By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- House Republicans grilled Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today on renewed US support for abortion overseas and on recently released memos detailing harsh interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects in CIA custody, prompting frank and often feisty exchanges with the nation's top diplomat.
At Clinton's first appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, told Clinton that the harsh interrogation techniques -- which included mock drownings known as waterboarding -- "were cleared with the leadership of both the House and the Senate," apparently referring to classified briefings that some members received on the tactics.
"They knew about them," he said, adding that the CIA officials involved in the interrogations should not be prosecuted.
"We need both hands untied with our intelligence agencies to really stop terrorism."
Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, repeatedly asked Clinton whether the administration would declassify documents that former Vice President Dick Cheney has said paint the CIA interrogators in a more heroic light and show the important information produced from the interrogations.
Clinton said she had no knowledge of such documents. "It won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source," she said, to some laughter.
The Obama administration has walked a fine line on the issue, last week releasing the documents detailing the torture and declaring that those techniques would not be used again. But Obama has said he would not prosecute CIA officials who followed techniques they believed were lawful, although he left the door open for the investigation of those who went beyond the legal guidance and the Bush lawyers who gave the guidance.
Republicans also repeatedly attacked Clinton for repealing Bush-administration-era rules that prohibited US support for family planning overseas to abortion providers.
Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who is strong anti-abortion advocate, criticized Clinton for recently accepting an award in the name of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, saying the group had "killed over 305,000 children by abortion in the US and millions more worldwide."
Clinton told Smith she respected his views, but gave a vigorous defense of the new family planning policy, to applause from the gallery. "We obviously have a profound disagreement," she told him.
Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, asked Clinton if "forcing US taxpayers to fund abortion [overseas] is in keeping with the highest values of America," while Representative Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican, asked why Clinton had not been more outspoken during her visit to China about forced abortions.
Clinton said that she deeply opposes China's policy on forced abortion, and has been on record opposing that policy since her time as first lady.
"Why didn't you say it as Secretary of State?" Inglis asked.
"I just did," Clinton replied.
Clinton also promised not to deal with a power-sharing Palestinian government that did not recognize Israel's right to exist and did not renounce violence, although she said the administration wanted to "leave the door open" to Hamas participating in a unity government.
Clinton also said that, while the Obama administration wants to reach out to Iran to solve the impasse over its nuclear program, Tehran would face "crippling sanctions" if such talks do not succeed.
But Clinton reserved some of her most urgent statements for Pakistan, the troubled ally in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the border region straddling the two countries.
"Pakistan poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of Americans and the world," Clinton said.
She urged Pakistani-Americans to "speak out more forcefully against a policy that is ceding more and more territory to the insurgents" who have advanced to territory that is "within hours" the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. She said the "existential threat" posed by the extremists to the state of Pakistan should not be underestimated, painting the picture of a nuclear-armed state that is in danger of collapsing.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.