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Sen. Wyden: American People Finally Have Facts With 'Torture Report'


And now to Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon who sits on the Intelligence Committee, advocated for the release of this report and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

SENATOR RON WYDEN: Robert, thanks for having me again.

SIEGEL: And I'd like to ask you about what should happen now that this report, or the lengthy executive summary of it, has been released? For example, when Michael Hayden was the CIA director, he made statements to your committee that minimized or obscured abuses committed by the agency. The report juxtaposes what he said and what internal agency documents show. Should he now be held accountable or should other former directors be held accountable for misleading or actually lying to Congress?

WYDEN: Robert, now we're going to have a real debate. And it is long overdue. The conduct described in this report is not America. And I will tell your listeners I hope that what this report does is it finally closes the door on the possibility of the United States ever resorting to torture again. And what I said on the floor of the Senate is I think most responsive to your question. This report allows the American people to compare what senators like Chair Feinstein and I have said, that we believe that torture was used, and that it was not effective. There are going to be former officials, and I guess you'll have one on in a few minutes, who will say that's not the case. The facts are going to be in front of the American people.

SIEGEL: And what should be done with those facts? Should there be further investigations or should there be prosecutions of those people?

WYDEN: We're just starting the debate. I can tell you with respect to lying, and I think we've talked about it on your show, I asked the head of National Intelligence, James Clapper, whether the government had ever collected any type of information at all on millions of Americans, and he said no. So these kinds of cases are very difficult to prove. But now we're going to have a real debate. The American people are going to have a chance to compare various points of view. And I will tell you this is a debate that should have begun a long, long time ago. You know, we had an objection on Sunday.

SIEGEL: But Senator Wyden, here's a point on which the American people lack the information to make their own judgment. The CIA puts out a statement saying, our review indicates that interrogations of detainees, on whom these extraordinary measures we used, did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. That's from the CIA today right now. Is that an arguable point that should be part of a debate? Or are they doing the same thing that Director Hayden was doing a few years ago?

WYDEN: Well, first of all, the review is based on CIA materials. You know, what this report is all about, Robert, is we take the claims that the CIA made to the American people and made to the Congress, and then we compare those claims to what CIA officials were saying to each other in writing. And the fact is there is a big gap between those two.

SIEGEL: There was - a U.N. official today suggested that there have been violations of war crimes reported here and they should be acted on. Just very simply - should we see this more as a moment of truth and reconciliation and not pursue individuals who either conducted the interrogations or supervised them? Or should there be some kind of prosecution? That's my question to you.

WYDEN: I know you want to focus on the question of prosecution. I don't think that's the issue today.

SIEGEL: Right.

WYDEN: I think the issue is finally the American people have the facts in front of them. Not only do they have the facts in front of them, but they're actually going to be able to compare what various officials have said. And I will tell you some of these practices that are in the report you just slap your forehead. I mean, you read about, you know, brutal, brutal approaches - you know, rectal hydration - these are horrible matters. Horrible.

SIEGEL: But what do you make of the argument that critics of release make? - which is that, yes, the details are new. There are facts that are new. But the public has had a general idea of what the CIA was doing. And a few years ago, there was much, much discussion of water boarding. They say this is a partisan political act release, not a great act of transparency.

WYDEN: Well, first of all, as you know, there are many former officials who are now out and about saying that this didn't happen, that this wasn't done. This wasn't torture. So there's a difference of opinion here. And so the public can take this document - and, you know, the full report, which I hope will come out, has 38,000 footnotes. I've never seen anything that had this level of, you know, focused kind of documentation. And I think the American people are being brought in to this debate. Again and again we've seen in the intelligence field that when the American people get the facts, the American people say, all right, now we understand what we need to protect our country in a dangerous time. I mean, we all know about, you know, ISIS. We all know about people who every day get up in the morning and do not wish our country well, but we're in a position to have an informed debate. And what I will tell you is the American people have never had this level of detail before.

SIEGEL: What do you say, though, to the defense of what was done that it was in the chaotic days, the early days responding to 9/11. It stopped - President Obama ordered a stop to such techniques. It's the past. It's not an issue we face today.

WYDEN: First of all, it took place over a period of years - number one. And number two, CIA officials, as the report points out, were not straight with the Congress and the public. You know, people say, oh, well, OK Senator, you're on the Intelligence Committee. I learned about this in 2005 reading about it in The Washington Post. And I'm on the committee that has the statutory obligation to oversee these practices.

SIEGEL: Well, are you convinced that the CIA will behave better in the future and that they'll be straight with your committee now?

WYDEN: I'm convinced, and what I've tried to focus on as a member of the Intelligence Committee, that it is our responsibility to constantly push to ensure that the statements that are made particularly to the American people are truthful. That has not been the case again and again. It wasn't very long ago when you could see Keith Alexander on YouTube, the former NSA director, say we don't hold data on U.S. citizen.

SIEGEL: Senator...

WYDEN: And I pointed out your listeners can watch - this one of the most false statements ever made.

SIEGEL: Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. Thanks for talking with us.

WYDEN: Let's do it again.

SIEGEL: OK. Elsewhere in our program we hear today from a former CIA official during the Bush Administration who questions the so-called torture report. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.