President Barack Obama's release of memos detailing CIA interrogation policies under the Bush administration has ignited a political firestorm that continues to dominate the nation's front pages and news programs. The pressure is intense -- on Capitol Hill and elsewhere -- for Congress to "do something," and do it fast.
It's time to step back, take a breath, and set the record straight.
Here are the facts:
We already are doing something. Last year, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began reviewing CIA materials on the first two high-value detainees to be captured, and is finalizing a classified report on their detention and interrogation.
Last month, we launched a comprehensive, bipartisan review of CIA interrogation and detention policies. Since then, we have identified and requested from the CIA, among other things, a voluminous amount of materials and records related to conditions of detentions and techniques of interrogations.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is the appropriate body to conduct this review, because it is responsible for the oversight of America's 16 intelligence agencies -- most specifically, the CIA. The committee has access, on a regular basis, to classified materials and is supplementing its existing professional staff to carry out the investigation with bipartisan oversight.
All of this will be done in a classified environment, and the results will be brought to the full committee for its careful consideration. The committee will make a determination with respect to findings and recommendations.
It's important to note the fundamental realities underpinning this effort. First, it's vital that our work be structured in such a way as to avoid a "witch hunt" or a "show trial." That's easy. We do the vast bulk of our work behind closed doors -- precisely because the subject matter is highly classified. This allows us to examine the entire, unvarnished record in our search for the truth.
Second, for our review to succeed, it simply must be bipartisan, as is our tradition. This committee's last major investigation, in 2004, into prewar Iraq intelligence, was both bipartisan and critical in providing public understanding of the failed intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Democrats and Republicans on the committee came together with shared purpose in this latest endeavor. And we announced the committee's action, in a joint statement issued March 5.
Here's part of what we said: "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has agreed on a strong bipartisan basis to begin a review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. The purpose is to review
the program and to shape detention and interrogation policies in the future."
We went on to explain that the review would specifically examine:
- How the CIA created, operated and maintained conditions of detention and interrogation.
- Whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government, including the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
- Whether the CIA implemented the program in compliance with official guidance, including covert action findings, Office of Legal Counsel opinions and CIA policy.
- The intelligence gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques.
Our objective is clear: to achieve a full understanding of this program as it evolved in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
So amid all the quarreling and confusion, I say this: Let's not prejudge or jump to conclusions. And let's resist the temptation to stage a Washington spectacle, high in entertainment value, but low in fact-finding potential.
Let the Senate Intelligence Committee do its job.