Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism… (Win McNamee / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON -- A secret Senate report on harsh CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects makes “rather damning” allegations of mismanagement and misrepresentation by CIA officers that must be investigated, President Obama’s nominee to be CIA director said at his confirmation hearing.
John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “there clearly were a number of things, many things…that were very concerning and disturbing to me and that I would want to look into immediately.”
The classified 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report focused on the now-shuttered CIA program to detain Al Qaeda operatives at then-secret prisons around the world. CIA operatives in some cases utilized “enhanced interrogation techniques” including waterboarding, nudity and extreme temperatures.
Brennan previously has said that the CIA gleaned valuable intelligence from the harsh interrogations of people captured shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But after reading a 300-page summary of the classified document, Brennan said Thursday, he has "serious questions about the information I was given at the time."
If confirmed as CIA chief, Brennan promised to find out “what went wrong in the system, where there were systemic failures, where there was mismanagement in the system.” He added it will be “one of my highest priorities.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.)said the interrogation program was "corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest." He did not elaborate.
Brennan was questioned closely about whether he was directly involved in the interrogations, and whether he considered the treatment torture.
Criticism over the issue led Brennan to withdraw his name from consideration as CIA director in 2009.
When the interrogations began in 2002, Brennan was the CIA’s deputy executive director and was copied on dozens of messages involving the program, senators said.
Brennan said he was personally opposed to some of the harsher techniques, including waterboarding, but did not formally object.
“I was cc’d on some of those documents, but I had no oversight of it,” he said. “I professed my personal objections to it but I did not try to stop it because it was something that was being done in a different part of the agency.”
Later in the hearing, Brennan called waterboarding “reprehensible” and said it should have been banned, but he declined to label it torture.
The CIA is preparing a formal response to the committee report. It’s unclear if some or all of the document will be made public.
Obama decided early in his first administration not to create a commission to investigate the interrogations that took place under the Bush administration, which were sanctioned at the time by Justice Department opinions. Criminal investigations into whether CIA officers or contractors exceeded the legal guidance — including in two cases where detainees died in custody – were closed with no criminal changes.