the aisle, lawmakers' aides are scrambling to document responses to these briefings from within their own ranks. To date, Rep. Jane Harman (D) of California is on record as objecting early on to use of these interrogation techniques, as is Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D) of West Virginia.