White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the matter of whether the CIA's harsh interrogation tactics saved lives is only the "smaller question," because they never should have been used in the first place.
A day after the release of a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report that provided shocking details about terror suspect interrogations after 9/11, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl asked, “Does the president agree with his own CIA director that this program saved lives?”
“He’s been clear about the most important question,” Earnest said.
Karl pressed, “Did it save lives?”
Earnest responded: “The most important question is: Should we have done it? And the answer is no. The president does not believe that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was good for our national security. He does not believe that it was good for our moral authority. He believes it undermined our moral authority.”
CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday objected to the Senate report’s conclusion that the techniques produced no actionable intelligence, saying that a CIA review "indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives."
Earnest described Brennan as a “decorated professional and a patriot” whom the president relies on and said in response to a different question that he does not believe Brennan would lie.
“But is he right on this? This is not a small question,” Karl followed.
“It’s not a small question, but it’s a smaller question than whether these interrogation techniques are worth it,” Earnest said.
Karl cited other CIA officials who have said the enhanced interrogation techniques prevented another mass casualty attack on the U.S. and its allies.
“How can the president say they weren’t worth it? Is it better to see those lives lost?” Karl asked.
“Of course not,” Earnest responded. “What the president believes is our moral authority is critically important representing our interests and protecting the United States of America and the use of these techniques undermines that authority. It degrades our authority to negotiate with allies and partners all around the globe. It hurts our standing in the world.”