DENVER — Jim Davis, a former FBI agent who took part in U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, told FOX31 Denver Thursday that the “extreme interrogation techniques” used by some CIA operatives to get information out of detainees were understandable and justified.
The occasional use of waterboardings that amounted to “near drownings” and other brutal interrogation techniques, revealed in gruesome detail in a Senate report Tuesday, was, Davis said, an appropriate response to the fear and responsibility felt by the country’s intelligence community in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“When I was in Iraq and I was in Afghanistan, we believed we were going to get hit again and it was up to us to stop it,” said Davis Thursday during an extensive interview that will air in full on Sunday’s episode of FOX31’s #COpolitics: From The Source.
“In the FBI, we build relationships on a rapport with the detainees that’s built over a long period of time. After 9/11, we didn’t feel like we had much time. I think that the guys that were using those techniques believed them to be legal and believed them to be necessary to keep the country safe.”
Davis, the FBI agent famously photographed fingerprinting former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein later on, was never present at CIA black sites where the torture was employed or fully aware of the specific tactics.
He criticized the Senate Intelligence Committee report as highly partisan and disputed its conclusion that the tactics did not produce any actionable intelligence, as CIA operatives have claimed it did.
“I’ll never say never, but to say that this never produced actionable intelligence is probably not true,” Davis said. “Starting those interviews, the people they were talking to were not providing information so something had to happen to get them to start providing that information.”
Margaret Kwoka, a law professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who specializes in government secrecy and national security, said that the report levels the playing field, offering additional information on top of what the CIA has chosen to publicly acknowledge about its past interrogation tactics and opening an important debate for the country.
“It moves us beyond the debate merely about where the ethical line is and into the debate about whether these methods are effective,” she said.
The controversial interrogation tactics went beyond what was sanctioned by the government, Kwoka said, but it’s difficult to classify them as “torture” because none of the operatives have been charged with a crime and, thus, there are no legal opinions on the matter.
“Until something like that happens, we’re not going to have an opinion about where the limit on torture is,” she said. “So in some ways that question is still open. If you look at the reaction of the international community, this action certainly does cross some line.”
Kwoka and Davis agreed that the CIA should be entitled to conduct much of its operations in secrecy but that the agency is required to be fully truthful with its congressional oversight committee; according to the report and a still classified report by former CIA director Leon Panetta, the agency intentionally misled the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committee, even going as far as spying on the committee members and staff.
“That’s a problem,” Davis said.
WATCH THE FULL CONVERSATION WITH DAVIS AND KWOKA SUNDAY MORNING AT 9 A.M. ON FOX31 DENVER.