Democratic senators, Brennan clash over Intelligence panel’s torture report

Several Democratic senators took aim at CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday over an internal CIA review of the agency’s harsh interrogation techniques during President George W. Bush's administration.

Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) clashed with Brennan as they pushed for the CIA to allow the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page “torture report” on the Bush-era enhanced interrogation.

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Udall pressed Brennan to talk about the CIA’s internal review of the interrogation techniques launched in 2009 by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.

He asked Brennan whether he knew about the internal review when Brennan issued a statement last year criticizing portions of the Senate Intelligence report that concluded the Bush-era interrogation techniques were not effective.

“It wasn’t a review, senator, it was a summary. At the time, no, I had not gone through it,” Brennan said.

“That strikes me as a bit improbable,” Udall responded, “given that you knew about the internal review, and you spoke to us and stated that your obligation as CIA director was to make sure the CIA response was as thorough and accurate as possible.”

Udall then asked if the internal review contradicted Brennan’s statement, which the CIA director said was not appropriate to respond to in a public setting.

“Are you saying that the CIA officers who were asked to produce this internal review got it wrong? Just like you said the committee got it wrong?” Udall asked.

“Senator, as you well know, I didn’t say that the committee got it wrong,” Brennan shot back. “I said there were things in that report I disagreed with, there were things that I agreed with and I look forward with working committee on the next steps in report.”

Brennan also faced sharp questions from Heinrich, who accused Brennan of making statements about the Intelligence panel’s interrogation report that are “meant to intimidate, deflect and thwart legitimate oversight.”

“There’s a chasm between the committee and Director Brennan on some of these issues, but it doesn’t appear to be in the director’s nature to accept those overtures, frankly,” Heinrich said.

“I respectfully and vehemently disagree with your characterization of the CIA’s cooperation with this committee,” Brennan responded.

Heinrich pressed Brennan to explain when and why the Panetta review group had been disbanded, but the CIA director said that should be discussed in a classified setting and noted that the CIA had recently given the panel information on that issue.

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) tried to move the freshman senator onto a new topic, interjecting: “Thank you, I believe that’s appropriate.”

“Actually, it doesn’t fully answer the question,” Heinrich responded.

The Senate Intelligence panel completed its classified 6,300-page report on Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding in December 2012. 

Feinstein and Democrats on the committee have sought to publicly release at least portions of the report, but so far the Obama administration has not cleared it for declassification.

Most of the Republicans on the panel voted against approving the report, disagreeing with its findings, and the CIA has challenged the panel’s conclusions.