The CIA is not perfect, women and men working for it are not perfect, mistakes were made, some “abhorrent” interrogation methods were used, but it’s time to move on.
That in a nutshell was CIA director John Brennan at a rare news conference on Thursday defending the agency against a damning US senate report on its use of torture.
The CIA used waterboarding, walling, sleep deprivation and something called “rectal rehydration”, and grossly exaggerated its utility to the nation, the report said.
Brennan said the agency was unprepared for the detention and interrogation programme it started in the aftermath of 9/11, and it failed to establish clear operational guidelines.
In some cases, therefore, Brennan said, “Agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all”.
“And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” he added.
The director went to defend the use of the authorized Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, contextualizing it in the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks when the national “ached, cried and prayed”.
But he disputed the central finding of the senate report — which called “flawed” once again — that the agency got nothing useful from its detention and interrogation programme.
It did, he insisted, saying, enough to “thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives”. But did the relevant intel come from the use of enhanced interrogation methods?
“The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”
There were, however, instances of “inaccurate” representations about the programme, he said, acknowledging that finding of the report, and that is unacceptable.
But Brennan said he found it most frustrating that the senate report “conveys a broader view of the CIA and its officers as untrustworthy”. He added, “CIA’s legitimacy is closely tied to its credibility, and we can afford to lose neither.”
It is his fervent hope now, he ended, that “we can put aside this debate and move forward to focus on issues that are relevant to our current national security challenges”.