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Obama’s Message on CIA Torture Report: Move On

Sen. Dianne Feinstein leaves the Senate floor after speaking about the CIA torture report  released Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein leaves the Senate floor after speaking about the CIA torture report  released Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama really doesn’t want to dwell on the torture report or the tortuous process his administration put congressional investigators through over the course of his presidency to get to this point.  

Obama issued a statement this morning when the report came out, but spent much of the statement extolling the intelligence community. The statement was so vague his spokesman Josh Earnest later was asked if the president stands by his earlier “we tortured some folks” statement. (Earnest said yes.)  

Obama himself didn’t take questions from the press, and his spokespeople — on the record or on background — punted on many of the most important questions. Does the president think anyone should be prosecuted for their part in authorizing or taking part in activities that the Senate report said led to the death of at least one detainee and brutally dealt with numerous others?  

Refer that question to DOJ (though a senior administration official said on background that a career prosecutor declined to prosecute.)  

Did the torture work?  

Obama doesn’t want to wade into that can of worms.  

Did the CIA lie to the previous White House and Congress?  

This White House doesn’t really want to wade into that, either.  

What about CIA Director John Brennan, who said in his own statement Tuesday that information gleaned as a result of the techniques helped save lives? Obama still, perhaps incongruously, has complete confidence, according to Earnest.  

What about pardons? The White House took a pass on that question.  

Obama’s own statement noted that he “banned torture” when he took office and said the earlier practices damaged America’s standing in the world. He sought to take credit for having “consistently supported the declassification of today’s report” even though his administration sought for months — or years — to keep much of it under black tape.  

“No nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better,” Obama said in his statement.  

But Obama didn’t seem to want to stare too hard.  

“Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past.”  

A background Q & A with reporters ended with one administration official talking up efforts to boost the morale of intelligence officers in the wake of the report.  

The broader message from this White House: We’re moving on.  

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