'We tortured some folks' after 9/11 attacks' - Obama
Published 02/08/2014 | 02:30
The United States tortured al-Qa'ida detainees captured after the 9/11 attacks, President Obama admitted yesterday.
"We tortured some folks," Obama said at a televised news conference at the White House. "We did some things that were contrary to our values."
Addressing the impending release of a Senate report that criticises CIA treatment of detainees, Obama said he believed the mistreatment stemmed from the pressure national security officials felt to forestall another attack.
He said Americans should not be too "sanctimonious," about passing judgment through the lens of a seemingly safer present day.
That view, which he expressed as a candidate for national office in 2008 and early in his presidency, explains why Obama did not push to pursue criminal charges against the Bush era officials who carried out the CIA programme.
To this day, many of those officials insist that what they did was not torture, which is a felony under US law.
The president's comments are a blow to those former officials, as well as an estimated 200 people currently working at the CIA who played some role in the interrogation programme.
In 2009, Obama said he preferred to "look forward, not backwards," on the issue, and he decided that no CIA officer who was following legal guidance - however flawed that guidance turned out to be - should be prosecuted.
A long-running criminal investigation into whether the CIA exceeded the guidance - which is an allegation of the Senate report - was closed in 2012 without charges.
Still, Obama's remarks were more emphatic than his previous comments on the subject, including a May 2009 speech in which he trumpeted his ban of "so-called enhanced interrogation techniques," and "brutal methods," but did not flatly say the US had engaged in torture.
In addition to water boarding, the CIA used stress positions, sleep deprivation, nudity, humiliation, cold and other tactics that, taken together, were extremely brutal, the Senate report is expected to say.
Obama did not mention a specific method yesterday, but he said the CIA used techniques that "any fair minded person would believe were torture."
"We crossed a line," he said. "That needs to be understood and accepted...We did some things that were wrong, and thats what that report reflects."
The president also expressed confidence in his CIA director, John Brennan, after an internal CIA report documenting that the spy agency improperly accessed Senate computers.
There have been calls for his resignation by congressional lawmakers.
Obama said the internal report made clear that "some very poor judgment was shown," but he seemed to say it wasn't Brennan's fault, and he praised his director for ordering the inquiry in the first place.