Inquiry Into Interrogations Unlikely
Friday, January 16, 2009
President-elect Barack Obama has privately signaled to top U.S. intelligence officials that he has no plans to launch a legal inquiry into the CIA's past use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, agency director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.
Obama learned key details of the CIA's interrogation practices in a closed-door meeting last month, and afterward made clear that he was more interested in protecting the country from terrorist attacks than investigating the past, the outgoing CIA director said.
"He's looking forward," Hayden said, "and that's very appropriate."
The retired Air Force general made the comment at a farewell news conference at which he strongly defended the agency's role in the controversial program -- a role that he said was accepted "out of duty, and not with enthusiasm."
He also highlighted what he described as "remarkable" CIA successes in recent months in disrupting al-Qaeda's operations in the Middle East and South Asia, while also warning of serious challenges awaiting his successor. The list of threats ranged from the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran -- perhaps within Obama's term -- to the risk of a Mumbai-style terrorist attack on a U.S. city.
Hayden also said the agency is largely responsible for al-Qaeda's failure to launch a major terrorist strike on U.S. soil in the eight years since Sept. 11, 2001.
"That's 2,710 days in which we were not attacked," he said. CIA employees "should take credit for that."
Hayden, appointed CIA director in May 2006, was not involved in the decisions to detain terrorism suspects in secret prisons or to use waterboarding and other coercive measures in interrogating detainees. Yet the controversy over the practices shadowed his tenure and complicated Obama's search for Hayden's replacement. Since the November election, prominent Democratic lawmakers and several human rights groups have pressed Obama for a criminal investigation, saying the interrogation methods were illegal acts of torture.
While strongly condemning the practices during his campaign, Obama has publicly signaled a reluctance to launch a formal inquiry that could, in the view of some advisers, undermine the agency's effectiveness at a time when it is helping wage two foreign wars. In a televised interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Obama said his "orientation's going to be to move forward."
"When it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past," he said.
Obama expressed a similar view to Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell in a two-hour private meeting last month in Chicago, Hayden said. While declining to discuss details, Hayden said the talks covered "all the covert actions of the agency," including interrogations.
"What the president-elect said on Sunday is what he said to me privately," Hayden said.