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George Tenet (AP Photo)

Tenet's near-admission of torture

ASK THIS | May 14, 2007

He insists that 'we don’t torture,' but the former CIA director has repeatedly confirmed that in the wake of 9/11 he oversaw the use of morally questionable interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. 'Whatever you call them,' Tenet says, 'it was authorized.' The press shouldn’t just leave it at that.

By Dan Froomkin

Former CIA director George Tenet’s new book has generated a lot of news stories focusing on his revelations about the inner workings of the Bush White House. But his frenetic publicity tour was more remarkable for his under-reported near-admission that the CIA tortured terrorism suspects.

Tenet hasn’t directly copped to torture – in fact, he tirelessly repeats President Bush’s meaningless stock response on the subject: “We don’t torture.” (Is he saying we haven’t tortured – or just that we’re not doing it right now? And what does he mean by torture? He won’t say, and nor will anyone else in the Bush administration past or present.)

But Tenet acknowledges the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that he says were not in use before 9/11. The motive: the “palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know.” The excuse: “Whatever you call them, it was authorized.” The post-hoc rationale: his insistence that “we saved lives, we stopped plots, we stopped things from happening” – an insistence unsupported by any evidence.

Underlying all of that is Tenet’s admission that the techniques the CIA used went beyond what had been widely accepted as moral and legal before 9/11. “What do you need to do to protect the lives of your fellow citizens?” He asked CNN’s Larry King. “If you don't want intelligence officers crossing lines that raise moral and legal lines that you're not comfortable with as a democratic society, then let's not do them.” King then asked Tenet: “Can we retain our high sense of morality and still quell possible threats to us?” Tenet replied: “I can't give you a straight answer.”

This topic is way too important for journalists – or Congress – to just let it drop. Tenet is essentially admitting to torture-by-any-other-name, but he says it’s OK because he had permission. We must demand to know of him -- and those who gave him that permission: What exactly have you done in our name? Every time a reporter or members of Congress has the opportunity, they should demand answers from Tenet, Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and President Bush to these questions:

Q. How do you define torture?

Q  Did we torture?

Q. Are we torturing now?

Q. What are the rules from this point forth?

Q. What was gained?

Q. What was lost?

Also see Larry Wilkerson’s item for NiemanWatchdog.org from July: Dogging the Torture Story.

As it happens, Tenet’s comments about torture were essentially ignored by mainstream news reporters. Only two opinion writers that I know of even mentioned the subject.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, in a Live Online discussion on May 1, had this to say:

On the issue of torture, Tenet was unforgivably evasive, I thought. He said “we do not torture people” or something like that, but then added, “That's what I believe,” indicating that others might think otherwise. Then he proceeded to give an elaborate rationalization for the non-torture -- we have to understand the atmosphere after 9/11, we have to realize there were other credible threats, etc. Right, Mr. Slam-Dunk.

And former CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote in a May 1 Miami Herald op-ed:

Hewing to the Bush dictum of 'catapulting the propaganda' by endlessly repeating the same claim (the formula used so successfully by Joseph Goebbels), Tenet managed to tell 60 Minutes five times in five consecutive sentences: ‘'We don't torture people.'’ Like Bush, however, he then goes on to show why it has been absolutely necessary to torture people. Do they take us for fools? And Tenet's claims of success in extracting information via torture are no more deserving of credulity than the rest of what he says.

Here are excerpts of Tenet talking about interrogation techniques in his various media interviews.

Here is Tenet talking to CBS’s Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes, on April 29:

TENET:  You know, the image that's been portrayed is we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh, boy, now we go get to torture people.' We don't torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don't torture people. OK? So...

PELLEY: Come on, George.

TENET:  We don't torture people.

PELLEY: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?

TENET:  We don't torture people.

PELLEY: Water boarding?

TENET:  We do not--I don't talk about techniques...

PELLEY: It's torture.

TENET:  ...and we don't torture people. No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me. So the context is it's post-9/11. I've got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are going to be blown up, planes that are going to fly into airports all over again. Plot lines that I don't know--I don't know what's going on inside the United States. And I'm struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur. Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots.

PELLEY: But what you're essentially saying is some people need to be tortured.

TENET:  No, I did not say that. I did not say that.

PELLEY: You're telling me that...

TENET:  I did not say that.

PELLEY: ...the enhanced interrogation...

TENET:  I did not say that. We do not tor--listen to me.

PELLEY: Look...

TENET:  Look, you're making an assumption.

PELLEY: You call it in the book enhanced interrogation techniques.

TENET:  Well, that's what we call it.

PELLEY: I mean, that's a euphemism.

TENET:  I'm not having a semantic debate with you. I'm telling you what I believe.

Here he is talking to ABC’s Charles Gibson on April 30:

GIBSON: Let me talk about the handling of high-level prisoners that you write about, prisoners that we suspect of terrorism. You say, very plainly, 'We do not torture.' You were adamant on that subject. But to many of us, when you write the words enhanced interrogation techniques, that certainly sounds like a euphemism.

TENET: Charlie, it's - something important for everybody to - understand about this. Whatever you call them, it was authorized. It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States. All I can tell you is, one hand, I know, for certain, that during my time, we saved lives, we stopped plots, we stopped things from happening because of the data that was collected here.

Here he is talking to CNN’s Larry King on April 30:

KING: OK, I guess we're into definitions here. We all know what torture is. I know what torture is. If I put a clamp around your neck and squeeze you, I'm torturing you. Are you saying we never torture people?

TENET: Larry, we don't torture people. It's very, very important for a people to understand that we live in a nation of laws. And you know we have very valuable people who gave us information that saved thousands of lives: plot lines, names of individuals. Here's the bottom line. Whatever we did was authorized. Whatever this program is, the attorney general of the United States said is legal, you can go ahead. This program was briefed to the chairman and ranking committee of the Oversight Committees.

Look, Larry, at the end of the day, I want to come back to that post 9/11 period, I want to come back to that sense of fear of what we did not now.

You know Senator McCain has done a great service to the country by basically raising very important issues. What do we do to protect a just society? And here's the bottom line for CIA and American intelligence officers, look, a country has to have an understanding and debate about where you want to fit in this moral spectrum. What do you need to do to protect the lives of your fellow citizens? If you don't want intelligence officers crossing lines that raise moral and legal lines that you're not comfortable with as a democratic society, then let's not do them. Let's not do those things. We're not advocates. All I can tell you is what we were up against at the time. All I can tell you is how valuable this program was.

KING: Was there ever a procedure authorized by the attorney general in which you said, 'I'm not sure about this?'

TENET: Larry, let's just...

KING: Because he authorized it doesn't make it not torture.

TENET: We talked to them in a collegial manner. It never was the attorney general tells you what to do. We sit down collectively. We get legal advice. We were never at cross purposes with each other on these issues.

KING: What's water boarding?

TENET: I don't talk about those issues, Larry.

KING: Why?

TENET: I just don't. I don't talk about techniques. We don't talk about those things.

KING: But you don't torture.

TENET: Larry, I've told you that what we did was authorized, legal, prudent, briefed. And we don't torture and I don't talk about techniques.

KING: But your conscience is clear.

TENET: Larry, of course, yes, it is. It's clear because I know that what we learned saved lives, protected our citizens.

KING: On Sunday, Senator McCain, who you just praised, challenged your premise that enhanced interrogation is not torture and he questioned your assertion that these practices save lives. Watch John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Everybody who's been in war doesn't want to torture people and think that it's the wrong thing to do, and history shows that. We cannot torture people and maintain our moral superiority in the world. And that's a fact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But George Tenet says...

MCCAIN: I don't care what George Tenet says, I know what's right. I know what's morally right as far as America's behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if I may, sir, when George Tenet says, 'We saved lives through some of these techniques'...

MCCAIN: I don't accept it.


KING: John McCain told us on this program that those kind of extreme techniques work in reverse. You don't learn the truth. He had it in Vietnam and lied.

TENET: Listen, Larry, I respect Senator McCain and I know what his experience was. I can tell you that what we learned we were able to corroborate with other data that we had at our disposal. It was a very valuable source of information.

And Senator McCain raised something at the end that's quite important. He raised this value question. He raised where we want to be as a society. All I'm saying, wherever we decide to be, whatever the country decides, whatever we decide on a bipartisan basis, listen; I accept the issues he raises.

KING: Can we retain our high sense of morality and still quell possible threats to us?

TENET: Well, Larry...

KING: Is it possible?

TENET: Larry, there's always that tension. You know people often say, 'Well, what happens in the extreme case where you have a ticking bomb that's about to go off and you capture somebody who may know where that ticking bomb is.' OK, now that's the extreme.

In the fall after 9/11, we had reports that there was a nuclear weapon in New York City. We had reports of apartment buildings blowing up. We had reports of additional airline hijacking plots. We didn't have enough -- listen, it's inevitable that this is going to be a constants tension in our society. I can't give you a straight answer.

Here is Tenet talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN on May 2:

TENET: Let me say this about this whole torture question. In the aftermath of 9/11, we lived with a palpable fear of how much we did not know about what was going on in our country….

Here's what I would ask people. I know that the program we engaged in saved lives, thousands of lives. I know it helped us against al Qaeda.

Policymakers, the president, the Congress: Determine where you want to be in the moral continuum. We are a country of laws and a country of values. Tell us where you want to be. Make it very, very clear to us. Have consensus on it.

Don't let the pendulum swing back and forth. Give your intelligence community clear instructions, and we'll follow them.

BLITZER: In a war, if American POWs were exposed to the same 'enhanced interrogation techniques' that these expects were exposed to, would that be appropriate?

TENET: Well, you never -- look, Wolf, I would never -- I don't know what they'd be exposed to. And I don't want to talk about techniques. Here's the only thing I would say to you again.

Make a determination of where you want us to be. Tell us what the right thing to do is. We'll do it.

I know that in that time period after 9/11, we understood the risks. We understood we were on new territory. The president authorized. The attorney general said it was legal.

We briefed the chairman and ranking member of our oversight committees. Nobody was hiding anything. We were in a -- we were in a tough environment.

If you don't want to do it, that's fine with us.

Where's the Evidence?

As for Tenet’s claims that the techniques he oversaw produced intelligence that saved lives, what little reporting there has been on the subject suggests that there is no evidence to support his position.

In a speech in October 2005 while trying to shore up sagging public support for the war in Iraq, Bush suddenly announced: “Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We've stopped at least five more al Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States, or infiltrate operatives into our country.” The White House even put out an accompanying “fact sheet.”

But as Sara Kehaulani Goo wrote in The Washington Post soon afterward: “Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed.”

In early February of last year, under pressure to justify another controversial executive-branch action -- his warrantless domestic spying program – President Bush suddenly disclosed that “since September the 11th, the United States and our coalition partners have disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda terrorist plots -- including plots to attack targets inside the United States.“ In particular, he called attention to an alleged plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, which he said had been hatched by Khalid Shaykh Muhammad – one of the terror suspects known to have been subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

But as Peter Baker and Dan Eggen reported in The Washington Post the following day, “several U.S. intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush's speech to politics. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to publicly criticize the White House, said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk.”

Most damning of all is Ron Suskind’s depiction of the program in his book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” published in June of last year. Barton Gellman, reviewing the book in The Washington Post, described how Suskind shatters the official story line about Abu Zubaydah, one of the terror suspects interrogated by the FBI:

Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. …

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques…..

Suskind sees a deliberate management choice: Bush ensnared his director of central intelligence at the time, George J. Tenet, and many others in a new kind of war in which action and evidence were consciously divorced.....

“I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "'No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

Posted by Larry Ray -
05/17/2007, 04:01 PM

05 MAY 2007

There is no question George Tenet more than failed as an American, as Director of the C.I.A. and as a man. His willful breach of his responsibilities as Director is at the very least shameful and disgraceful. More directly, criminal. By making a conscious decision and taking deliberate steps to “go along to get along” with the Bush/Cheney plan to lie to the world regarding Iraq’s WMD program, the links between Sadaam Houssein and Al Queida, and much more, Mr. Tenet has betrayed us all.

George Tenet:

You are fully aware of the importance of HUMINT to any Nation’s National Security. Additionally, you are aware of how painstaking , frustrating, and dangerous fieldwork is. Developing effective relationships requires highly skilled, dedicated, and very responsible people on both sides of every bridge irrespective of the Countries involved. You simply sold us all out. The fact you were threatened to go along or else is no excuse. Consider the careers and efforts of all the analysts, supervisors and other personnel that did the best they could to resist the Criminally Maniacal Frenzy with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others have bullied their way to a baseless war with IRAQ for power and personal monetary gain just to start with. Face the facts – you are a thief, you are a coward, a proven risk to our National Security, and you tarnished the office of Director of Central Intelligence. Moreover negatively impacting the integrity, faith and confidence the world intelligence community previously placed in the office of the Director of the C.I.A. Hence essentially abrogating an important asset once available to all field personnel, more significantly to anyone working on a critically sensitive matter. Mr. Tenet you made your own decision to stand with and be part of a group of “Men Without Honor”. You all have gone way too far. I am confident you will all be held accountable.

You and all others involved in this “Treasonous Scheme” have the blood of more than 3,750 dead U.S. Military Personnel, more than 26,000 wounded United States Military Personnel. American sons, daughters, moms and dads. Additionally, the blood of several hundred thousand Iraqis. Our country has yet to realize the psychological effects this will have on Military Personnel fighting in Iraq. You have debased the United States and everything it stands for. Shame on you.

Mr. Tenet it is abundantly clear that you are looking for cover and will find nowhere to hide, in what amounts to an ill-fated exit strategy. You have faced off with everyone in the Intelligence sector in a fight over not only our Professionalism, our National Integrity and National Pride but also our Personal Integrity and Personal Pride as well. Accept the obvious. You state that you value your reputation. Actions mean something, your words mean nothing. Your only chance to redeem any morsel of dignity or self respect is to submit your personal request to the F.B.I. for an immediate appointment so the Bureau can fully debrief you regarding all crimes you may have played a role in, also the identities and details of all who committed any other criminal acts you have knowledge of, including a particular Country Club on Long Island where you have had meetings, again the identities of all attendees and the nature of those meetings. Next the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence so that the process to properly assess the damage done to our National Security can begin. On one particular trip in1999 I landed in Eastern Europe and was picked up by my contact; his driver proceeded to take us to a pre-agreed location for an early dinner meeting. I realized within minutes we were heading in the wrong direction. My contact then told me they knew what I wanted. The contact told me what it was. They were specifically correct. I had been intentionally compromised. Not a good situ. Due to the relationship being very mature and reliably effective for all concerned, I am still here. I learned how I may have been compromised that day and qualified the information over the next several months. Of further insult, some people tried to convince me that the F.B.I. was responsible for the compromise. Who could they be? You do know, George, I know you do.

I strongly suggest that you come forth with all of the information you are aware of regarding the damage that has been done to our National Security by you and others. If you have any sense of what is right left in you, that is. Perhaps you should start with why you resigned so abruptly in June of 2004. Coincidentally, it was at about this time that I was briefed on a potential deal between Rudolph Giuliani and President Bush, which included appointing Bernard Kerik as Head of Homeland Security. You were amongst us who knew that the destruction that would come of that simply could not be tolerated. You also knew why.

By the way, how is it that you were a Clinton install, and President Bush kept you on – what was the nature of this phenomenon? It is essential you step forward and brief the FBI on the multinational Matrix project.

Larry Ray

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