CIA torture report: 8 times U.S. officials defended CIA interrogations

Even before the U.S. Senate intelligence committee released the explosive CIA torture report, Bush administration officials were already dismissing it.

Even amid a firestorm, former CIA directors are defending interrogations

Former U.S. president George W. Bush said emphatically in a 2006 speech that the United States 'does not torture,' and that he had not authorized it nor would he. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Even before the U.S. Senate intelligence committee released the explosive CIA torture report on Tuesday, Bush administration officials were already dismissing it.

"What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney said in an interview with the New York Times on Monday. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey."

It comes as no surprise, then, that high-ranking CIA officials who oversaw the torture program have been on the offensive ever since the report's release on Tuesday. 

We don't torture people. Let me say that again to you: we don't torture people.— George Tenet, CIA director from 1996 to 2004

Former directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, along with three ex-deputy directors, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday disputing the Senate committee's findings that the use of torture didn't work and that the report was wrong about the CIA being deceptive about its work. Hayden has also given a number of interviews asserting that he did not lie during a Senate committee hearing in 2007 about the interrogation program. 

The denials follow a familiar pattern.

Below, CBC News has compiled eight previous instances of U.S. government officials denying torture and defending (even encouraging) enhanced interrogation techniques with claims that have since been discredited by the Senate report. These are by no means the only times officials have gone on the record to defend their detainee policies.

Nov. 27, 2002: On a memo approving detainee interrogation techniques (including removal of clothing, inducing stress by use of detainee's fears, and placing detainees in stress positions like standing, then secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld scrawled, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours? D.R."

Sept. 6, 2006: Then U.S. president George W. Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA's detention and interrogation program for the first time in a speech delivered from the White House. He said the program "saved lives," was "vital to the security of the United States," and "deserves the support" of U.S. citizens and Congress. But it didn't use torture, he said.

"I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world. The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it," he said. 
The recently released U.S. Senate intelligence committee report refutes much of former CIA director Michael Hayden's April 12, 2007, testimony about the agency's detention and interrogation program. (Chuck France/Associated Press)

April 12, 2007: Former CIA director Michael Hayden, who served from March 2006 until February 2009, testified at length before the Senate intelligence committee about the agency's detention and interrogation program. Among many other claims, Hayden said: "Threats of acts of sodomy, the arrest and rape of family members, the intentional infection of HIV or any other diseases have never been and would never be authorized. There are no instances in which such threats or abuses took place." 

April 29, 2007: "We don't torture people. Let me say that again to you: we don't torture people," former CIA director George Tenet asserted in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes host Scott Pelley. He repeated the phrase "We don't torture people" at least another four times during the interview.

Tenet was CIA director before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, including when the agency began its use of torture.

"Look, you call it in the book 'enhanced interrogation techniques,'" said Pelley.

"Well, that's what we call it," said Tenet.

"That's a euphemism."

"I'm not having a semantic debate with you," said Tenet.

April 27, 2009: Former national security adviser and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice spoke with students at a Stanford University dorm, insisting that enhanced interrogation techniques never led to torture.

"In terms of the enhanced interrogation and so forth, anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer, the president wanted to do," Rice said during a sometimes tense exchange.

"We did not torture anyone. And Guantanamo Bay, by the way, was considered a model 'medium security prison' by representatives of the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe who went there to see it."

Feb. 8, 2011: In an interview with Newsweek, former secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld criticized the media and members of Congress for continuing to assert that CIA detention sites such as Guantanamo Bay were used for torturing and waterboarding its detainees.

"It was false. Guantanamo Bay prison is one of the best-operated prisons on the face of the Earth," he said.

"They have done a terrific job. And the men and women down there have been terribly abused through the media by others using the media who contend that it was a stain on America. And it ought not to have been."

Sept. 9, 2011: "Three people were waterboarded — not dozens, not hundreds. Three. And the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheik Mohammad and it produced phenomenal results for us," former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney said at the American Enterprise Institute.

April 2013: Condoleezza Rice continues to defend the Bush administration's torture policy.

"The fact that we have not had a successful attack on our territory traces directly to those difficult decisions in a new kind of war after Sept. 11," she said in a video meant to be presented at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas.

With files from Reuters