The White House is under growing pressure to hold individuals accountable for covering up the torture of terrorist suspects, with calls coming from a senator for a purge of top CIA officials and a furious row over whether the agency kept both Congress and the previous administration sufficiently informed of the programme.
In his first televised remarks since Tuesday’s damning Senate report, President Obama sought to partially justify the actions of President George W Bush and the CIA, while acknowledging he believed they had backfired by harming America’s moral standing in the world.
“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 told the Spanish-language television channel Telemundo. “When countries are threatened, oftentimes they act rationally in ways that in retrospect were wrong.”
And his spokesman, Josh Earnest, later poured cold water on claims in the Senate report that the CIA had kept the worst of its behaviour hidden from President Bush.
“That’s a point of some contention,” he said, when asked whether the CIA had lied to the White House. “There are some people who have said that that’s not true.”
This pushback against what many insiders perceive as an attempt to isolate the intelligence community from Washington’s political leaders was also supported by former the CIA director Michael Hayden, who gave an interview to Politico magazine in which he insisted that Bush was kept fully abreast of the programme and that he had approved the use of waterboarding as early as 2002, and had publicly acknowledged having done so.