Republicans on Tuesday pushed back hard against the conclusions of a report by the Democratic-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee on the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA against terror suspects.
GOP members of the committee who withdrew their support for its investigation released their own 167-page “minority views” response to the Democratic report, arguing that the detention and interrogation program “saved lives and played a vital role in weakening al Qa-ida.”
The dissenting committee members – Sens. Saxby Chambliss, Richard Burr, Jim Risch, Daniel Coats, Tom Coburn and Marco Rubio, a likely 2016 presidential contender – are just some of the many Republican lawmakers up in arms over the comprehensive review of controversial CIA interrogation techniques, which they warned would lead to violent reprisals that would endanger American personnel and jeopardize intelligence interests.
“I cannot think of a greater disservice to our men and women serving in the military and in our intelligence field than to hand terror groups like ISIL another recruiting tool and excuse to target them,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said in statement issued Tuesday. “Due to the political calculations of some, the American people and our allies across the globe are less safe today than they were before.”
The CIA and it supporters also went on the offensive Tuesday, with the publication of a pro-interrogation op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by former CIA Directors George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden, as well as the creation of a website, “CIA Saved Lives,” by former agency officials.
The heavily redacted 500-page executive summary – culled from the 6,000 pages produced by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democrats – revealed the closest look yet at the detention, torture, and interrogation techniques the U.S. used in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The report – dubbed by the Committee’s top Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein as one of the “most important” oversight efforts in the Senate’s history – grapples with who is to blame, what the White House knew, whether torture was effective, and just how a country exempted itself from its own laws to use techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, constant light, isolation, and other forms of Soviet-style interrogation for years.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, slammed the report as “an ideologically motivated and distorted recounting of historical events.” Sen. Coats, another member of the committee, called it “an unconstructive, partisan account of the last decade’s counterterrorism efforts.”At least one Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, broke with the party in praising the report and condemning torture, which he called “shameful and unnecessary” in a speech from the Senate floor.
“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad intelligence than good,” said McCain, a former Navy pilot who was himself tortured as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. “Most of all I know the use of torture compromises what most distinguishes us from our enemies.”
Another Republican who opposed the torture program, South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, expressed empathy to those who perpetrated the program, arguing that while he believed the techniques violated the Geneva Convention – a United Nations agreement banning torture for prisoners of war – “the techniques in question were motivated by fear of another attack” and none of the perpetrators should be punished by the justice system because the laws at the time allowed it.
Republicans had declined to participate in the $40 million investigation conducted while Democrats were still the Senate majority party and say they’ll offer a formal rebuttal. Still, some conservatives were already rushing to get ahead of the report and discredit it for potentially aggravating tense situations abroad (U.S. embassies have been put on alert and Secretary of State John Kerry called Feinstein to warn her of the possible risks), for being run by Democrats, and for condemning torture at all, arguing that it was necessary.
“The one-sided report that will be released by Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence cost U.S. tax-payers over $40 million dollars to produce, and its authors never interviewed a single CIA official,” Rubio and Risch wrote in a Monday statement which condemned it as “unconscionable.” The report was derived from the examination of six million of the CIA’s own internal documents
“Simply put, this release is reckless and irresponsible,” they said, arguing that the country should return to these interrogation techniques. “As a nation at war, we need a coherent detention and interrogation policy in order to extract valuable intelligence about terrorist networks from captured operatives. The Obama administration has no detention policy, and it has hindered U.S. efforts to fight terrorism globally.”
On Tuesday’s “Morning Joe”, former Bush administration spokesman Nicolle Wallace offered a heated defense of the torture techniques, arguing that she didn’t “care” what officials did because it was in order to protect Americans.
“Months after 9/11, there were three people we thought who knew about imminent attacks and we did whatever we had to do and I pray to god that till the end of time that we do whatever we have to do,” Wallace said. “The notion that this somehow makes America less great is asinine and dangerous.”
She argued that the president used information gleaned from these interrogations to kill Osama bin Laden and won’t admit it and that liberals perpetrate “lies” and politically correct ideas.
President George W. Bush—whose administration spearheaded everything from waterboarding to secret CIA detention black sites around the country—rebutted the report on Sunday saying it was “way off base” if it “diminishes” CIA members “contributions.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Michigan Republican Mike Rogers called the release “a terrible idea” on CNN on Sunday, warning of “violence and deaths.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has previously called the assertion that the CIA misled the White House “just a crock,” and ex-CIA officials have overwhelmingly refuted it as inaccurate.
But on the left, the report has found many defenders as Democrats argue that the report will prompt a necessary debate and transparency is key.
“No nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better,” the president said. “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong – in the past. Today is also a reminder that upholding the values we profess doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger and that the United States of America will remain the greatest force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that “the president believes that on principle, it’s important to release that report so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired.”
He said that while releasing the report would be “transparent,” the president believed that “something like this should never happen again.”
“We purport to be a moral beacon and our standard has to be higher than the people we preach to,” former DNC chairman Howard Dean argued on “Morning Joe.” “I want the American people to decide for themselves whether this is a good idea, not some closed government that keeps this stuff secret.”