August 4, 2014

Sen. Saxby Chambliss is my go-to guy when I absolutely must know the unvarnished truth.

Ever since he explained that former Sen. Max Cleland (who lost three limbs in Vietnam) was insufficiently patriotic to be reelected (Saxby sat out the war, as good Republicans are wont to do - bad knee, don't you know), I have turned to Saxby to untangle the more nuanced ethical issues, by gum.

So when he tells me waterboarding isn't torture, and that CIA director John Brennan wouldn't lie, well, I have to believe him. After all, Saxby wouldn't lie to us!

NORAH O'DONNELL: And we're back with the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss. Senator, welcome. Good to see you.

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Intelligence Committee Vice Chair/R-Georgia): Thanks Norah. Same here.

NORAH O'DONNELL: I know that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been working for five years investigating whether these enhanced interrogation techniques used after 9/11 were inappropriate and wrong. It is yet to be declassified, will likely come out perhaps next week. What will, generally speaking, this report show?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, first of all, you're right that this-- this has been an ongoing process for over five years now. There was only one vote against proceeding with this program, this investigation when it was authorized in 2009. That was my vote. I thought it was a mistake then. I still think it's a mistake. There is a theory on the part of the Senate Democrats who are the only ones that carried out this investigation that these enhanced interrogation techniques were used against detainees both inside Guantanamo as well as outside Guantanamo and that no significant information was obtained as a result of the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques. Now, that is absolutely wrong. And you are going to be able to see from the report itself, as well as from the minority views that we have put together as well as a response from the Central Intelligence Agency--


SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: --that information gleaned from these interrogations was, in fact, used to interrupt and disrupt terrorist plots, including some information that took down bin Laden.

NORAH O'DONNELL: So this is very significant. It's about U.S. actions after 9/11, what we did after 9/11. The Washington Post reports that your committee's six-thousand-page report accuses the CIA of systemically misleading government officials on the severity of the methods and their effectiveness. A senior official saying quote, "You come away with the sense that this was pathetically futile." Was torture futile?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: What was done here by the White House as well as by the CIA was go to the Department of Justice early in the process and you have to remember, CIA is not geared up to do detention and interrogation but because of the nature of this war, because of al Qaeda being involved, they were given the challenge of putting together a detention and interrogation program. They went to the Department of Justice, said, okay, what can we do? What legally can we do? They were given legal opinions--


SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: --as to what they could do and in their opinion they didn't violate that. There will be some allegations of going above and beyond.

NORAH O'DONNELL: But your minority report you say will show evidence where some of these enhanced interrogation techniques or torture, did yield useful intelligence?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Absolutely. And their, you know, the-- the term torture is being used by the critics of the program. I think that term is going to be disputed both by the folks who were involved.

NORAH O'DONNELL: Is waterboarding torture?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Waterboarding is one of the specific issues that was investigated by the Department of Justice from the standpoint of does it comply with the Geneva Convention and they made a determination that it is authorized that it is not torture.

NORAH O'DONNELL: Let me ask you about the CIA director, Mister Brennan. There were allegations that the Senate had improperly received some information from the CIA then it was accused by your colleague, Senator Feinstein, that the CIA was snooping on Senate computers, spying on Senate computers. Here's what the director said back in March.

JOHN BRENNAN (March 11): As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that. I mean that's-- that's-- that's just beyond the-- the, you know, the scope of-- of reason.

NORAH O'DONNELL: He said beyond the scope of reason. He called you this past week and apologized. What did he say?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: He did. You have to remember I did not support John Brennan's nomination to be director of CIA so if he has a critic it's certainly me, although I think John has done a really good job as a director. John, when he found out about this breach or about the information that was received by certain Senate staffers on the Democratic side, he called Senator Feinstein and me and he came to us and he sat down, said here's what happened. Well, the fact is we now know he didn't have all the facts. Once he got all the facts he came back and he did apologize. He was wrong. Senator Feinstein was right. And--

NORAH O'DONNELL: But when you hear the CIA is spying on Senate computers?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Yeah. Well, these are their computers that were on their premises but they were being--

NORAH O'DONNELL: But senators--

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: --dedicated to Senate staff. And I'm going to tell you this is very, very serious. If I thought John Brennan knew about this, then it would be certainly we'd be calling for his resignation. But the OIG made a specific finding that he did not. But I will tell you these five staffers that did this, if they worked for me they'd be gone now but the accountability board has been convened and they will be looking into this and-- and they will be dealt with accordingly.

NORAH O'DONNELL: Senator Saxby Chambliss, thank you so much.


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