CIA Director John Brennan has refused to rule out the agency’s use of torture ever again while defending the officials who devised and carried it out. Speaking out for the first time since the release of Senate findings this week, Brennan refused to label CIA methods “torture.” In defiant remarks, Brennan also rejected the Senate’s conclusion that the torture methods provided no useful intelligence toward preventing attacks.
John Brennan: “Our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. But let me be clear: We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”
As Brennan spoke, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein posted point-by-point rebuttals in real time over Twitter. On the issue of whether torture could have thwarted attacks, Feinstein said: “No evidence that terror attacks were stopped, terrorists captured, or lives saved.” Feinstein and Brennan’s differing accounts revived the war of words between the Senate and the CIA that emerged during the investigation. The CIA was accused of spying on Senate staffers’ computers and obstructing their probe.
In his address, CIA Director John Brennan also defended the George W. Bush administration and CIA officials behind the torture program, calling them “patriots” trying to defend the country in the shadow of 9/11. While acknowledging some methods were “abhorrent,” Brennan urged the nation to drop scrutiny of the torture program and instead “look forward.”
John Brennan: “In a limited number of cases, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all, and we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes. … In light of the fact that these techniques were abandoned seven years ago, however, my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward to focus on issues that are relevant to our current national security challenges.”
Asked whether the CIA will ever torture again, Brennan refused to offer a guarantee, saying he will “defer to the policymakers in future times.”
The nationwide protests over unpunished police killings of unarmed African Americans have spread to the halls of Congress. In a coordinated action, dozens of African-American staffers walked out on Thursday in a show of solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, New York City and cities across the country. The staffers raised their hands in the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose and held a prayer service on the Capitol steps.
Congress has avoided a government shutdown with last-minute passage of a spending bill before Thursday’s midnight deadline. The $1.1 trillion measure had come under threat after Democrats voiced outrage over last-minute pro-corporate measures. One key provision will repeal a major rule in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that limits risky trades by federally insured banks. Speaking ahead of the vote, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters said undoing critical regulation through a government spending bill must be opposed.
Rep. Maxine Waters: “Under the cover of 'must pass' legislation, big bank lobbyists are hoping that Congress will allow Wall Street to once again gamble with taxpayer money –- by reversing a provision that prohibits banks from using taxpayer-insured funds, bank deposits, to engage in risky derivatives trading activity. … This provision must be stopped. Enough is enough.”
According to The New York Times, the financial giant Citigroup authored the provision in question. Another amendment will increase tenfold the amount of money allowed for certain political donations. Despite the objections of Democrats like Maxine Waters, the White House urged lawmakers to pass the bill and avoid a shutdown. More than 50 House Democrats then joined with Republicans to approve the bill in a narrow 219-to-206 vote. A Senate vote will follow in the coming days. The measure funds all government agencies through September except for the Department of Homeland Security, whose allocation expires in February. That will set up a new showdown over immigration, with Republicans vowing to hold up additional funding in a challenge to President Obama’s reprieve for up to five million undocumented immigrants.
The protests continue over with nationwide actions on Saturday, including what organizers have dubbed a “Millions March” in New York City and a “Justice for All” National March Against Police Violence in the nation’s capital. The D.C. march will be led by Rev. Al Sharpton and family members of several slain African Americans: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.
Thousands of people gathered in the occupied West Bank on Thursday for the funeral of a Palestinian official who died when the Israeli military attacked a peaceful protest. Ziad Abu Ein was helping plant olive trees near an illegal settlement when an Israeli officer grabbed and shoved him. Witnesses say Ein collapsed to the ground and then died after inhaling large amounts of tear gas. The cause of death is under dispute, with Palestinian officials saying he died of his wounds and Israeli officials saying he succumbed to a pre-existing heart condition worsened by stress. Palestinian officials have threatened to cut off security cooperation with Israel, in which Palestinian Authority forces help Israel police the occupied West Bank.
Police in Hong Kong have cleared most of the pro-democracy protest camp that took over a key downtown area for over two months. The protests erupted in September after the Chinese government rejected demands for free elections. The protesters want an open vote, but China says it will only allow candidates approved by Beijing. On Thursday, hundreds of protesters voluntarily left their encampment after movement leaders cited the threat of harsh police repression. Several activist leaders were arrested. Many demonstrators left the protest site with chants vowing to return.
Another woman has come forward to accuse the comedian Bill Cosby of drugging her as part of a pattern of sexual assaults. Writing for Vanity Fair, former model Beverly Johnson says Cosby drugged her at his New York City apartment three decades ago. Johnson writes: “For a long time I thought it was something that only happened to me, and that I was somehow responsible. … But the last four weeks have changed everything, as so many women have shared similar stories … I couldn’t sit back and watch the other women be vilified and shamed for something I knew was true.” More than 20 women have accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them in attacks dating back to the 1960s. Cosby is facing at least two lawsuits over the allegations as well as an LAPD investigation.