Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, President Barack Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence, said today that it's time to "turn this new page" on Guantanamo Bay interrogations and how the intelligence community has operated -- though he stopped short of calling waterboarding torture.
Blair testified at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that a series of executive orders signed by Obama this morning would establish a review of how to close Guantanamo Bay and how to interrogate high-value terrorism detainees while respecting human rights and gathering valuable intelligence.
"I don't think we have found the correct way to treat this new type of campaign... that we are engaged in. On the one hand, we have to fight it like a war and detain people and get information from them," Blair said. "These executive orders are going to give this administration a chance to take a look at those tough issues and come up with creative solutions for them."
Blair told the committee, "Torture is not moral, legal or effective. The U.S. government will have a clear and consistent standard for treatment of detainees...the Guantanamo detention center will be closed. It's become a damaging symbol."
Asked if he believed that CIA's past practice of aggressive interrogations, which included the use of waterboarding of three high-level al Qaeda operatives, had been effective, Blair replied, "I'll have to look into that more closely and get back to you."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., closely questioned Blair on his views about waterboarding and its legality. Blair told the committee, "There will be no waterboarding on my watch… there will be no torture on my watch."
Pressed about the CIA's tactics, Blair said, "There were very dedicated officers in intelligence service who thought they were carrying out activities that were authorized at the highest levels. I don't intend to reopen those cases of those officers.
"Dedicated intelligence officers ... checked to see that what they were doing was legal and then did what they were told to do."
Levin responded, "Your reluctance to give your own judgment on that question, it seems to me, is troubling to me."
Outgoing CIA Director General Michael Hayden has said that the controversial use of waterboarding on three detainees and the CIA's detention and interrogation of almost 100 Al Qaeda detainees had provided valuable U.S. intelligence and prevented attacks after 9/11. "Half of our knowledge of al-Qaeda in 2006 came from CIA detainees," Hayden recently told reporters.
But another Obama nominee, Attorney General designate Eric Holder, was unequivocal in his declaration at his confirmation hearing last week, stating his belief that "waterboarding is torture."
Blairl also testified that he believed there will be one uniform U.S. government manual on how interrogations are conducted, as opposed to a combination of the Army's field manual -- which had been the standard -- and policy and legal guidelines laid out by the Justice Department and the CIA for the CIA's aggressive interrogations. "It won't be called the Army field manual any more," Blair said of the new uniform manual. "It will be called the manual for government interrogations. So I think this review is very important."