Udall urges CIA chief to resign for stifling torture probe
Speaking on the Senate floor merely 24 hours after the chamber’s Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited report on the CIA’s past use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Udall – an adamant critic of the torture program described in detail within this week’s report – called on CIA Director John Brennan to resign from his role, while also urging US President Barack Obama to ensure that the full truth about the agency’s past policies be officially acknowledged.
Although Udall hailed Congress for finally releasing the executive summary of the Senate panel’s report following nearly four years of interviews and investigations, he said that senior officials within the spy agency, up to and including Brennan, have been far from truthful with regards to the results of the CIA-designed interrogation program and the lengthy probe into the matter that pinnacled with the Intelligence Committee’s report.
In a 50-minute speech from the Senate floor, Udall said the panel’s report describing the CIA’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other torturous tactics was “put together methodically without exaggeration or embellishment” and “brings the truth to light.” Accomplishing as much was not an easy feat, however, he acknowledged, because “the study says things that former and current CIA and government don’t want the public to know,” singling Brennan out specifically.
While the lengthy report indeed addresses an inarguable blemish on America’s history, Udall claimed that “the deeply more endemic problem lies in the CIA, assisted by a White House that continues to try to cover up the truth.”
“It’s this deeper problem that illustrates the problem we face today: reforming an agency that refuses to even acknowledge what it has done,” Udall said of the CIA.
Before and during the current administration of President Barack Obama, Udall explained, the CIA “coordinated to provide misinformation to the White House and its oversight committee” in order to lay claims that the use of torture on foreign detainees was necessary to elicit intelligence, including details that allegedly led to locating Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Yet while the CIA this week insists that as much is true, the Senate Committee concluded that the use of coercive, torturous means to uncover the supposed information on bin Laden proved to be unnecessary and ineffective. Claims to the contrary from the CIA, Udall said, “signifies the agency leaders’ persistent and intense culture of misrepresentative truth.”
Brennan has been “openly hostile” towards Senate staffers working on the intelligence report since taking office in March 2013, Udall claimed, and for nine months now has refused to provide answers about not only the former torture program, but allegations – later proved to be accurate – that CIA agents spied on the very Senate workers involved with the torture report.
The director’s “flippant and dismissive tone represents the CIA’s approach to oversight and the White House’s willingness to let the CIA do whatever it likes, even if its efforts are actively aimed at undermining the president’s stated policies,” Udall said.
Elsewhere, Udall added that a report on the CIA’s torture program overseen by Brennan’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, has been kept from view of the public and much of Congress, despite corroborating many of the significant findings of the study released this week, including major “problems and errors” attributed to the CIA but long ignored by the Obama administration and that of George W. Bush.
“In my view, the Panetta review is a smoking gun,” Udall said, that “raises fundamental questions about the review of the CIA conducted internally years ago and never provided to the committee.”
“Clearly the present leadership of the CIA agrees with me that the Panetta review is a smoking gun,” Udall said later, adding that the agency’s illegal searching of Senate Intelligence Committee computers was conducted out of concern that lawmakers and their aides would uncover the earlier report.
Spying on senators, Udall said, “demonstrates how far the CIA will go to keep its secrets safe.”
With Udall slated to leave the Senate early next year on the heels of a mid-term election upset suffered by the politician and much of the Democratic Party last month, calls for the congressman to leak the so-called “torture report” have erupted in recent weeks in connection with concerns that the study would never see the light of day. Now days away from leaving the Senate, Udall said on Wednesday that the unpublished review conducted under Panetta must be made public to show how senior officials in the CIA have systematically lied about the findings formalized in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report.
“The Panetta review further describes how detainees provided intelligence prior to the use of torture against them,” Udall said. “It describes how the CIA, contrary to its own representation, often tortured detainees before trying any other approach,” and even when less coercive techniques were yielding intelligence.
“I’ve reviewed this document and it is as significant and relevant as it gets,” Udall said of the Panetta-authorized report.
Nevertheless, Udall said the Obama administration is also guilty of keeping that report under wraps, blaming the White House for refusing to let the CIA deliver to the Senate roughly 9,400 documents withheld during the creation of the torture report, “despite the fact that the documents are directly responsive” to the Committee’s request for information needed to review the agency’s past practices.
“We need to be better than that,” Udall said. “If there’s no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary,” he said, “...then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture?”
“The CIA lied to its overseers and the public,” Udall added, “…spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account.”
A solution, Udall proposed, is that Brennan resigns as head of the CIA and President Obama “purge[s] his administration of high level officials” tied to the torture program to “force a cultural change” within an agency long marred by allegations of unjustness. Individuals directly responsible for the US government’s use of torture during the Bush administration remain on the job today, Udall said, and their ongoing employment – and absence of any reprimand – risks further atrocities being committed under America’s name.
Concurrent with the release of the executive summary of the Senate Committee’s report on Tuesday, the CIA said in a statement that the agency “did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us,” but “owned up to these mistakes, learned from them and taken numerous corrective actions over the years.”
“The Agency takes no position on whether intelligence obtained from detainees who were subjected to EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] could have been obtained through other means or from other individuals. The answer to this question is, and will remain, unknowable,” the CIA said. “However, CIA reviews indicate that the program, including interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used, did produce valuable and unique intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”
In a statement from the White House, President Obama said: “I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”