Senate Report Rules CIA Torture Unnecessary
August 4, 2014
Mark Hosenball / Reuters & Paul Lewis / The Guardian
A US Senate committee report will conclude that the CIA's use of harsh interrogation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks yielded no critical intelligence on terrorist plots that could not have been obtained through non-coercive methods.
CIA Torture Was Unnecessary, Senate Report To Conclude
Mark Hosenball / Reuters
WASHINGTON (August 1, 2014) -- A US Senate committee report will conclude that the CIA's use of harsh interrogation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks yielded no critical intelligence on terrorist plots that could not have been obtained through non-coercive methods, US officials familiar with the document said.
Foreshadowing the impending release of a report expected to suggest that the "enhanced" techniques were unnecessary and also to accuse some CIA officers of misleading Congress about the effectiveness of the program, President Barack Obama said on Friday that the CIA "tortured some folks." He had banned the practices soon after taking office in 2009.
Officials said the Senate Intelligence Committee was unlikely to release the report to the public without some additional review.
"A preliminary review of the report indicates there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification. Therefore the report will be held until further notice and released when that process is completed," Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee's chair, said.
The voluminous report does not state that the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- which included measures such as "waterboarding," or simulated drowning, on captured al Qaeda militants -- produced no information of value whatsoever, the officials said.
But it asserts that such tactics yielded no information that would have been "otherwise unavailable" to spy agencies through normal interrogations aimed at foiling further plots in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the officials said.
Committee investigators also concluded that the agency misled other executive branch agencies and Congress by claiming that only by using harsh methods did the agency achieve other counter-terrorism breakthroughs that otherwise would not have been possible. The report will criticize some CIA officials by name, the officials said.
The committee reached its conclusions based on detailed examinations of the cases of around 20 militants who were subjected to harsh interrogations while detained by the CIA, the officials said.
On Friday, Obama -- in some of his most direct criticism to date of the Bush-era practices -- told a White House news conference: "We did some things that were contrary to our values."
He had previously described waterboarding as torture, in line with human rights groups that had denounced the practice. A knowledgeable source said that the Senate committee's report largely uses the agency's terminology -- "enhanced interrogation" -- instead of labeling its practices as torture.
Obama insisted, however, that Americans in retrospect should not be "too sanctimonious" in their condemnation of national security officials who at the time were working under heavy pressure to prevent another attack.
Obama also defended CIA director John Brennan who has faced congressional calls for his resignation after a revelation that the agency spied on the Senate committee investigating its interrogation techniques. "I have full confidence in John Brennan," he said.
In April, the intelligence committee sent a draft of its 600-page report summary to the Obama administration.
Obama indicated that on Friday the White House delivered to the committee a declassified but redacted version of the summary, along with declassified versions of papers prepared by the CIA and by the committee's Republican minority in response to the summary.
Officials said it would largely be up to Feinstein to decide whether the committee would challenge redactions made by the administration.
Several officials said that the committee report alleges that the CIA did not thoroughly brief then-President George W. Bush about its use of harsh interrogations, although in a published memoir Bush said he was briefed on the program.
One former official said that in practice, the CIA briefed Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on the program and she then briefed the president.
(Addtional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Bernard Orr)
Obama Admits CIA 'Tortured Some Folks'
But Stands by Brennan over Spying
Paul Lewis / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (August 1, 2014) -- President Barack Obama on Friday starkly criticised the CIA's past treatment of terror suspects, saying he could understand why the agency rushed to use controversial interrogation techniques in the aftermath of 9/11 but conceding: "We tortured some folks."
In some of the most expansive and blunt remarks on the CIA's programme of rendition and detention he has made since coming to office, Obama said the country "crossed a line" as it struggled to react to the threat of further attacks by al-Qaida.
However, he also said it was important "not to feel too sanctimonious", adding that he believed intelligence officials responsible for torturing detainees were working during a period of extraordinary stress and fear.
Obama's comments come on the eve of the release of a widely-anticipated Senate report that will criticise the CIA for brutally abusing terrorist suspects in its custody in a covert programme that, the report is expected to conclude, did not yield any life-saving intelligence.
Obama banned the use of torture -- which the CIA prefers to call "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- shortly after he took office in 2009; a promise to do so was part of his first presidential election campaign.
Friday was not the first time since he came to the White House that Obama has used the word "torture" to describe the CIA's methodology. In 2009, for example, he said he believed that "waterboarding", one of several controversial interrogation methods used by US intelligence agencies during George W Bush's administration, constituted torture, and that "whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake".
However his latest comments, made at a White House press conference, expanded on his thoughts about CIA tactics, which he said "any fair-minded person would believe were torture". US officials have historically avoided using the word "torture", because of its potential legal ramifications.
Obama also strongly defended the embattled director of the CIA, John Brennan, who on Thursday was forced to apologise to the Senate intelligence committee -- which produced the soon-to-be declassified report -- after conceding that personnel from his agency had spied on congressional staff who were conducting the inquiry.
Brennan's extraordinary apology, which followed outright denials that CIA employees had covertly monitored computers used by congressional staff, has resulted in calls for his resignation. The CIA inspector general, David Buckley, found that the agency's personnel had improperly monitored computers set aside by Senate staff, in a covert endeavour that has been widely described as spying.
"The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate intelligence committee computers," Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, said on Thursday, calling on Brennan to step down. "This grave misconduct is not only illegal but it violates the US constitution's requirement of separation of powers."
However, the president stood by his CIA director. "I have full confidence in John Brennan," Obama said.
While "some very poor judgment" was shown by the agency, Obama said, he added: "Keep in mind though that John Brennan was the person who called for the [inspector general] report and he's already stood-up a task force to ensure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved."
The row involving Brennan and the spying on congressional staff is the latest in a string of controversies involving the US intelligence community, including documents leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that revealed the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, had misled Congress.
Obama has been steadfastly supportive of the top echelons of the intelligence establishment, while occasionally criticising their methods. His remarks about torture conducted by the CIA were among his most candid to date.
While condemning the CIA's use of torture techniques, Obama voiced sympathy for the intelligence community, saying it was placed under incredible pressure in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
"It is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had," he said. "A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots."
Seeking to explain the context in which the CIA adopted its controversial programme, the president continued: "It is important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent."
He added: "We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened."
A declassified version of the CIA torture report is expected to be published in the coming days or weeks. All indications are that it will provide a damning indictment of the CIA's use of torture of terrorist suspects, arguing it was morally unjustified and did not yield particularly useful intelligence.
However the Senate's report, the result of years of investigation, reportedly stops short of using the word "torture" to describe the interrogation techniques used by the agency. Even some American media organisations ban or discourage use of the word.
On Friday, Obama showed no such reluctance. "When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques -- techniques that I believe, and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture -- we crossed a line," he said.
"That needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don't do it again in the future."
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