Obama concedes CIA 'torture' but still supports embattled director
WASHINGTON — The release of the scathing findings of an investigation into the CIA's use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods will be delayed “until further notice” because the Obama administration blacked out large portions, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said late Friday.
“A preliminary review of the report indicates that there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement.
She issued the statement only hours after the White House returned the document to Feinstein upon completing a declassification review that followed a similar procedure undertaken by the CIA.
Early in the day, President Obama acknowledged that CIA interrogators had tortured suspected terrorists, but voiced “full confidence” in CIA Director John Brennan.
Obama rhetorically conceded that waterboarding and other brutal techniques amounted to torture, which is illegal.
“In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong,” Obama said. “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”
Brennan's future, too, was more in question on Friday, with growing congressional fury over revelations that the CIA covertly monitored computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff. With the torture report about to become public, the news undermines Brennan's leadership when he needs it most.
“Clearly, he has to prove himself,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. “I don't know how he does that.”
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the report of CIA monitoring “renews the need for the Department of Justice to consider a criminal investigation,” while Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called it “the last in a string of events” establishing a need for “a new CIA director.”
Even key lawmakers who say they are withholding judgment stressed the delicate position Brennan finds himself in.
“If he misled Congress, that's one thing. If he was misled, that's something else,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Friday.
“If he's misled Congress, that destroys the trust that's necessary between us.”
The timing for all the Capitol Hill concern couldn't be worse for the 58-year-old Brennan or for the agency he joined as an analyst 25 years ago and has headed since March 2013.
The Senate committee had been expected to release the executive summary of the report on the spy agency's detention and interrogation program begun during the George W. Bush administration.
Completed over five years at a reported cost of $40 million, the 6,300-page full report and its 480-page executive summary detail waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. Obama's characterization of those methods Friday as torture adds weight to the report, as the United States is a signatory to the legally binding United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Lawyers at the Bush White House authorized the use of several harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding. But McClatchy has learned that Senate's investigators found the CIA used tactics that were approved neither by the Justice Department nor CIA headquarters.
The executive summary's eventual release will thus test Brennan's ability to reassure lawmakers and the public that the agency has learned its lessons, even as he fends off calls for criminal prosecutions and demands for more aggressive congressional oversight.
“It's about time the Senate Intelligence Committee took seriously its job of ensuring that the CIA operates within the law,” Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, said on Friday.