In a rare press conference today, CIA director John Brennan admitted the agency had made mistakes in its application of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) — popularly known as torture.
Standing at a podium set up in the CIA's lobby, Brennan refused to use the word "torture" to describe the CIA's techniques, and asserted that it was "unknowable" as to whether EITs were effective. He also defended the use of such tactics, saying EITs had led to direct, useful evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Brennan did, when questioned, admit such techniques might also be counterproductive.
"I tend to believe that coercive techniques have a strong prospect for resulting in false information," Brennan said.
The director's statements come after the Tuesday release by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of a 500-page executive summary from its $40 million report on the CIA's enhanced interrogation program, which senators have said documents the brutal techniques used against 119 high-level al Qaeda suspects.
Brennan did not address the number of innocent detainees that have been tortured by the CIA, or whether it was necessary to force-feed detainees through their rectums, as outlined on the Senate report. He also steadfastly refused to comment on any ongoing CIA operations.
Brennan began the press conference by reading a 20-minute prepared statement defending his agency and criticizing the Senate's report for not interviewing CIA officials. He went on to say that the CIA was no longer involved in detentions, and that the Army Field Manual is once more the basis for the treatment of prisoners taken by the US military.
"[The] CIA sincerely hopes that, as a result of the Committee's work and our subsequent review and response, we can move forward in our efforts to address successfully the many national security challenges facing our nation," a press release handed out at the event read.
Brennan seemed somewhat exasperated today by calls for public accountability that have taken place.
"I think there's more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple days," he said. "I think it's over the top."
Brennan also removed himself from responsibility for the program itself, even though he was deputy director of the CIA at the time of the September 11 attacks.
"I was not in the chain of command," he said.
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein also expressed surprise and some concern toward Brennan's remarks.
"CIA Director Brennan's comments were not what I expected. They showed that CIA leadership is prepared to prevent this from ever happening again — which is all-important," Feinstein said in a press release.
"Director Brennan also acknowledged that the CIA was not prepared to effectively manage this program when it started and that many mistakes were made as it was implemented," she said. "I believe that the Intelligence Committee's report demonstrates these facts beyond dispute, and I am pleased the director announced some of the reforms that have been and will be implemented at the CIA."
"I disagree that it is 'unknowable' whether information needed to stop terrorist attacks could be obtained from other sources," Feinstein added. "The report shows that such information in fact was obtained through other means, both traditional CIA human intelligence and from other agencies. Nonetheless, it is an important development that Director Brennan does not attribute counterterrorism successes to coercive interrogations."
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