Politics & Government

Obama on torture report: ‘When we make mistakes, we admit them’

President Barack Obama, Dec. 1, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama, Dec. 1, 2014 in Washington, D.C. TNS

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he is confident that the CIA is not participating in activities that he does not know about even as a new Senate report indicates the agency had engaged in brutal interrogation methods, sometimes without the knowledge of the president or Congress.

“’I've been very explicit about how our intelligence gathering needs to conduct itself, and explicitly prohibited these kinds of techniques,” Obama said in an interview on Telemundo that aired Tuesday night. “And so anybody who was doing the kinds of things that are described in the report would not simply be keeping something from me, they would be directly violating the orders that I've issued as president and commander in chief.”

A long awaited report says that the CIA held at least 119 people in secret overseas prisons – some of whom were innocent – and subjected many to gruesome interrogations.

Obama said he supported the release of the report even though his administration has prepared for five months for potential threats that might occur after the document became public.

“I don't think there was ever gonna be a perfect time to release this report,” he said. “But my position consistently was that after having conducted this report, it was important to go ahead and release it. One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is when we make mistakes, we admit them.”

Obama said the tactics described in the report are “brutal” and constituted torture in his mind. He also said some of the techniques were not successful.

“Although I am concerned about potential ramifications overseas, I think it was important for us to release this so that we can account for it, so that people understand precisely why I banned these practices as one of the first acts I took when I came into office,” he said. “And hopefully make sure that we don't make those mistakes again.”

Obama praised CIA employees but said they weren’t always held accountable for their actions.

“I think it's important for us not to paint any broad brush about all the incredible dedicated professionals in our intelligence community based on some actions that I think were really contrary to who we are,” he said. “But I think it was also important for us to face up to the fact that when countries are threatened, oftentimes they act rationally in ways that in retrospect were wrong.”

But Obama declined to say what he would have done if he had been president after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“What I've said in the past, and what I will repeat is that nobody can fully understand what it was like to be responsible for the safety and security of the American people in the aftermath of the worst attack on our national soil,” he said.