The CIA is engaged in a campaign of deception aimed at preventing the nation from knowing the whole truth about detainee abuses, charged Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado in a blistering speech Wednesday that ended with a call for the resignation of agency Director John Brennan.
“The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture,” Udall said on the Senate floor. “And no one has been held to account.” Udall called on President Obama to “purge” the CIA’s top ranks of officers who were directly involved in the programs to detainee, torture and kidnap detainees around the world.
Speaking a day after the long-delayed release of a Senate report that detailed the CIA’s years-long use of harsh and shocking interrogation techniques, Udall offered a wide-ranging and uncompromising denunciation of the CIA and the Obama administration’s efforts to shield the public from knowing the full extent of the damage caused by those programs. His anger capped a year-long, escalating confrontation between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee that nearly sparked a constitutional crisis in the spring. When the report was released Tuesday, some members of the committee seemed hopeful that it would move the two sides beyond the most heated moments. But Udall’s fierce attack on the agency’s tactics – not just with detainees but with the committee itself – made clear that the conflict is worse than the public knew and is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
Udall accused Brennan of a “failure of leadership,” but went further, suggesting that the CIA chief is actively engaged in a cover up; that he has prevented the release of an internal classified report launched by his predecessor which Udall said corroborates much for the Senate’s findings on torture. Former CIA director Leon Panetta formed an internal review process in 2009 which resulted in the report that Udall called a “smoking gun.” Udall said that review identifies errors by the agency and differs sharply from a response Brennan provided to the committee last year in which he defended the torture program and denied wrongdoing by the agency. As such, Udall said, the Panetta Review offers evidence that Brennan and his allies may have knowingly provided inaccurate information to the committee, which he called “a serious offense.”
“The refusal to provide the full Panetta Review, and the refusal to acknowledge facts detailed in both the Committee Study and the Panetta Review leads to one disturbing finding: Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture,” Udall said. “In other words, the CIA is lying.”
Senate investigators had obtained a portion of the Panetta Review, handed over unknowingly by the CIA amid thousands of other documents supplied to the committee, Udall revealed. Fearing that committee staff had been provided with the full Panetta Review, the agency conducted what Udall called an “illegal search” of Senate computers, revealed earlier this year. Udall said the portion of the Panetta Review was then removed from those computers at a CIA run facility and taken to the Senate offices in order to prevent the CIA from trying to take it.
Udall, who leaves the Senate this week after one term, wasn’t done there. He focused as much anger on his disappointment with w Democratic president who promised transparency and accountability when he was first elected in 2008. The White House, Udall said, demonstrated a “refusal to be open” during the process of making redactions to the Senate’s report — and he criticized Obama directly for what he called a failure to offer “moral leadership” on the issue.
As for the CIA, Udall claimed it willfully spread misinformation designed to promote the false idea that its torture program helped kill Osama bin Laden. And he slammed its leadership for a “persistent and entrenched culture of misrepresenting the truth to Congress and the American people.”
Since the release of the Senate report Tuesday, there has been no shortage of sharp criticism of the CIA from lawmakers. But nearly all of that of that outrage has focused on the torture program itself, which was most active a decade or more ago, and ended after Obama came into office.
By contrast, Udall’s focus was squarely on issues that haven’t been resolved.
“This is not a problem of the past but a problem that needs to be dealt with today,” he said. High-level CIA officials who helped draw up and implement the program are still in their posts today, he said.
“It is bad enough not to prosecute these officials — but to reward or promote them and risk the integrity of the U.S. government to protect them is incomprehensible.” Obama has backed Brennan during past disputes with Congress and has avoided taking sides in response to the release of the Senate report.
Udall’s assessment was echoed by Wells Dixon, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has defended many of the detainees who have been tortured.
“[President Obama’s] record on torture has been abysmal, to the point of obstruction, concealment, and ultimate complicity,” Dixon said in a phone interview.
Some of Udall’s harshest words were directed at Brennan, who he accused of stonewalling Senate investigators. The CIA director, Udall said, was “openly hostile toward and dismissive of the Committee’s oversight and its efforts to review” the torture program.
“For almost nine months, Director Brennan has flat-out refused to answer basic questions about the computer search — whether he suggested the search or approved it, and if not, who did,” Udall added.
On bin Laden, Udall said that after the operation to assassinate the terror leader was over, the CIA provided “misinformation” to the white House and Congress that suggested the agency’s torture program provided a “tip-off” that led to bin Laden’s courier.
Udall called that notion “100% wrong,” and said it “signifies the agency leadership’s persistent and entrenched culture of misrepresenting the truth to Congress and the American people.”
Udall also offered scathing criticism of the president himself, noting that earlier this year Obama offered only a mild condemnation of the torture program, saying that “we crossed a line,” and “hopefully we won’t do it again in the future.”
“That’s not good enough,” said Udall. “We need to be better than that. There can be no cover-up. There can be no excuses. If there is no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA Director from supporting torture?”