- Top spies past and present campaigned yesterday to discredit the Senate's investigation into the CIA's harrowing torture practices after 9/11, battling to define the historical record and deter potential legal action around the world.
The Senate Intelligence Committee's report doesn't urge prosecution for wrongdoing, and the Justice Department has no interest in reopening a criminal probe. But the threat to former interrogators and their superiors was underlined as a U.N. special investigator demanded those responsible for "systematic crimes" be brought to justice, and human rights groups pushed for the arrest of key CIA and Bush administration figures if they travel overseas.
Current and former CIA officials pushed back, determined to paint the Senate report as a political stunt by Senate Democrats tarnishing a program that saved American lives. It is a "one-sided study marred by errors of fact and interpretation - essentially a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America," former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Hayden was singled out by Senate investigators for what they said was a string of misleading or outright false statements he gave in 2007 about the importance of the CIA's brutal treatment of detainees in thwarting terrorist attacks. He described the focus on him as "ironic on so many levels" as any wrongdoing predated his arrival at the CIA. "They were far too interested in yelling at me," Hayden said in an email to the Associated Press.
The committee's 500-page release concluded that the CIA inflicted suffering on al Qaeda prisoners beyond its legal authority and that none of the agency's "enhanced interrogations" provided critical, life-saving intelligence. It cited the CIA's own records, documenting in detail how waterboarding and lesser-known techniques such as "rectal feeding" were actually employed.
Challenging one of the report's most explosive arguments - that harsh interrogation techniques didn't lead to Osama bin Laden - the CIA pointed to questioning of Ammar al-Baluchi, who revealed how an al Qaeda operative relayed messages to and from bin Laden after he departed Afghanistan. Before then, the CIA said, it only knew that courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti interacted with bin Laden in 2001 when the al Qaeda leader was accessible to many of his followers. Al-Kuwaiti eventually led the U.S. to bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney also pushed back, saying in a Fox News interview that the Senate report "is full of crap."
Cheney argued that the CIA's approach to interrogating terror suspects was necessary after the 9/11 attacks, and the people who carried them out were doing their duty.