‘I Wanted To Take A Bath When I Heard It’
In the guts of this Washington Post tick-tock about President Obama’s decision to release the torture memos comes an account of a meeting at CIA headquarters in December between Obama emissaries and top outgoing CIA officials. The agency officials, including still-Deputy Director Steve Kappes, made a case for Obama to retain torture techniques not including waterboarding, which the CIA removed from its “authorized list of techniques sometime after 2005,” according to the Senate intelligence committee.” There to listen for the Obama team is now-NSC official Denis McDonough, former Sens. David Boren (D-Okla.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), ex-CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith, and incoming national security adviser Jim Jones. The following exchange occurred:
“They said that they had produced valuable intelligence,” Smith said. “We took them at their word.” But the group’s consensus was that “whatever utility it had at the outset . . . the secret prisons and enhanced techniques were no longer playing a useful role — the costs outweighed the gains.” He said those costs included obvious damage to the nation’s values and identity, and problems with U.S. allies that strongly opposed the use of such methods.
Boren, who chaired the Senate intelligence committee from 1987 to 1993 and is now president of the University of Oklahoma, said that attending the briefings was “one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had” and that “I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it.” He said he concluded that “fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence” and that the agency did not prove those methods “are particularly effective at getting the truth.”
What the piece might have added is that David Boren is George Tenet’s mentor. To call Boren protective of the CIA is a severe understatement — he might not have ever called it “my CIA” the way Carl Vinson used to call the Navy “my Navy,” but in my conversations with Boren, he’s expressed a similar sentiment. And here he is publicly saying that the CIA was using “fear” to get experienced legislators and representatives of the next administration to endorse a program with an uncompelling justification.
The public version of this is what you hear from Dick and Liz Cheney. One wonders if they ever asked how the CIA, which did not have a corps of experienced interrogators before 9/11, knows these methods to be, as Boren says, “particularly effective at getting to the truth.”