President Obama sought Tuesday to soften the impact of a new Senate committee report on the use of waterboarding and other brutal methods of interrogation in the U.S. response to terrorist attacks and threats, pledging publicly that he would try to make sure that the country never resorts to such methods in the future.
In a statement issued moments after the report was released, Obama decried what he described as “one element of our nation’s response” to the Sept. 11 attacks, specifically the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which he formally ended shortly after taking office.
“The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counter-terrorism efforts or our national security interests,” Obama said. “Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners. That is why I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”
The nation’s intelligence community is braced for a possible backlash to the findings of the report, which is thousands of pages long and recounts CIA interrogation tactics in the years after 9/11. The report concludes that the program lost track of captives, extracted false confessions and fabricated information, and produced no useful intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks.
Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a message to the intelligence community that it must remain vigilant and focused on its work.
The CIA quickly attacked the report, noting that the program was found to be legal by the Justice Department under the Bush administration, but acknowledging that the interrogations were ultimately flawed.
“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorists,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement. “In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been working for months to declassify material for the report, navigating disputes between her committee and the CIA about what could be released publicly. The Obama administration supported the release of the report, but has also directed U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence units to prepare for possible violence around the world as a result.
On Tuesday, Obama argued that the U.S. had done more to stand up for freedom and human rights of people around the world.
“As Americans, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens who serve to keep us safe, among them the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said.
The U.S. did “many things right” in the wake of 9/11, Obama said, but also made mistakes.
“Some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values,” he said. “That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.”
The release of the report, he said, was a reminder of American values.
“I don’t believe that any other nation would go to the lengths the United States does to bare its soul, admit mistakes when they are made and learn from those mistakes,” Clapper added.
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