Contradicting other reporting, Bennett claimed intel chief opposed torture memos release

››› ››› CHRISTINE SCHWEN

Contradicting other reporting, Bill Bennett claimed that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair opposed President Obama's recent release of four previously classified Justice Department memos that had authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

On the April 19 edition of CNN's State of the Union, CNN contributor Bill Bennett claimed that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair opposed President Obama's recent release of four previously classified Justice Department memos that had authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques. But Bennett's statement contradicts other reporting on Blair's position on the release of the memos, which neither Bennett nor host John King noted. Bennett later suggested that that the harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA on Al Qaeda captive Abu Zubaydah has "kept American cities and American people from being hurt," which has also been contradicted by other reports.

Discussing the memos, Bennett asserted that "the current head of CIA, Leon Panetta, was opposed to this release. The head of defense intelligence -- defense intelligence organization, Dennis Blair, was opposed to this; this was the politicos at the White House getting control of the situation." Bennett did not cite any evidence for his claim about Blair's position, and, contrary to what Bennett said, The Wall Street Journal reported on April 15 that, according to "current and former senior administration officials," Blair favored releasing the memos:

Top CIA officials have spoken out strongly against a full release, saying it would undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services and hurt the agency's work force, people involved in the discussions said. However, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair favors releasing the information, current and former senior administration officials said.

Additionally, Newsweek reported in an April 18 article that Blair backed a "more complete release" of the memos than Panetta:

After several intense cabinet meetings, Obama appeared to back down and go along with a Panetta proposal to heavily "redact" -- black out -- all references to specific interrogation techniques, say the administration sources. But this would make the release meaningless, argued others, and Obama began to swing back again. Panetta had one ally, John Brennan, a former agency official who is now Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser. But Adm. Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, backed a more complete release, and so did Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Bush holdover (and former CIA director). In the end, Obama approved the disclosure of the documents, along with a strongly worded statement that agency professionals "who acted reasonably and relied upon legal advice from the Department of Justice" will be held blameless.

Later during the discussion, Bennett asserted: "You're damn right this stuff works -- that challenge has been put out there. This is information that we got from Abu Zubaydah, from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that kept American cities and American people from being hurt." However, The Washington Post reported that, according to "former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations," "not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions":

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Additionally, as Media Matters For America has documented, in his book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, journalist Ron Suskind reported that the CIA's harsh techniques against Zubaydah only led him to disclose a variety of apparently nonexistent plots:

Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by al Qaeda. That information traveled the globe in an instant. Agents from the FBI, Secret Service, Customs, and various related agencies joined local police to surround malls. Zubaydah said banks -- yes, banks -- were a priority. FBI agents led officers in a race to surround and secure banks. And also supermarkets -- al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time. People would stop shopping. The nation's economy would be crippled. And the water systems -- a target, too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings. [p.115]

[...]

A tried-and-true maxim: the only intelligence of value is that which can be independently confirmed. Interrogators, sending home one open-ended alert after another, pressed Zubaydah for the verifiable. They needed a body, a colleague. The captive wouldn't give up one. [p. 116]

From the April 19 edition of CNN's State of the Union:

KING: Let's start with this controversy. Pretty remarkable the language being used by all sides of this debate over whether it was right for this administration to release these torture memos. The president in the campaign said he would close Guantanamo Bay, he would stop waterboarding, he would stop the tactics at issue. But releasing these memos has set off a firestorm of debate, including the former CIA director, Mike Hayden -- General Mike Hayden was out on Fox News today and he says, look, when you hear about waterboarding, when you hear about slamming someone repeatedly against a wall, sure, that's jarring, but what he says is that in the critical days after 9-11, those tactics lead to information that helped America thwart attacks. Let's listen to General Hayden.

HAYDEN: [video clip]: the facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work.

KING: And James, by extension, what he says is releasing it tells the terrorists what to expect if they're caught.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, if any terrorist didn't know we were waterboarding, they'd have to be utterly clueless. We had a whole campaign about waterboarding. Secondly, General Hayden, he starts out by a piece in The Wall Street Journal and he goes on Fox News. If I were advising him, I would say you probably want to go more mainstream and sound like an intelligence professional than he's coming across. There's a big debate whether this stuff works or not. There are many people that'd say the intelligence it produces is not good; he says it is. I think we should have a debate as a country about whether or not this stuff actually produces good intelligence.

KING: But Bill, do we need to see -- I think James is right. We should have this debate; we should have a debate about every issue. But do we need to see these memos to have the debate?

BENNETT: No, we don't need to see these memos, and I don't think it does much to disparage General Hayden. I think he's a very honorable man and a professional. Also, the current head of CIA, Leon Panetta, was opposed to this release. The head of defense intelligence -- defense intelligence organization, Dennis Blair, was opposed to this; this was the politicos at the White House getting control of the situation. You're damn right this stuff works -- that challenge has been put out there. This is information that we got from Abu Zubaydah, from Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, that kept American cities and American people from being hurt. Now, I don't think it's torture, but I don't care if you do call it torture. And by the way, the president of the United States still has within his power the ability to do this. Now these efforts to distance themselves from the Bush administration I understand -- all administrations do this. But when they start getting to the point there they start endangering our national security and saying we're just going to leak everything, that's too far. One last point: Nancy Pelosi, Bob Graham, Jane Harman, Jay Rockefeller, all were briefed on these very techniques and methods, and all approved them in 2002 and 2003. So a little hypocritical, more than a little, to turn around now.

KING: I don't want to spend our whole time on this, but does it give you any pause? Leon Panetta's a friend of yours; you worked closely with Leon Panetta. He's the head of the CIA now. He, like President Obama, says change the policies -- "I don't like the policies, I want to go in a different direction" -- but he didn't want the memos out there.

CARVILLE: Right, well, he has to represent the CIA agents, and there was great fear -- you could see when they were asking permission, I think they were mocking the Justice Department by saying, "Can we put an insect in a cell?" Well, I live in a subtropical climate. What would be unusual is a jail cell without an insect. If I ever walk in my house in New Orleans and didn't have to squish a cockroach, that would be an unusual day. And I think that the CIA knew -- you could tell by what they were asking for that either they were uncomfortable with this or they were like mocking -- there was something very weird here, and I think we need to get to the bottom of this because this was causing great [unintelligible]. I think Leon is representing -- it would be terrible for the morale of these people -- they were obviously scared they were going to be prosecuted for this.

BENNETT: Or they were asking because they feared just what's happened. They were asking so they could get approval so that when Congress then changes its mind and tries to nail these guys --

CARVILLE: Something tells me that if someone wanted to put a cockroach in a jail cell, they would probably wouldn't have to --

KING: Let's move on.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Interrogation
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
John King, Bill Bennett
Show/Publication
State Of The Union
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