The Department of Justice released today four previous Office of Legal Counsel opinions which concluded certain harsh interrogation techniques used by CIA officers on suspected al Qa’ida terrorists were legal. The opinions spell out in graphic detail techniques used in questioning high value detainees suspected of involvement in, and plans for, terrorist activity against the United States and its allies.
As the leader of the Intelligence Community, I am trying to put these issues into perspective. We cannot undo the events of the past; we must understand them and use this understanding as we move into the future.
It is important to remember the context of these past events. All of us remember the horror of 9/11. For months afterwards we did not have a clear understanding of the enemy we were dealing with, and our every effort was focused on preventing further attacks that would kill more Americans. It was during these months that the CIA was struggling to obtain critical information from captured al Qa’ida leaders, and requested permission to use harsher interrogation methods. The OLC memos make clear that senior legal officials judged the harsher methods to be legal.
Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos and those guidelines.
As a young Navy officer during the Vietnam years, I experienced public scorn for those of us who served in the Armed Forces during an unpopular war. Challenging and debating the wisdom and policies linked to wars and warfighting is important and legitimate; however disrespect for those who serve honorably within legal guidelines is not. I remember well the pain of those of us who served our country even when the policies we were carrying out were unpopular or could be second-guessed.
We in the Intelligence Community should not be subjected to similar pain. Let the debate focus on the law and our national security. Let us be thankful that we have public servants who seek to do the difficult work of protecting our country under the explicit assurance that their actions are both necessary and legal.
There will almost certainly be more public attention about the actions of intelligence agencies in the past. What we must do is make it absolutely clear to the American people that our ethos is to act legally, in as transparent a manner as we can, and in a way that they would be proud of if we could tell them the full story.
This afternoon, the Department of Justice is releasing a series of opinions that its Office of Legal Counsel provided CIA between 2002 and 2005. They guided CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which ended this past January. Over the life of that initiative, CIA repeatedly sought and repeatedly received written assurances from the Department of Justice that its practices were fully consistent with the laws and legal obligations of the United States. Those operations were also approved by the President and the National Security Council principals, and were briefed to the Congressional leadership.
As this information is revealed, it is important to understand the context in which these operations occurred. In the wake of September 11th, the President turned to CIA—as Presidents have done so often in our history—and entrusted our officers with the most critical of tasks: to disrupt the terrorist network that struck our country and prevent further attacks. CIA responded, as duty requires.
Although this Administration has now put into place new policies that CIA is implementing, the fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government. For that reason, as I have continued to make clear, I will strongly oppose any effort to investigate or punish those who followed the guidance of the Department of Justice.
The President and the Attorney General have also made clear that there will be no investigation or prosecution of CIA personnel who operated within the legal system. In addition, the Department will provide legal representation to CIA personnel subject to investigations relating to these operations.
This is not the end of the road on these issues. More requests will come—from the public, from Congress, and the Courts—and more information is sure to be released. We cannot control the debate about the past. But we can and must remain focused on our mission today and in the future. The President and the rest of our citizens are counting on all of us to help disrupt, destroy, and dismantle al Qa’ida—and to learn the plans of our other adversaries. We have an obligation to this nation and to each other to do all we can to protect America.