Friday wasn’t the first time President Obama used the word “torture” to describe the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Central Intelligence Agency against terrorism suspects, but this time might be the most meaningful.
Obama’s remarks came at the end of an impromptu session with reporters in the White House briefing room. Asked about a classified Senate report that delved into CIA actions during the Bush administration, the president responded by saying the report concluded that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, “we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”
Obama made similar remarks last year in a speech at the National Defense University — and, as far back as 2009, he referred to “waterboarding” as torture. But it carries greater weight now, with the expectation that portions of the Senate report will be declassified in the coming days at the urging of the White House.
That report, which chronicles a series of CIA abuses, does not use the word “torture” to characterize excessive interrogation practices, according to The Daily Beast. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which conducted the probe has said its findings will reveal abuse that is “chilling” and “systematic and widespread.” The report is also expected to conclude that the enhanced techniques were not effective in yielding useful intelligence.
“Torture” and the connotations it carries has been a loaded word politically since George W. Bush’s first term. And Obama’s decision to use it immediately sparked outrage from conservatives on Twitter. (Obama was also criticized for using the colloquial “folks” to describe those interrogated.)
But it appears to have been a choice by the president to cast the CIA’s practices in the most brutal terms in order to make his condemnation of them as powerful as possible, sending a signal both at home and abroad that such practices are no longer sanctioned. That way, when the report does become public, Obama’s words Friday will still be echoing. At the same time, it likely will do little to mollify critics who say his administration has failed to hold CIA agents who conducted the interrogations legally accountable.
Obama also used the occasion to support CIA Director John Brennan, who apologized this week to lawmakers after an internal probe found that CIA agents had broken into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee. At least one member of that committee, Mark Udall of Colorado, has called for Brennan to resign. But the president seemed to put that matter to rest, for now. “I have full confidence in John Brennan,” Obama said.
What We're Following See More »
"Sen. Lindsay Graham said he is '100 percent behind' embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and said there would be 'holy hell to pay' if President Donald Trump fires him. Graham also said that if the president went after special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who’s directing the investigation into possible contacts between Trump’s circle and Russia, that could be the 'beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.'"
"With little pomp or circumstance, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepped up to the briefing room podium and got straight to business Friday, reading announcements about "Made in America Week" and a new executive order on defense. Minutes later, newly minted communications director Anthony Scaramucci announced she was formally taking over as White House press secretary. In the aftermath of a chaotic communications staff shakeup at the White House last week, there was little attention paid to a new milestone as Sanders assumed the role."
"The highest ranking military officer in the country said that the military’s transgender policy won’t actively change until President Trump sends specific directions to the Pentagon. 'There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,' Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford wrote in a letter."
"A long-simmering feud between two of President Trump’s top advisers reached a boiling point Thursday, as White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly insinuated that chief of staff Reince Priebus is a leaker."