John McCain stands out in defense of CIA torture report release

Nearly a week after the Senate Intelligence Committee released its massive report on the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques, Washington remains divided on even the most basic questions of whether the report was an accurate reflection of what happened and if it should have been released at all.

The debate over the report has largely broken down along partisan lines, with Democrats pushing hard to make the report public and Republicans portraying it as an inaccurate picture of the type of information gleaned by the CIA in the wake of 9/11 and a document that will embolden America's enemies. But at least one member of the GOP says the report is important for the nation to see.

"I also had some mixed emotions about it, but the reason why I think came down and said that we should is because that is what America is all about," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "We do things wrong, we make mistakes, we review those and we vow never to do them again."

McCain, who was tortured after being taken prisoner during the Vietnam War, has opposed the use of torture on American detainees. He said the practices "fly in the face of everything that America values and stands for."

"It's about us: what we were, what we are, and what we should be, and that's a nation that does not engage in these kinds of violations of the fundamental basic human rights that we guaranteed when we declared our independence," he said.

Did the U.S. make mistakes, though? On that question, many Republicans say the report - which concluded, among other things, that the use of enhanced interrogation did not yield critical information for the CIA to stop terrorist attacks - is wrong.

The top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, cited the case of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi Arabian citizen and al Qaeda operative who was captured in Pakistan in March, 2002. He was one of the three detainees the CIA says it subjected to waterboarding. Chambliss said that 766 actionable intelligence reports were written off of the information he provided during interrogation sessions.

"Just common sense and logic would tell you some of those were some of those reports were the result of statements that Abu Zubeydah made after he went through the EIT program and let me say that most of them, most of those reports came after that, once he broke, then he was just a treasure trove of information," Chambliss said in a separate interview.

Whether the enhanced interrogation techniques - a term McCain called "Orwellian" - actually worked is one of the most divisive questions spawned by the report.

Speaking to reporters last week, CIA Director John Brennan said that the question of whether that information could have been obtained without brutal interrogation sessions was "unknowable."

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, one of the lawmakers who supported the report's release, praised Brennan for his handling of the report this week. The CIA has denied many of the charges and issued its own lengthy rebuttal of some of the report's points, a redacted version of its 2013 response to the Democrats' report.

"I think John Brennan stood up in big way this week and deserves credit for that," King said.

"On the other hand," he added, "I think as a general rule it would probably would be a good idea in the future to have leaders from the CIA come from outside the CIA, just as we have a civilian always in charge of the Pentagon." He said he did not believe Brennan needs to resign, both because he has President Obama's confidence and because he "stepped up" after the report was released.

Some Republicans are still questioning why the report was released at all.

"You had to ask, okay, why now and for what purpose?" said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, in a separate interview on "Face the Nation." "Well, we can't do it. It's against the law now to do these things so I don't know. I wish I knew the answer to the question. What I do know is that the risk is ongoing and very real and it will take time, and I think we'll see a consequence of the release of this report."

Many Republicans have suggested that American personnel and assets abroad would be in even more danger because of the release of the report. McCain is one of the few who has disagreed, saying Sunday, "I don't think so. They're beheading Americans right now. So that part of it I dismiss."

Rogers also said report's conclusion that the interrogation techniques did not produce actionable intelligence was "incorrect" and questioned the report's methodology, including the fact that the investigation was conducted and the report written entirely by Democrats and their staff, and the fact that it did not include interviews with people who were involved in the program at the time.

Feinstein has said that her committee was able to get the opinions of those involved in the program through reports of interviews they had done with the CIA inspector general, minutes from CIA meetings and oral and written testimony.

Moving forward, Rogers said Washington needs to help restore the reputation of the intelligence services by changing the way they talk about what they do.

"For this particular report about something that happened seven, eight, nine, ten years ago, we forget to talk about all the fantastic work that these very dedicated men and women have been doing, day in and day out, without the ability, or with the ability to follow the law and do it appropriately," Rogers said. "We should talk about that. We should tell those stories about what they're doing to keep America safe. I think it'll make America feel better about who they are and what they're doing."

Rogers also dismissed the notion of a cozy relationship between the CIA and their congressional overseers.

"We still need to provide oversight and sometimes we have disagreement on the way forward in these oversight committees, but people should understand that in those classified sessions, we do have debate," Rogers said. "It's not a CIA love fest or a Republican/Democrat love fest."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.