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Journalist: 'Torture Report' Shows CIA's Failure To Police Itself

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to hear two views now of the so-called torture report released by Senate Democrats yesterday, one from a journalist who has long studied the CIA's secret interrogation tactics, and also from a senior military interrogator who served in Iraq. We start with Jane Mayer, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. Her reporting on this topic is well known, and I asked her if she was surprised by the findings of the Senate report.

JANE MAYER: Yes and no. I mean, the overall narrative is known and has been written about by reporters and others, but what's new here is this study is filled with the CIA's own documents which just lay out all the details, chapter and verse. And you just can't believe that they just kept going in the direction that they went in. And when you read this thing it just connects all the dots in a way we haven't been able to before.

CORNISH: I want to play clip from a conversation we had yesterday with former deputy director of the CIA, John McLaughlin. His response to the reports charged that the CIA used unacceptable and unlawful interrogation tactics was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: We went to the Department of Justice at least four times to make sure that what we were doing was not torture, in a legal sense, and that it was consistent with the U.S. Constitution. We insisted on those two points, and if they ever wavered on these points, we stopped this program.

CORNISH: Jane Mayer, what do you make of that response?

MAYER: Well, I am not a lawyer, I'm a reporter. But I can say having read the documents that are enclosed in this report that the CIA created a kind of legal catch-22 that would protect them. They got experts who told them that what they were doing was not causing excessive harm or pain and then they got the Justice Department to say that it would be legal if what they were doing was not causing excessive harm or pain. So they indemnified themselves legally, it would seem, but in the eyes to the outside world, I think many have questioned whether the definitions that they used were really legitimate.

CORNISH: What strikes you about the way that the former deputy director of the CIA John McLaughlin and other CIA administrators have been defending this program?

MAYER: Well, I think they're very much hewing to the script that they've been using for years, which is to say they got valuable information out of using these techniques. And the problem with that argument is that we now have 499 pages of internal CIA documents that really belie that argument.

CORNISH: The comments of McLaughlin and others seems to argue that the CIA did its own amount of self-policing. Do you think that's accurate?

MAYER: I think one of the findings of this report is that you need checks and balances and that's been known since the founding of our country. You really can't count on one agency, particularly the CIA, working in secret to police itself. It needs Congressional oversight and it needs more than anything, the public, to have some sense of and support of what it's doing in order for it to have legitimacy. So let's be real and acknowledge that this was a difficult situation for the CIA. There was a tremendous responsibility on their shoulders to protect the United States, and they took a wrong turn.

CORNISH: That's Jane Mayer, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, also author of the book "The Dark Side: The Inside Story Of How The War On Terror Turned Into A War On American Ideals."

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MAYER: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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