Following Tuesday’s release of the so-called “torture report,” embattled CIA Director John Brennan publicly defended the agency at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia this afternoon.
Amid public outrage over the CIA’s “brutal” post-9/11 interrogations – which included repeated waterboarding, sexual threats, round-the-clock sleep deprivation, and even rectal feedings – Brennan acknowledged that certain methods detailed in the report were "abhorrent."
"We are not a perfect institution. We're made up of individuals, and as human beings, we are imperfect beings," Brennan told reporters. But in the days following the attacks, the Bush administration "faced agonizing choices ... there were no easy answers."
But 13 years later, Congress -- and the American public -- are demanding an explanation. Here are Brennan’s answers the seven biggest questions that have been swirling since the report:
Do you consider the techniques described in the report "torture?"
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. They went outside of the bounds and terms of their actions... And they were harsh. As I said, in some instances, I considered them abhorrent, and I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities. For me, it was something that is certainly regrettable.
The White House has refused to say whether the president believes enhanced interrogation helped save lives. Would you say the techniques described in the report elicited actionable intelligence that helped prevent other attacks?
Detainees who were subjected to EITs at some point during the confinement subsequently provided information that our experts found to be useful and valuable in our counter-terrorism efforts. And the cause and effect relationship between the application of those EITs and the ultimate provision of information is unknown and unknowable. But for someone to say that there was no intelligence of value of use that came from those detainees once they were subjected to EITs, I think that is -- lacks any foundation at all.
Did the enhanced interrogation techniques help us find Osama bin Laden?
It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against bin Laden.
According to the committee’s report, CIA personnel questioned the legality of tactics like repeated waterboardings, which one medical officer described as “basically… a series of drownings.” Did officials at the time even consider whether the same information could have been gleaned using less harsh methods?
What was the nature of the discussion, and how did people decide to continue to go forward with these EITs? Do they feel as though that was the only way that they were able to obtain information? Those are good questions, and I wish the committee took the opportunity to ask CIA officers involved in the program at the time, what were you thinking? What did you consider? What -- what was the calculus that you used as far as going forward on it? I think, as you can well understand, everything that CIA officers did and said at the time was not memorialized in a document.
Should we prosecute any of the agents who, in your words, "crossed the line?"
We have brought those mistakes, shortcomings, and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities -- whether it be to our inspector general, the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.
Did the CIA intentionally mislead the Bush administration or the American public?
One of the most frustrating aspects of the study is that it conveys a broader view of the CIA and its officers as untrustworthy, that the institution and the workforce were willing to forego their integrity in order to preserve a program they were invested in and supposedly believed to be right.This in no way comports with my experience in the CIA.
While the agency has a traditional bias for action and a determined focus on achieving our mission, we take exceptional pride in providing truth to power, whether that power likes or agrees with what we believe and what we say or not and regardless of whether that power is affiliated with any particular political party.
Where do we go from here?
There have been a lot of studies done over the years about the value of different types of interrogation methods and whether or not coercive methods can lead to useful information that couldn't otherwise obtained. I tend to believe that the use of coercive methods has a strong prospect for resulting in false information because if somebody is being subjected to a course of techniques, they say something to have those techniques stopped.