Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, responding to a scathing government report, defended his agency’s use of extreme tactics to obtain information from detainees held abroad after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"There were no easy answers, and whatever your views are on EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques], our nation and in particular our agency did things right to keep our nation secure," Brennan said in opening remarks Thursday at a rare news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Addressing criticisms detailed in a Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday, Brennan said an overwhelming number of CIA officers complied with rules on interrogation.
"They did what they were asked to do in the service of their nation," he said, telling reporters it was "unknowable" if the techniques produced useful intelligence.
"I have already stated that our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives," Brennan said.
Brennan also said the CIA did not intentionally deceive the president and the public, one of the charges made in the report. Based on a five-year investigation, it said the harsh interrogations amounted to torture, went beyond legal limits and failed to reveal actionable intelligence.
Brennan has acknowledged the agency "did not always live up to the high standards" it set for itself.
"In a limited number of cases, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all," Brennan said. "And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes.''
The director's comments followed former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's defense of the CIA.
Cheney criticizes report
In an interview with Fox News Wednesday, Cheney said the CIA did exactly what the White House wanted in setting up an interrogation program for terror suspects following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Cheney said the program was designed to catch those responsible and make sure such an attack did not happen again.
"I would do it again in a minute," Cheney said of approving it.
He said the CIA deserved "a lot of credit" and not condemnation.
Cheney said Wednesday the program may have had some problems, but officials "very carefully avoided torture." He also insisted the interrogations yielded "vital" information in preventing further attacks.
Meanwhile, the United States closed its last detention facility in Afghanistan, at the Bagram air base, after releasing three prisoners, two of them to Afghan authorities for possible prosecution. According to the Senate report, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held at Bagram.
Since the Senate report's release, countries often criticized by the United States for their human rights abuses, including China, have sharply attacked the CIA actions.
"A country's people have the best right to speak about their human rights situation," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said. "The United States has no right to pose itself as an arbiter and at every turn point their finger at other countries' human rights, as racism and mistreatment of prisoners and other serious human rights violation problems in the United States are facts now known to all.''
Russia and Pakistan joined in the criticism.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights envoy, Konstanin Dolgov, said Thursday that the abuses cited in the report do not square with U.S. claims to be a "model of democracy."
Islamabad's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Tasneem Aslam, called the interrogation techniques a violation of international law and said "human rights laws must be respected."
Human rights activists are calling for the prosecution of officials involved in the CIA's use of extreme interrogation methods.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department said the U.S. is committed to complying with its domestic and international obligations, but would object to foreign prosecution of U.S. officials.
President Barack Obama said the abuses were terrible mistakes that should not be repeated. He banned the use of the interrogation techniques when he took office in 2009.
Material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.