Politics & Government

Sen. Pat Roberts calls CIA torture report ‘flawed and partisan’

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts criticized as “flawed and partisan” the release of a Senate report that alleges the CIA tortured detainees and routinely impeded congressional oversight after the Sept. 11 attacks and during the period that Roberts chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee.

That committee released the executive summary of the report this week. It documents “abuses and countless mistakes” by the agency between late 2001 through early 2009 when the enhanced interrogation policy was discontinued.

Roberts, R-Dodge City, chaired the committee responsible for overseeing the country’s intelligence agencies from 2003 through 2006, when many alleged incidents of torture took place.

In an e-mail, he contended that the release of the report “poses an immediate and direct threat to Americans overseas and those serving our nation in harm’s way.

“This is a liberal political exercise that serves no purpose and will damage the national security of the United States at a time when the threat of terrorism and terrorists groups, like ISIS, grow more dangerous by the day,” Roberts said.

The release of the report has renewed the debate over enhanced interrogation techniques the CIA engaged in under the George W. Bush administration after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

It is full of startling revelations, including that the CIA performed rectal rehydration on detainees and at one facility kept detainees “in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste.”

It also documents that these techniques often led to poor intelligence and that the agency repeatedly misrepresented both their extent and their effectiveness to the Department of Justice, the White House and Congress.

Roberts is not the only Republican to claim the report was released for political reasons. Democrats hold the majority in the Senate until January, when power transfers to the GOP.

He called the study dated and said its release “damages our efforts to fight terrorism and will cause those who serve in the Intelligence Community to become risk averse.”

However, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a victim of torture when he was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese Army from 1967 to 1973, passionately defended the report’s release on the Senate floor.

“I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values,” McCain said in his floor remarks, which have been posted on his website.

McCain commended U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for her diligence in seeking the truth.

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless,” said McCain, who campaigned for Roberts during the election. “They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret.”

Gov. Sam Brownback, who also was a U.S. senator during that time period, said it’s important for people to remember the context in which the interrogations took place.

He said he had not read the report and was not familiar with the extent of allegations.

“I know the closer you get to 9/11 the more people in Washington and across this country were deeply concerned about what’s the next shoe to drop. Everybody right after 9/11 thought we were going to get hit again soon,” said Brownback, who served 14 years in the Senate before leaving in 2011 to become governor.

“And everybody’s scrambling to figure out what’s going on, and who’s here that would be willing do something of this nature. So it’s an aggressive atmosphere to try and figure out how we’re going to deal with this,” he said.

Brownback did not make any judgments on whether the agency’s actions crossed a line, but he did recall the atmosphere on Capitol Hill following 9/11 and the rationale policy makers used when approving the use of enhanced interrogation.

“We declare war on Afghanistan in a week after 9/11. That doesn’t happen except with (this case). We’re mad. And we’re going to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “And so I think people have to think about the time frame when these things happen, too. You’re trying to save lives from people getting killed and trying to do so in a set of parameters that you’ve tried to build for yourself to guarantee people’s individual rights but also trying to save lives of Americans.”

Feinstein’s foreword to the report makes a similar point that it “is worth remembering the pervasive fear in late 2001 and how immediate the threat felt.”

However, the California Democrat, who chairs the committee, continues that despite that “such pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.”

Asked whether, historical context aside, someone should be held accountable for the use of torture, Brownback said that he was “not in a position to answer that anymore.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.