The Barack Obama Administration’s CIA chief has defended the techniques of ‘torture’ used by the interrogators on terror suspects post 9/11 attacks but admitted that in limited number of cases the methods had not been authorized and were “abhorrent”.
“There was information obtained, subsequent to the application of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs), from detainees that was useful in the (Osama) bin Laden operation,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a rare media briefing after a Senate report into Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of terrorism suspects triggered global revulsion.
Brennan said the internal CIA reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the US thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.
He, however, said it was difficult to ascertain that the use of EITs had yielded useful intelligence.
“We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable,” he said.
“Irrespective of the role EITs might play in a detainee’s provision of useful information, I believe effective, non- coercive methods are available to elicit such information,” he further said.
Brennan said the CIA’s detention and interrogation programmes came amid fear of another wave of assaults from al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks as the intelligence agency grappled with a task it was “not prepared” for.
“In many respects, the program was uncharted territory for the CIA and we were not prepared. We had little experience housing detainees and precious few of our officers were trained interrogators. But the President authorized the effort six days after 9/11 and it was our job to carry it out,” he said.
“The CIA was unprepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program. Our officers inadequately developed and monitored its initial activities. The agency failed to establish quickly the operational guidelines needed to govern the entire effort,” Brennan said.
“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. We fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” he said.
“They went outside of the bounds and terms of their actions that – as part of that interrogation process. And they were harsh. In some instances, I considered them abhorrent, and I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities,” he added.
“We have acknowledged such mistakes, and I have been firm in declaring that they were unacceptable for an agency whose reputation and value to the policymaker rests on the precision of the language it uses every day in intelligence reporting and analysis,” he noted.
Mounting a strong defense of his officers, Brennan said the majority of those involved in the program carried out their duties faithfully and in accordance with the legal policy guidance.
“They did what they were asked to do in the service of our nation. In fact, some of these officers raised objections and concerns with the program and with its implementation,” he said.
“But CIA officers’ actions that did comport with the law and policy should neither be criticized nor conflated with the actions of the few who did not follow the guidance issued,” he added.
He said it was impossible to say whether the use of enhanced interrogation techniques 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, who was the agency’s deputy executive director at the time of 9/11 attacks, said, “All of us at CIA were devastated that al-Qaeda operatives were able to carry out such horrific attacks in simultaneous fashion and on American soil.”
He recalled that two months after arriving in Afghanistan post 9/11 attacks, the US suffered its first casualty in the country when a 32-year-old CIA officer named Mike Spann was killed in action on November 25th in Mazar-i-Sharif.
“Since Mike’s death, 20 other CIA officers have lost their lives around the world at the hands of terrorists,” he said, adding that the events of 9/11 will be forever seared into the memories of all Americans who bore witness to the greatest tragedy in the recent American history.
“In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our nation ached, it cried and it prayed. And in our pain, we pledged to come together as one and to do what we could to prevent Osama bin Laden and his killing machine from ever carrying out another attack against our country,” he added.
“But al-Qaeda had other ideas… With a globally distributed network that had stealthily concealed itself in many countries over many continents, al-Qaeda was poised, ready and prepared to pursue its violent agenda,” the CIA chief said.
“Our government and our citizens recognized the urgency of the task to find and stop al-Qaeda before it could shed the blood of more innocent men, women and children, be it in America or be it in any other corner of the world.
“And as has been the case throughout its then 54-year history, CIA was looked to for answers, not only to the questions on the threats we faced but also to questions about what we were going to do to stop future attacks,” he noted.
Asked whether CIA would go back on similar interrogation program that was halted by US President Barack Obama upon taking office in 2009, Brennan said the intelligence agency was not contemplating it.
“We are not contemplating at all getting back into the detention program using any of those EITs” he said adding that he defer such decisions up to “future policymakers”.