President Barack Obama was halfway out the door, joking with his counterparts in the press that he had not yet been wished a happy birthday, when a chorus of uniform questions from the assembled reporters forced him to address the recent admission that CIA Director John Brennan’s intelligence agency had improperly spied on the Senate.
On Thursday, the CIA admitted that intelligence operatives tapped into computers linked to staffers with the Senate Intelligence Committee in March. Those computers contained documents pertaining to an ongoing investigation into the agency’s Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques.
The report, which is set to be declassified, already has human rights activists expressing frustration over the fact that it reportedly refused to call the tactics CIA operatives engaged in “torture.” The Daily Beat’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake explained why: “[T]he report will not accuse the CIA outright of ‘torture,’ an accusation that could have political, diplomatic, legal, and even criminal implications,” their dispatch read.
They noted that a secret version of the Senate report has already been seen by key officials, but a declassified version will likely leak out almost immediately after it begins circulating around Washington.
The president chose not to wait and, amid a response to the serious allegation that the CIA spied on Congress while the agency was being investigated, declared that the United States of America “tortured some folks.”
“We did some things that were contrary to our values,” the president added.
On multiple occasions in the past, the president has expressed his personal opinion that the United States engaged in torture in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. This time, the president was speaking on behalf of a separate and co-equal branch of the U.S. government.
“Several members of the committee this week declined to comment about the still-classified contents of the report, but said that the path forward for congressional action or even criminal follow-up would be determined by what details make it into the unclassified version of the document,” the Daily Beast’s report continued. Surely, those criminal implications are only more pressing now in the wake of Obama’s statement.
Moreover, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Republicans had reportedly been warning the State Department to prepare American facilities overseas for the release of the enhanced interrogations report. They warned that even the cautiously worded findings could go off like a bomb in the Arab World, and American diplomatic personnel should be prepared for any resulting fallout.
“On several occasions, the White House and the State Department have told the Committee, both verbally and in writing, that a series of security steps will be needed to safeguard the lives of U.S. personnel overseas and the facilities in which they work,” the senators wrote.
If the report, which apparently did not use the term “torture,” might have inflamed sentiment in the Muslim World, Obama’s blunt declaration that the United States engaged in torture will surely have a more significant impact.
Obama’s statement is a momentous development, and it is likely to have far-reaching implications. And by the way, no one is talking about the CIA spying on the Senate anymore. Funny how that worked out.