CIA chief nominee Leon Panetta said today at his confirmation hearing that the CIA would no longer turn over terror suspects to third parties for harsh interrogation techniques and that he would generally not seek to prosecute those who may have been involved in the waterboarding of top level al Qaeda detainees.
Discussing the CIA's Renditions Unit, which was established during the Clinton administration, Panetta said the use of extraordinary renditions would not occur under President Obama's orders. "We ought not to use renditions for sending people to black sites," Panetta said.
"I have not fully been briefed on extraordinary renditions but it is my understanding people were sent to black sites. ... The president has acted to prevent extraordinary renditions," Panetta told the Intelligence Committee.
Concerning the issue of waterboarding, which had been used by the CIA on three detainees, Panetta said, "I've expressed the opinion that I believe waterboarding is torture and is wrong."
Panetta said he would not support prosecutions of any officers involved in the practice unless the officials willfully violated U.S. law. "The individuals that did so, did so under a legal opinion that they believed it was legal ... and should not be prosecuted.
"When you're an employee at the CIA you have to operate on the legal opinions provided by the Justice Department ... I do not think you should be prosecuted for that," Panetta said.
Obama's nominee for CIA director also testified that he would not hesitate to go to the president if a terrorism suspect was withholding information. "If we had a ticking bomb situation and ... whatever was being used I felt was not sufficient, I would not hesitate to go to the president of the United States and request additional authority I needed ... but again, I would state the president would not violate the laws that are in place."
Panetta indicated he would support the Intelligence Committee if they were to review interrogation policy under the Bush administration. "This committee should take steps, determine what was done right and what was done wrong. ... If people deliberately violated the law in limited cases, there could be a prosecution," Panetta said.
Asked about recent claims by former Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview with Politico that terrorist attacks were likely to occur if the Bush administration's policies were reversed, Panetta said, "I was disappointed by those comments. ... I think our country is safer when we follow the Constitution and the law.
"We can protect this country, we can get the information we need and we provide security for the American people and we can abide by the law," Panetta added.
Panetta was also asked about the issue of the CIA's former station chief in Algeria and allegations that he raped women he had secretly drugged. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed her frustration with the CIA not notifying the committee of the issue, "Until ABC put out a press release, we had no formal notification," Feinstein said.
"When that type of behavior comes to the attention of the agency, the committee needs to be informed. ... The level of behavior in the situation, obviously, had to be referred to the Justice Department," Panetta said. "In my view, this person should have been terminated."