Sat, Dec 13, 2014 - Page 7 News List

CIA chief challenges torture report

‘REGRETTABLE’:Although he described some of the techniques as ‘abhorrent,’ John Brennan said they were effective and had led to the capture of Osama bin Laden


CIA Director John Brennan struck back at a US Senate report that accused the agency of torturing terror detainees, acknowledging that “abhorrent” tactics were used, but defending the overall interrogation program for saving lives after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Brennan conceded that it was “unknown and unknowable” whether the harsh treatment during former US president George W. Bush’s term in office yielded crucial intelligence that could have been gained in any other way. However, he said that there is no doubt that detainees subjected to the treatment offered “useful and valuable” information afterward.

Speaking in an unprecedented televised news conference, Brennan was responding to a US Senate Intelligence Committee report that concluded that the CIA inflicted suffering on al-Qaeda prisoners beyond its legal authority. The report said that none of the agency’s “enhanced interrogations” provided crucial information.

It cited the CIA’s own records, documenting in detail how waterboarding and lesser-known techniques such as “rectal feeding” were actually employed.

Brennan declined to define the techniques as torture, as US President Barack Obama and the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman have done, refraining from even using the word in his 40 minutes of remarks and answers. Obama banned torture when he took office.

The CIA chief also appeared to draw a distinction between interrogation methods, such as water boarding, that were approved by the US Department of Justice at the time, and those that were not, including “rectal feeding,” death threats and beatings. He did not discuss the techniques by name.

“I certainly agree that there were times when CIA officers exceeded the policy guidance that was given and the authorized techniques that were approved and determined to be lawful,” he said. “They went outside of the bounds ... I will leave to others to how they might want to label those activities, but for me, it was something that is certainly regrettable.”

However, Brennan defended the overall detention of 119 detainees as having produced valuable intelligence that, among other things, helped the CIA find and kill former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The 500-page Senate report released on Tuesday exhaustively cites CIA records to dispute that contention. The report points out that the CIA justified the torture — what the report called an extraordinary departure from American practices and values — as necessary to produce unique and otherwise unobtainable intelligence.

Those are not terms Brennan used on Thursday to describe the intelligence derived from the program.

The report makes clear that CIA officials for years told the White House, the Department of Justice and Congress that the techniques themselves had elicited crucial information that thwarted dangerous plots.

However, the report argues that torture failed to produce intelligence that the CIA could not have obtained, or did not already have elsewhere.

Although the harshest interrogations were carried out in 2002 and 2003, the program continued until December 2007, Brennan acknowledged. In all, 39 detainees were subject to very harsh measures.

Former CIA officials, including former CIA director George Tenet, who signed off on the interrogations, have argued in recent days that the techniques themselves were effective and justified.

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