CIA Director: 'Torture is Counterproductive'

ByABC News via logo
November 28, 2005, 6:29 PM

Nov. 29, 2005 — -- In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson, CIA Director Porter Goss spoke about the agency's role in a post-9/11 world and responded to allegations that his agency uses torture to extract intelligence from detainees.

The following is an excerpt of the interview transcript:

CHARLES GIBSON: Let me ask you about torture. You said the other day the CIA does not do torture, correct?

PORTER GOSS: That is correct.

GIBSON: How do you define it?

GOSS: Well, I define torture probably the way most people would -- in the eye of the beholder. What we do does not come close because torture in terms of inflicting pain or something like that, physical pain or causing a disability, those kinds of things that probably would be a common definition for most Americans, sort of you know it when you see it, we don't do that because it doesn't get what you want. We do debriefings because debriefings are the nature of our business, is to get information. We want accurate information and we want to make sure that we have professional people doing that work, and we do all that, and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive.

GIBSON: We [ABC News] reported in the past two weeks about having talked to a number of people who have worked and did work in this agency, about six progressive techniques, each one harsher than the last, to get terrorists to talk, including things like long-term standing up, sleep deprivation, exposure for long periods of time to cold rooms or something called "water-boarding," which involves cellophane over the face and water being poured on an individual. Do those things take place?

GOSS: I've got to say there is a huge amount of disinformation out there on this whole subject because probably there's not very much accurate information available. And the reason there's not very much accurate information available about how we do debriefings and how we deal with people who are in detention is very simply, if we told you how we do that, we would be telling them, and that would lose the edge.

GIBSON: You know what water-boarding is though, right?

GOSS: I know what a lot of things are, but I'm not going to comment.

GIBSON: Would that come under the heading? Would that come under the heading of torture?

GOSS: I don't know. I have--

GIBSON: Well, under your definition that you just gave to me of inflicting pain?

GOSS: Let me put it this way, I'm not going to comment on any individual techniques that anybody has brought forward as an allegation, or dreamed up or anything like that. What we do, as I said many times, is professional, it's lawful, it yields good results and it is not torture.

GIBSON: [Arizona Republican Senator] John McCain has introduced an amendment in the Senate which was passed in the Senate, which essentially outlaws the use of torture. And the vice president has said there ought to be an exception for the CIA. Should there be?

GOSS: That would be up to the vice president. We don't make policy here, and I don't lobby for legislation.

GIBSON: But if you say you don't do torture, wouldn't that be, by definition, an endorsement of John McCain saying, essentially ruling out torture?

GOSS: Again, we don't comment on legislation when -- whatever happens on the Hill happens on the Hill. We basically are capabilities people. We don't do torture because we don't need to do torture and it's counterproductive. We have our own techniques for our debriefings and they yield good results.

GIBSON: But by not embracing the John McCain amendment, doesn't that leave an impression in people's minds that perhaps the CIA might be doing things that you and I would not be proud of?

GOSS: It certainly -- it should not leave that impression because we don't embrace any legislation. We are a part of the government, the Executive Branch. It's not our job to make policy, and it's not our job to lobby for legislation. I did that when I was in Congress. I don't do that down here.

GIBSON: There have also been stories in the press in recent weeks about a covert prison system, or secret prisons, some of which may exist in Eastern Europe for the holding of suspected terrorists. Why do we need that?

GOSS: Why do we need press speculation?

GIBSON: Those kinds of prisons.

GOSS: If you're talking about the press speculation, it's gotten way out of bounds. I don't know exactly what you're referring to, but I can absolutely assure you that I have read some allegations in the media that are just simply outlandish.

GIBSON: Well, The Washington Post story of two weeks ago I'm talking about, or within the last two weeks about, about, about covert, a covert prison system.

GOSS: Okay. Are you -- what is your question?

GIBSON: Why do we need -- do we have them?

GOSS: Let me put it this way. We're fighting a war on terror. We're doing quite well in it. Inevitably, we are going to have to capture some terrorists, and inevitably they're going to have to have some due process, and inevitably that is going to happen, and it's going to be done lawfully and under the, under all of the law and order and protections of due process that this country affords.

During the interview, Goss also spoke about the agency's post-9/11 role.

GIBSON: In light of what is certainly perceived in this country as intelligence failures leading to 9/11 and intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war as pertains to weapons of mass destruction, why should people believe in or trust the CIA?

GOSS: Well, we are perhaps the gold standard by any measure in terms of human intelligence. You can argue it, but I think when you get through at the end of the day we are the preeminent human intelligence collection agency in the globe. We have the greatest technology, the greatest support systems, the greatest case officers, and the greatest analysts working together. We don't get it right every time, but I don't think there is anybody who can come close. I would also say that there is nobody else out there doing what we do. We're unique. This is a very special activity. It's an overseas job. It involves lots of skills and techniques, a lot of sacrifice of time, family time in particular. This is a unique world and we have wonderful people dedicated and doing great things in it.