Two entire days of torture talk were enough for John Brennan. The embattled CIA director, accused of spying on Congress and concealing details about years of CIA abuses, just wants to move on.
“My fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward to focus on issues relevant to our current national security challenges.”
Because what could be less relevant than the fact that dozens of people were tortured, the CIA held no one accountable, it won’t release an internal review of the detention programs, it broke into congressional computers to spy on Senate staff, and former directors appear to have systematically misled the executive and legislative branches of government?
Yes, Brennan told reporters gathered at Langley on Thursday, mistakes were made. Some CIA officers were out of bounds, and the tactics they used were harsh, even “abhorrent.” “And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes.” But the fact is, “we are not a perfect institution,” Brennan said.
The 500-page summary of the Senate intelligence report released earlier this week seems to confirm Brennan’s assessment.
For years, the American public has known that the CIA operated secret detention facilities that at least three men were subjected to waterboarding there and that other abuses occurred.
What was unknown before this week is that CIA officers forced rectal feedings on detainees; dragged naked and hooded men up and down corridors; stuck someone in a coffin-like box for 12 days, and deprived others of sleep for 180 hours at a time. Roughly 20% of the detainees were wrongly held; some were forced to stand for hours on broken bones; they were threatened with power drills. One man chained naked to a cold concrete floor died of hypothermia.
Were those acts of torture? Brennan wouldn’t say. “I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities."
Did they produce valuable intelligence? Brennan can’t know.
“The cause and effect relationship,” between the use of brutal tactics “and the ultimate provision of information is unknown and unknowable,” Brennan said. Democratic senators who authored the report disagreed.
As Brennan spoke, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee tweeted Brennan: "'Unknowable' if we could have gotten the intel other ways. Study shows it IS knowable: CIA had info before torture #ReadTheReport."
The 6,000-page report, six years in the making, was completed in 2012. It remains classified but last year, the committee voted to make an executive summary public and then spent months negotiating redactions with the White House and the CIA. In the course of that work, a constitutional crisis nearly erupted when the committee discovered that the CIA had broken into its computers in search of classified documents.
In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, Udall called the Panetta Review “a smoking gun” that confirmed the central findings of the Senate report and would make clear that public statements by Brennan and others conflict with years of evidence about what the CIA knew and did to suspected terrorists from 2001-2006.
Udall called on Brennan to make the Panetta review public and to then resign. Brennan made clear Thursday that he would do neither.
When asked if he supported the release of the Senate report, Brennan said he would keep his views to himself. But could he share them with the public, “in the interest of transparency?” a Wall Street Journal reporter asked. “I think there is more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple days,” said the man who was chosen for the job by President Obama. “I think it’s over the top.”