In remarks made during a White House briefing on Friday, President Obama summarized the history of CIA abusive practices in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by asking people to remember "how afraid people" were at the time after he acknowledged plainly, "We tortured some folks."
The comments come amid growing anticipation and new controversy surrounding the upcoming—though only partial and highly redacted—findings of a Senate investigation into CIA abuses during the Bush years.
"I have full confidence in John Brennan," Obama said in response to questions by reporters who noted that leading Senators in his own party have called for the CIA chief's resignation over admissions that his agency did, in fact, spy on the investigative panel tasked to explore CIA torture practices following September 11th, 2001 and during the crucial leadup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The president said that Brennan has "acknowledged and apologized" for CIA personnel who, as Obama termed it, "did not properly handle an investigation" in which "certain documents were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff."
"It's clear from the [Inspector General's] report that some very poor judgement was shown in terms of how that was handled," Obama said, though he went out of his way to defend the man he appointed to lead the agency last year. "Keep in mind... John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report and he's already stood up a task force intended to make sure lessons are learned and mistakes resolved."
Obama then stepped back from the Brennan controversy to do address more broadly the torture policies authorized and carried out under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
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"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did somethings that were wrong," Obama stated. "We did things that were right, but... We tortured some folks."
We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it's important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know if more attacks were imminent. And there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement, on our national security teams to try and deal with this. It's important for us not to feel to sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard, under enormous pressure, and are real patriots.
But, having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that's what that report reflects. And that's the reason why after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report. And my hope is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these 'enhanced interrogation techniques' -- techniques that I believe and any fair-minded person would say are torture-- we crossed a line. And that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to as a country take responsibility for that so that hopefully we don't do it again in the future.
It didn't take long for Obama's specific phrase, 'We tortured some folks,' to hit social media sites. On Twitter: