Why House Intel chairman disagrees with CIA chief on interrogation methods

House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers told reporters at a Monitor-hosted breakfast that the efficacy of torture is both knowable and proven.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers speaks at the Monitor Breakfast, Friday.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan disagrees with CIA Director John Brennan on the issue of whether the agency’s disputed harsh interrogation techniques were effective.

At a press conference at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters on Thursday, Mr. Brennan said it was “unknowable” whether there was a “cause and effect relationship” between so called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding and the gathering of vital intelligence. Mr. Brennan was responding to a critical report on the agency’s practices released Wednesday by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“To say it is unknowable, I would disagree with that. I think it is knowable,” Chairman Rogers said Friday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters. “I believe that information that was gleaned through those enhanced interrogation techniques served to save lives and provide intelligence on Al Qaeda we had not previously had before.”

At the morning gathering with reporters, Rogers also issued a stern warning about the terrorist threats facing the United States and said that the recent cyber attack against Sony Pictures is a “game changer” in cyberwarfare.

A former FBI special agent, Rogers said he based his assessment regarding the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation methods on conversations with “people who were in the program.” He said those sources “adamantly and passionately believe that the information was helpful and useful that was gleaned from an enhanced interrogation technique.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also disagreed with Director Brennan’s “unknowable” argument about the effectiveness of harsh treatment of detainees. In a statement issued Thursday in response to Brennan’s press conference, Senator Feinstein said the Senate report “ shows that such information in fact was obtained through other means, both traditional CIA human intelligence and from other agencies.”

Rogers was critical of the Senate Committee report that provided detailed descriptions of techniques, including waterboarding, stress positions, and hanging detainees from the ceiling. Rogers said he viewed the report as rehashing a settled issue.

“America has made the decision that we didn’t want to do it this way, which is why we had legislation and [a] Department of Justice investigation, all of that," he said. "That part, to me, we had settled.”

In 2005, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act prohibiting the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners. The Military Commissions Act, passed into law in 2006, similarly protects the treatment of prisoners. However, certain tactics detailed in the report, such as waterboarding, are not included in either piece of legislation.

In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order ensuring lawful interrogations in compliance with international treaties. Feinstein is expected to introduce new legislation that would ratify that action into law and prevent future presidents from reversing the decision.

Rogers criticized the Senate report, authored by the intelligence panel’s Democratic staff, for “the strong conclusions they drew in the report without corroboration of evidence or testimony. That not only surprised me but shocked me – that they would draw those conclusions without any corroboration other than a cable.”

Asked whether the United States was winning a global war on terrorism, Rogers said that the “threat matrix – I have never seen as bad as I see it today.” He said his assessment was based on having “more streams of individuals  who are associated with radical Islam who are saying that they have either an aspiration or a capability to do attacks in the west.”

The hack on the computers at Sony Pictures Entertainment is “a game changer when it comes to cyber in the United States,” Rogers said. Published reports allege the attack was conducted by or for North Korea in response to a satirical movie about North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un.

Rogers noted that the attack went beyond the theft of corporate property.

“We have been getting ripped off at a breathtaking pace,” Rogers noted. But in the Sony hack, “they destroyed data on those machines ... a nation state decided a retribution act could result in … bringing down a company.”

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