President Obama Just Issued A Pretty Damning Statement About US Torture Report

December 9th 2014

Alex Mierjeski

UPDATED 12:32 PM EST - President Obama responded to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report that the Central Intelligence Agency misled Congress, the White House, and the public about its post-9/11 enchanced interrogation methods.

"These techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners," the president said in a written statement. "[The report] reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests."

Obama also indicated that there will be no further action on this matter from the Justice Department, saying he's looking to leave these techniques "in the past" and not "refight old fights."

"In the years after 9/11, with legitimate fears of further attacks and with the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life, the previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country," President Obama said. "[O]ur nation did many things right in those difficult years. At the same time, some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values."

The long-awaited report details the Central Intelligence Agency's (C.I.A.) now defunct but ever-controversial interrogation program and also states that the C.I.A. deliberately underplayed the program's problems while exaggerating its effectiveness. Further, these methods were "deeply flawed," according to released excerpts of the report, and provided the C.I.A. with bad information.

The report is expected to reignite a fierce debate over torture. Techniques such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which simulates drowning, are two of the C.I.A.'s methods that are graphically depicted in the report.

A demonstration of waterboarding 

The report, which is said to have found that the "C.I.A. routinely went beyond what is legally allowable," in its interrogations, and "systematically lied to itself, to the White House, Department of Justice and to Congress about the effectiveness of the program in order to keep it going," was approved only by Democrats in the Intelligence Committee. Though its study was completed in 2012, the Committee voted to declassify the report this year. Democrats are rushing to publish before Republicans take control of the Senate next month, when they fear detractors could shelve the report. 

Estimates peg the release Tuesday to make public only a fraction of the 6,000-page, $40 million report, which has for months been in limbo due to negotiations between the White House and the Intelligence Committee over redactions. But as crucial as the expected contents may seem, it's hotly contested what good will come from releasing potentially damning details. 

SHOCKER: A Partisan Split

On the one hand, Democrats are concerned with accountability, saying that the report is a necessary step towards exposing an ugly, perhaps illegal truth about what exactly was done in the name of the American people and their government. Moreover, they see it pulling the rug from under the position that submitting detainees to torture gave way to valuable intelligence.

The report alleges to find that the C.I.A.'s interrogation program failed to produce "valuable" and "unique" intelligence–information otherwise unavailable without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques–and also that the agency misrepresented the value of the information obtained through such techniques to Congress.  

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden expressed what many Democrats seem to feel.

“My own view is that many Americans will be deeply angered when they read this report about misdeeds and mistakes and out-and-out falsehoods." Wyden told the New York Times. "It is critically important that this report not be pushed under the rug, buried before the American people have a chance to see it."

ron wyden

Fearing Ramifications

Republicans and members of the intelligence community, however, even refuse to recognize the findings of the Democrats’ report, categorically rejecting accusations that the C.I.A. lied about its techniques, or that it was out of legal bounds in implementing the program. They are expected to release their own counter report.

“To say that we relentlessly, over an expanded period of time, lied to everyone about a program that wasn’t doing any good, beggars the imagination,” former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden said on CBS’ Face The Nation. “The C.I.A. workforce will feel as if it has been tried and convicted in absentia.”

Others contend that the release of the report will have a tangibly negative effect on current and future intelligence gathering and will endanger lives of US citizens abroad. On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry voiced allies’ fears of about violent ramifications, specifically in the Middle East, and asked for a delay in the release in a phone call to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Intelligence Committee.

It’s important to remember that the C.I.A. program in question took place over a decade ago, in the rocky aftermath of 9/11. On Sunday, for President George W. Bush and a team of close advisors made it clear they would stand behind the former C.I.A. programs and the former officials accused of lying to them and to the American people. Referencing C.I.A. service members, Mr. Bush told CNN that “these are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

Mr. Bush highlighted a stance that many have predicted in the lead-up to and eventual release of the torture report; that is, not necessarily harping on the nitty-gritty of the report’s claims, but rather arguing over the program’s worth. This stance also represents a key differing point between Democrats and Republicans on the report’s release, with one side striving for transparency and honesty and the other looking for ends to justify the means.

What to Expect

Whether or not the claims that the report will drum up anti-American sentiments and engender violence and danger for Americans abroad will hold any water has yet to be seen. The Washington Post opined that the release of such sensitive, corrosive information might very well cause those with a mind to to lash out—but because of the nature of the information, in a sense, we had it coming. By the same token, though, it seems unlikely that a Senate report would tip someone over the edge, given U.S. foreign relations over the past decade.

The Post also noted that delaying release would accomplish little: what would buying time accomplish, aside from administrative blockading?

If there's something both sides could potentially agree on, it's that historical clarity stands to benefit. Surprisingly, right-leaning Senator Lindsey Graham, Democratic Senator Feinstein, and the director of Human Rights Watch all agree that its release would at least set one thing straight: laying out what can’t happen again on our watch. But until then, we’ll have to wait on Washington. It's difficult to predict how the landscape will look now that the report has been released, but it's safe to assume that some of the more violence-oriented hyperbolic predictions are unlikely to hold sway in the coming months. And while the aftermath probably won't be as turbulent as some suggest, the torture report is indisputably huge.  

Check back here for updates as this story develops today.