John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, said today that he finds waterboarding “reprehensible” and that if he gets the job as top spymaster, it will “never” come back.
“It is something that should’ve been banned long ago,” Brennan said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “If I were to go to the CIA, it would never be brought back.”
Brennan declined to describe waterboarding as “torture,” however, citing the legal and political implications of the term.
In a CBS News interview in 2007, Brennan reportedly appeared to support the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, saying that they produced information that “saved lives.” But just prior to today’s confirmation hearing, the would-be CIA chief provided written responses to questions on the subject, saying so-called “enhanced interrogation” was “counter-productive.”
“I think a lot of information, both accurate and inaccurate, came out of interrogation sessions conducted by CIA, including those where [enhanced interrogation techniques] were employed,” he wrote. “My belief is that these techniques… are counterproductive to our overall efforts against [al Qaeda] and other terrorists.”
The debate over the usefulness and morality of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques – including waterboarding in particular – rose once again to the national forefront with the December release of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Hollywood dramatization of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. The movie features several disturbing scenes in which alleged al Qaeda members or associates are beaten, force fed or subjected to simulated drowning while under CIA supervision.
In response to the film, acting-CIA Director Michael Morell said that while enhanced interrogation played a role in the hunt for bin Laden, it was not the “key” to finding the al Qaeda leader.
“…[T]he truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad[, Pakistan]. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, but there were many other sources as well,” Morell said on the CIA website in December. “And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”
Three high-powered senators, including Intelligence Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) publicly took issue with the portrayal of enhanced interrogation and with Morell’s online statement and wrote the CIA Director to request information on what the CIA had learned from any detainee who underwent harsh interrogation.