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Bush and C.I.A. Ex-Officials Rebut Torture Report

A long-awaited Senate report condemning torture by the Central Intelligence Agency has not even been made public yet, but former President George W. Bush's team has decided to link arms with former intelligence officials and challenge its conclusions.

The report is said to assert that the C.I.A. misled Mr. Bush and his White House about the nature, extent and results of brutal techniques like waterboarding, and some of his former administration officials privately suggested seizing on that to distance themselves from the controversial program, according to people involved in the discussion. But Mr. Bush and his closest advisers decided that "we're going to want to stand behind these guys," as one former official put it.

Mr. Bush made that clear in an interview broadcast on Sunday. "We're fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the C.I.A. serving on our behalf," he told CNN's Candy Crowley. "These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base."

These are "really good people and we're lucky as a nation to have them," he said.

Former intelligence officials, seeking allies against the potentially damaging report, have privately reassured the Bush team in recent days that they did not deceive them and have lobbied the former president's advisers to speak out publicly on their behalf. The defense of the program has been organized by former C.I.A. leaders like George J. Tenet and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, two former directors, and John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy C.I.A. director who also served as acting director.

"Once the release occurs, we'll have things to say and will be making some documents available that bear on the case," Mr. McLaughlin said Sunday. Although he could not discuss details because of a nondisclosure agreement, in general he said the report "uses information selectively, often distorts to make its points, and as I recall contains no recommendations."

General Hayden added that the former C.I.A. team objected to the Senate's characterization of their efforts. "We're not here to defend torture," he said by email on Sunday. "We're here to defend history."

General Hayden appeared earlier on Sunday on "Face the Nation" on CBS News to say that any assertion that the C.I.A. "lied to everyone about a program that wasn't doing any good, that beggars the imagination."

Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ran the C.I.A. interrogation program, said Sunday that critics now assailing the agency were pressing it after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to do whatever it took to prevent a recurrence. "We did what we were asked to do, we did what we were assured was legal, and we know our actions were effective," Mr. Rodriguez wrote in The Washington Post.

A Senate official, who asked not to be named before the release of the report, said Sunday that its authors were saving their response to General Hayden, Mr. Rodriguez and others until the report was public so that they could review the facts they gathered and let Americans make up their own minds.

According to those familiar with it, the 6,000-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee takes a sharply critical view of the C.I.A.'s interrogation of terrorism suspects in the first years after the Sept. 11 attacks, questioning the efficacy of torture and revealing more details about the program. It also suggests C.I.A. officers in the field may have misled officials at headquarters.

Mr. Bush and his advisers have been largely quiet about the Senate report until now, and former intelligence officials worried whether the Bush team would defend them. Some former administration officials privately encouraged the president and his top advisers to use the report to disclaim responsibility for the interrogation program on the grounds that they were not kept fully informed.

But Mr. Bush and his inner circle rejected that suggestion. "Even if some officials privately believe they were not given all the facts, they feel it would be immoral and disloyal to throw the C.I.A. to the wolves at this point," said one former official, who like others did not want to be identified speaking about the report before its release.

Another former official, who remains close to Mr. Bush, said the former president did not believe that the C.I.A. had misinformed him.

"The idea that George Tenet, John McLaughlin, Mike Hayden and Steve Kappes would knowingly mislead the president and the country is absurd," the former official said. Mr. Kappes was another deputy C.I.A. director during the Bush era. "This was not a rogue program. And nobody in our administration is going to throw the C.I.A. over the side on this."

The former officials said that neither Mr. Bush nor his advisers had been interviewed by the committee. William Burck, a former deputy White House counsel serving as a lawyer for Mr. Bush, was offered the opportunity to review the report on his behalf but only after it was written, at which point it was too late to offer meaningful input, former officials said. The offer at that point, they said, was declined.

The Senate official said the committee did not conduct interviews largely because of what was then a Justice Department criminal investigation, and said requests to coordinate interviews with the department had been rejected. But the official said the committee relied on transcripts of more than 100 previous interviews conducted by the C.I.A.'s inspector general.

The offer to Mr. Bush's administration to review the report before its release was made by the Obama White House, not the committee, the official said, but the committee did not object other than to insist that whoever read it not disclose its contents before release.

The committee voted this year to release a declassified executive summary, and after months of negotiations over redactions, the committee's chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, had planned to finally make it public this week.

But Secretary of State John Kerry called Ms. Feinstein on Friday to warn that allies were concerned that its release could instigate violence and endanger Americans held captive by terrorist groups.

Critics of the program said the Senate should not postpone any longer. "Delaying release of the Senate report because of possible negative repercussions for national security is a red herring," said Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "Maintaining secrecy around a defunct torture program is the real liability as doing so denies us the right to debate what happened and make sure it is never repeated."

[Source: By Peter Baker, The New York Times, Washington, 08Oct14]

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