ABC News’ Karen Travers report:
In his first visit as president to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., President Obama defended the release of the Bush administration’s torture memos and told agency employees that they have a tougher job, and so does he, because they hold themselves to a higher standard in the fight against an unscrupulous enemy.
“What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it’s expedient to do so. That’s what makes us different,” Obama said. “So yes, you’ve got a harder job and so do I.”
Obama said that he put an end to the interrogation techniques outlined in the memos because, “I believe our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law.”
The president said he understood that recent days have been difficult for the CIA and that sometimes it may seem like the agency is “operating with one hand tied behind our back” in the fight against terrorism.
“I understand that it’s hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples, and would willingly and gladly kill innocents,” he said. “Al-Qaida’s not constrained by a constitution. Many of our adversaries are not constrained by a belief in freedom of speech or representation in court or rule of law.”
Even though the president acknowledged recent anxiety and concern, the response from the CIA employees to his remarks was enthusiastic.
As for the release of the memos, Obama said it was very difficult for the administration to mount an effective legal defense and so much of the information was already public.
“The covert nature of the information had been compromised,” he said. “So I need everybody to be clear. We will protect your identities and your security as you vigorously pursue your missions. I will be as vigorous in protecting you, as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.”
– Jake Tapper, Karen Travers and Sunlen Miller