PRESIDENT Barack Obama and his CIA chief have buried their differences over the release of classified documents on waterboarding, even as former vice president Dick Cheney sought to keep the debate alive.
Obama visited CIA headquarters and told agency employees that a fight against al-Qaida — and other foreign policy changes that he is pursuing — make their expertise vital. He pledged his full support.
“We live in dangerous times. I am going to need you more than ever,” Obama said. He counselled the employees not to be discouraged by public discussion of “mistakes”.
Meanwhile, Cheney said he had asked the CIA to release documents showing the “success” of the widely condemned harsh-interrogation programme launched by former president George W Bush after September 11.
The visit represented a swift attempt by Obama to shore up CIA morale after last week he released classified Bush-era legal memos detailing the interrogation programme.
His arrival was met by enthusiastic cheers from the audience of about 1,000 CIA staff.
CIA director Leon Panetta told Obama he had the CIA’s support and loyalty.
The interrogation programme included “waterboarding”, a form of simulated drowning widely considered torture. It came to symbolise US excesses in fighting terrorism.
One memo said waterboarding had been used a total of 266 times on two of the three al-Qaida suspects the CIA acknowledges were waterboarded.
Obama said the memos were released because they had become the subject of a burdensome court fight and their covert nature had already been compromised.
Panetta vowed to respect a ban on harsh interrogations that Obama issued in January.
He had opposed releasing the memos, joining former CIA directors concerned that their release could expose agents to retribution.
Cheney said he found it disturbing that Obama did not also release memos that Cheney said documented the effectiveness of the interrogations — a point contested by some experts.
The CIA declined to comment.
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