CIA Director John Brennan waged a tired defense of the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques during a rare live press conference Thursday, just a few days after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report criticizing those methods.
Brennan said the agency was unprepared in the early stages of the interrogation program and entered “uncharted territory.” Nonetheless, he said agents were trying to do “the right thing.” (He had been a high-ranking official at the agency for some of the time covered in the Senate report.)
Allowing “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which he says were used on several dozen detainees, was one of the “agonizing choices” made by the Bush administration, he said. Most agents did not exceed what was allowed, he added.
Brennan also refused to take a firm stance on whether torture helped obtain vital information from detainees. He said that some who were tortured talked, but that it was not possible to tell how much of a role torture had in that outcome. This, though, directly contradicts the findings of the Senate report, which said that information was obtained before torture, and that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not necessary. (Other leaders at the agency have openly defended these techniques, saying that they were essential to finding Osama bin Laden and preventing other serious attacks.)
During a question-and-answer session, Brennan called some of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used “abhorent” and said that agents went beyond what was allowed, but refused to call them torture. “I will leave to others how they want to label those activities,” he said.
But mostly, Brennan’s demeanor and remarks implied that he was tired and ready for the scandal to blow over. He spoke of the agency moving on, and responded to a question about releasing the agency’s internal review by Leon Panetta with a poorly-phrased retort:
Fortunately, the internet was not about to let Brennan off with a halfhearted non-apology. The staff in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office — she’s the one who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, which released the report Brennan was responding to — spent the entire speech not-so-subtly subtweeting the director. For example:
And the feisty senator included a call to action: