CIA chief defends agency, admits ‘abhorrent’ abuses

AFP and AP

WASHINGTON/ LANGLEY–U.S. spymaster John Brennan staunchly defended CIA officers on Thursday as ��patriots�� but admitted some interrogators had used ��abhorrent�� tactics in the past decade. In an extraordinary news conference, broadcast live from the agency’s Langley headquarters in a first in CIA history, Brennan sought to play down a damning Senate report on CIA torture of al-Qaida suspects that sparked a global furor. He said it was ��unknown and unknowable�� whether the harsh treatment during George W. Bush’s presidency yielded crucial intelligence that could have been gained in any other way.

Responding to the Senate torture report, Brennan recounted the horrors of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, his agency’s determination to prevent more such assaults and the fact that CIA officers were the first to fight and early to die in the Afghanistan war. The CIA, he said, ��did a lot of things right�� in a time when there were ��no easy answers.��

Brennan criticized the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation on multiple fronts, saying, for example, it was ��lamentable�� that the committee interviewed no CIA personnel to ask ��what were you thinking�� and ��what was the calculus you used�� in determining interrogation practices. Without that, he said, ��you lose the opportunity to really understand what was taking place at the time.��

Brennan insisted the vast majority of CIA officers performed admirably but he confirmed some had strayed ��outside of bounds�� of approved rules and abused prisoners. Brennan said the torture came amid fear of another wave of violence from al-Qaida, as the CIA scrambled to take on the role of jailers �X a task it had virtually no experience with. ��We were not prepared,�� he said, describing how then-president George W. Bush had approved the so-called ��enhanced interrogation techniques�� now denounced as torture. ��In a limited number of cases, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all,�� Brennan said. Amid a political row about whether Bush was right to order tough tactics in the wake of the attacks, Brennan said it was ��unknowable�� whether harsh interrogations had won useful intelligence. When asked about his public condemnation of the methods five years ago, Brennan said he stood by his remarks and that torture often produced unreliable intelligence. ��I tend to believe that the use of coercive methods has a strong prospect for resulting in false information,�� he said. Avoiding the Word ‘torture,’ No Way to Judge Necessity

Brennan said answers from detainees were indeed useful in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but it was impossible to say whether the ��enhanced�� interrogation had been necessary. ��There’s no way to know if information obtained from an individual who had been subjected at some point during his confinement could have been obtained through other means,�� he said. Brennan said the CIA was no longer involved in interrogating suspects and has adopted reforms to prevent such abuses from happening again. Even so, on the central contentious point of this week’s report �X its conclusion that none of the torture or other brutal interrogation methods produced critical, life-saving intelligence �X Brennan said that cannot be proved one way or the other. He said the cause-and-effect relationship is ��unknown and unknowable.��

Bush approved the program through a covert finding in 2002 but wasn’t briefed by the CIA on the details until 2006.