Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Torture Report Released; Assault in New York
Aired December 9, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And stabbing attack. The dramatic video of a terrifying assault in New York City that ended with police opening fire.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We begin with the breaking news tonight, a new bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warning that terrorists may, repeat, may retaliate against Americans here in the United States or around the world, this after today's release of an explosive report on CIA interrogation of terrorists during the Bush administration.
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee say the tactics were far more brutal than previously revealed and in some cases amounted to torture.
The CIA is pushing back, calling the program effective. The report is reigniting a heated debate over terror-fighting tactics used after 9/11 including practices now banned by President Obama.
We have our correspondents, our analysts and our newsmakers. They're all standing by to all cover all angles of the breaking story, the conflicting views and what it all means for this country.
First, let's to go our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just one of the al Qaeda operatives, a man named was Abu Zubaydah, was subjected to days of enhanced interrogation, some call it torture, and days of sleep deprivation and, Wolf, that is just the beginning of what is in this report.
STARR (voice-over): The brutality is shocking. The report reveals at least five detainees were subjected to what it calls rectal feeding, interrogation procedures that went on for months. At least one detainee died from hypothermia.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Stripped naked, diapered, physically struck and put in various painful stress positions for long periods of time. They were deprived of sleep for days, in one case up to 180 hours.
STARR: One detainee had his lunch pureed and poured into his rectum. He eventually attempted to cut his wrists, two into his arm and cut a vein in his foot. Much of the information kept from President George W. Bush's own secretary of state.
FEINSTEIN: There are CIA records stating that Colin Powell wasn't told about the program at first because there were concerns that -- and I quote -- "Powell would blow his stack if he were briefed."
STARR: A former top CIA official says some of the details were held close.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those who needed to know were absolutely brought in and made parties to the conspiracy. As I said, we were very, very clear that -- about what it was that we intended to do, what we were doing to make sure that we had the necessary assurances from the Justice Department that what we were doing was legal.
STARR: Some of the worst abuse occurred at a secret location called Cobalt, where detainees were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. CIA officers dragged detainees hooded down hallways, slapping and punching them, and an admission in CIA documents that water- boarding did cause physical harm.
Abu Zubaydah, repeatedly water-boarded, became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth. Internal CIA records called Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarding 183 times a series of near drownings, torture that wasn't even effective, according to the report.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.
STARR: Now, the CIA issued a lengthy and detailed counterstatement, if you will, saying that the program was legal, it was effective, it did gain the country valuable intelligence, but also acknowledging that some mistakes were made -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.
We have more now on the new terror warning for the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in reaction to this new Senate report.
Let's bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez.
Evan, tell us specifically what their fear is.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the big concern here is that this basically plays into the hands of terrorist groups for the propaganda purposes. This is obviously the type of thing that they have shown
repeatedly with previous videos that have been put out by ISIS. ISIL is what the government calls it. And they use images of Guantanamo prisoners in orange jumpsuits. They use this to recruit and they also use this as propaganda against the United States to try to show that the United States is hypocritical. And that's a big concern.
BLITZER: You heard the United Nations today. One of the top officials there, the U.N. special rapporteur, as it's called, on counterterrorism and human rights, says the United States must now criminally investigate all those responsible for this alleged torture campaign against the suspected terrorists.
What's the reaction from justice?
PEREZ: The Justice Department has looked at this a couple of times now, Wolf.
And in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder asked a prosecutor to take a look at everything that the Senate was able to look at, all six million pages that they were able to look at. And they decided that there was not a prosecutable crime. The Justice Department repeated that today. They said that it stands by its decision not to initiate criminal charges. That is obviously not going to make everybody happy.
BLITZER: So there is not going to be any criminal investigations by the federal government into this alleged use of torture.
BLITZER: Even though the U.N. now says if in fact all these reports are true, as a matter of international law, they say the United States is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. They cite the U.N. Convention Toward Torture, the U.N. Convention of Unenforced Disappearances. The U.S. is a signatory to those international treaties.
But the Justice Department, you're saying, as recently as today is saying there will be no criminal...
This puts them in a very tough position, because President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder both used the term torture to describe what happened.
BLITZER: They certainly did. The president did it as recently as a year ago when he spoke at the National Defense University here in Washington.
There are though, this is interesting, some high-ranking Bush administration officials who still fear potentially even leaving the country, going to Europe because other countries might, what, arrest them? Is that the concern?
PEREZ: There is that concern. They will not get prosecuted in this country, Wolf, that traveling to certain countries, Spain, Belgium, France, for instance, there have been efforts to try to prosecute -- bring prosecutions against former official in the Bush administration.
I just talked on the phone with a former senior level person in the Bush White House. He told me that he's -- honestly speaker, he is very careful about which countries he visits, because he doesn't know what someone might try to pull. He can travel to friendly countries, but countries like France and Spain and Belgium are particular ones that have been very active on these types of issues.
BLITZER: Those are friendly countries to the United States. Those are NATO allies, but they are even concerned about going to those countries out of fear that they could be arrested, what, on war crimes and brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague? Is that their fear?
PEREZ: Right. They are friendly countries, but you have judicial systems are obviously separates, and you have prosecutors sometimes who want to make a name for themselves. And even if a prosecution doesn't go forward, they could always get a lot of headlines for...
BLITZER: And certainly in this report there's extensive detail.
If they want, if those countries want to pursue those kinds of criminal investigations and start picking up, arresting American officials from the Bush administration, former CIA officials, former Justice Department officials, military personnel, they have a lot of evidence they can point to in this report released today.
Thanks very much, Evan, for that report.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is acknowledging there may be dangerous backlash from the release of the Senate report that could put the United States military at serious risk.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is traveling with the defense secretary and he sat down with him for an exclusive interview.
Jim is joining us now from Kuwait city.
How did it go, Jim? Give us the reaction from the defense secretary.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'll tell you, Secretary Hagel supremely focused on the safety of the many thousands of U.S. troops now deployed to this region, 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, 1,500 just across the border here in Iraq with another 1,500 authorized on the way. A major Navy base on the Persian Gulf in Bahrain. All of them,
in the view of the Pentagon, exposed and all of them today, Wolf, on high alert.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): We sat down with Secretary Hagel in Baghdad, Iraq, where he made a surprise stop to visit the 1,500 U.S. troops now deployed there and where 1,500 more are on the way. It's a region certain to be angered by the interrogation report.
(on camera): In light of the danger that it poses to U.S. troops in the field, do you think it's a mistake to release that report?
CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, the president has said that we need to be honest and get this report out. We have had an opportunity to redact some of the most sensitive parts of that to protect our people.
SCIUTTO: Do you believe the military in the field is prepared for the fallout, even with the redactions?
HAGEL: Well, I have directed all our combatant commanders to have all their commands on alert because we want to be prepared just in case. We have not detected anything specific anywhere. But we want to be prepared and we are.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Secretary Hagel told us he was encouraged by progress against ISIS in Iraq.
(on camera): Have you identified a turning point, a positive turning point in the fight against ISIS?
HAGEL: We have stymied and stopped ISIS in many areas. They have retreated in some areas. They have lost ground in some areas, but it is still an immense threat. And it is just too early to be defining any turning points.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Still, he acknowledged help from an unlikely source, Iran.
(on camera): Is Iranian military action against ISIS helping to degrade the terror group?
HAGEL: Well, any time the ISIS leadership or its structure is weakened, it plays to the overall benefit of the degrading and destroying ISIS.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Secretary Hagel is visiting the region as an operation to rescue American Luke Somers in Yemen ended with Somers and a South African hostage, Pierre Korkie, both dead, the third failed rescue mission just this year.
(on camera): Do you believe that you owe it, that the Pentagon owes it not just to the families involved, but also to the military men and women who took part in very risky operations to review how and when these operations are ordered?
HAGEL: These are immensely complex and high, high-precision engagements. These are reviewed intensely in every which way, intelligence, military, State.
And so the review is ongoing all the time. In fact, the operations were flawless. But when a hostage is killed, that's a risk. And we thought about that. We talked about that. It is intelligence and it is imperfect.
SCIUTTO: Secretary Hagel told me that Iraqi security forces in Iraq are beginning to emerge from their purely defensive positions into some offensive operations, taking back the Haditha dam, for instance. But expectations management here.
No one is talking about major operations to take back major pieces of territory from ISIS for some months. We learned today as well, Wolf, that the Iraqi prime minister asking Secretary Hagel for more military support, more airpower, more heavy weapons. They say they need it to strike back.
BLITZER: Did you get a sense how concerned the defense secretary, Jim, might be about this Senate Intelligence Committee report? The impact it could have on the United States military?
SCIUTTO: He is very concerned.
I think you heard that in his voice there as I asked him about this alert. That's why he said he was directing his combatant commanders in places like Afghanistan that we visited on the weekend, Iraq that we visited today, to be on alert.
But he did say some of the redactions that they were able to make in the report helped mitigate the threat. Certainly it doesn't eliminate the threat and they are looking to Friday. Friday prayers is a potential flash point for some of the pushback in some of the backlash to the release of this report, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto traveling with the secretary of defense. Appreciate it very much.
Let's get some more now.
Joining us, a former CIA insider during the Bush era. John Rizzo served as the top lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency. He's also the author of the book "Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA."
Mr. Rizzo, thanks very much for joining us.
JOHN RIZZO, FORMER CIA COUNSEL: Good to be here.
BLITZER: You were the lawyer at the CIA during all of this enhanced interrogation technique, this debate right after 9/11, how far the U.S. could go in interrogating al Qaeda suspects. Right?
RIZZO: I was the chief CIA lawyer.
BLITZER: Did you sign off on what is now widely seen as torture?
RIZZO: I was the first lawyer the government briefed on these proposed techniques.
I was the one who referred this matter over to the Department of Justice, which resulted as we now know in the top-secret memorandum coming back to me, addressed to me, the first of the so-called torture memos.
BLITZER: This was John Ashcroft, the attorney general.
RIZZO: Yes. It was actually signed by Jay Bybee, who was then head of the Office of Legal Counsel, but the attorney general did approve the memo.
BLITZER: Did you know specifically, you personally, what was going on with the water-boarding, the sleep deprivation, all the other really sordid techniques that are described in the Senate Intelligence Committee report?
RIZZO: Yes, those were two proposed techniques. Sure, I knew about them at the beginning and I certainly knew that they were eventually approved by the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: So you were OK with it?
RIZZO: Yes. Once the Department of Justice said that they did not violate the torture statute, then yes. I deferred to the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: In the unclassified report -- and there's hundreds of pages. We went through it. There is a reference to you, to an e-mail that you wrote in which you said: "It is clear to us from some of the run-up meetings we had with White House counsel that the White House is extremely concerned Secretary of State Colin Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what has been going on."
That was an e-mail from John Rizzo -- that's you -- on ate July 31, 2003.
Explain the background, why you believed and the White House believed the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, four-star general, former national security adviser, would blow his stack if he were briefed on what the CIA and its contractors were doing to these al Qaeda prisoners.
Just indulge me first for a second. I have not seen that report. I was denied access to it, so this is the first time in the 12 years since I wrote that e-mail that that's been shown to me. I'm trying to recall here on the fly. That e-mail is accurate and it was true. Now, it's important
here. As you read, it was not -- I wrote the e-mail because I took notes in the particular meeting with the White House lawyers. It was not I who said Colin Powell would blow his stack. I was reporting back to my bosses the reaction of senior lawyers at the White House, that they thought that he would blow his stack if he were to learn about these proposed techniques.
BLITZER: Could you tell us who at the White House wanted to deny this information to the then Secretary of State General Colin Powell?
RIZZO: Well, the White House counselor at the time was Alberto Gonzales.
BLITZER: Who later became the attorney general.
RIZZO: Yes. And he was chairing the meeting that I described in that e-mail.
Now, if I said he said that, he said that. But I don't know whether this was Mr. Gonzales himself or someone higher than him had told him and he was relaying it. I'm just not sure after all these years.
BLITZER: After all these -- but obviously, if they have the actual e-mail, and you're saying it is accurate, what you wrote, but you were describing the reaction from White House officials and why they would keep all this information secret from the secretary of state.
And just as a coda to this, the secretary of state was briefed into the program, not immediately after the program began, but some months later, and, as it turned out, Secretary Powell did not blow his stack.
BLITZER: Do you think he was given all the specific details? Because in this report that Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released, they said they were still not sharing all the sordid details even with high-ranking Bush administration officials.
RIZZO: Well, I can tell you for a fact that all of the techniques were described to him in the kinds of detail that they're described in those OLC memos, which, by design, by my design, went into chilling details.
So he certainly knew all of that. You're asking me whether he knew every detail in this 500-page summary that I have not read. I can't tell you that.
BLITZER: Of course not.
So stand by, Mr. Rizzo. We have some more questions. You have a unique perspective on what was going on. You were right there in the middle of the CIA, the top lawyer at the CIA during this very, very sensitive period right after 9/11 when these critically important decisions were made.
Much more with Mr. Rizzo and the breaking news after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: I want the facts to be there so that this never happens again. I believe that a great deal was kept from the leadership in the White House at the time.
This is my belief. I can tell you that we were not advised until 2006 with a short briefing that very much diminished the actual enhanced interrogation techniques.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein.
We're back now with a top CIA lawyer during the Bush administration, a career attorney over at the CIA. John Rizzo is still with us.
You heard her say that she believes, her belief, I can tell you, the top White House officials were not advised until 2006, she says, about what was going on with these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. You say, Mr. Rizzo?
RIZZO: That's utter nonsense.
The top White House officials were told about the techniques, because I'm one of the ones that told them, at the very outset of the program.
BLITZER: What did you tell them? And who did you tell?
RIZZO: Well, I can tell you, it went as high as the vice president and it included the national security adviser.
BLITZER: So, you met with Dick Cheney?
RIZZO: Dick Cheney was in meetings where we CIA officials discussed the proposed program, why we thought it was necessary, what the techniques entailed, so yes. And that was done right at the very beginning.
BLITZER: So as soon as the enhanced interrogation techniques, the sleep deprivation, the water-boarding, started, you immediately briefed the White House, is that right?
RIZZO: That's absolutely...
BLITZER: High officials in the White House, including the vice president? You never met with the president, President Bush?
RIZZO: No. No. I did not.
BLITZER: You never met directly with Colin Powell, the secretary of state?
RIZZO: Not at the very beginning, but, as I say, he was subsequently briefed on all these things and attended National Security Council meetings where they were discusses.
BLITZER: The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice?
RIZZO: Was chairing those meetings. Yes.
BLITZER: So, she was here. She heard all of these details?
As a matter of fact, Ms. Rice and the vice president's lawyers at least and the president's lawyer, for that matter, knew about the proposed program before it was actually finally approved, so they were actually in before the thing was actually put into place.
BLITZER: And what about the chair, the chairman and the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee at that time? Were they told about what you guys at the CIA were doing?
The program officially began when I received the memorandum from the Department of Justice approving the techniques on August 1, 2002. They were briefed in first week in September.
BLITZER: Do you remember who you briefed specifically?
RIZZO: I was not in that particular briefing, but it was originally -- the chairman was a Democrat senator.
BLITZER: Jay Rockefeller?
RIZZO: No. That was before him. It was Bob Graham.
BLITZER: Senator Graham of Florida.
RIZZO: And the ranking member, the Republican member -- actually, at this point, it escapes me. I'm sorry.
Then the election of 2002 happened. The Senate flipped to the Republicans. Jay Rockefeller was brought in. He was briefed. Now, I'm just talking on the Senate side. Also on the House side, Nancy Pelosi was briefed. She was House Intelligence Committee chairman.
BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear you saying, Mr. Rizzo, is that you -- that when they say they weren't told, when Senator Feinstein today said on the Senate floor the full committee wasn't briefed, what you're saying is that the ranking member and the chair, the chairman and the ranking member, they were fully briefed, as was the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader? Is that what you're saying? And the minority leaders as well?
RIZZO: Right, at the outset.
BLITZER: They knew exactly about the water-boarding, the sleep deprivation, sort of the black hole sites in Poland or Egypt or Morocco, or all these other countries where the U.S. engaged U.S. citizens, contractors to effectively torture these prisoners?
RIZZO: They knew all of that. They knew the black sites.
I will say, they did not know the locations because that was kept to an extremely small number of people.
BLITZER: Who knew the locations where these operations, these interrogations were taking place?
RIZZO: Well, the people in the CIA absolutely had to know about it. And I can't tell you how many people those were. I was one of them.
Outside the CIA, you know, honestly, I don't believe the vice president was ever told where the locations were.
BLITZER: Where the black sites were, where these secret cells were?
RIZZO: Yes, yes.
BLITZER: Why wouldn't the vice president of the United States or the president, for that matter, in a daily intelligence briefing be told that kind of information?
RIZZO: Well, because of the countries who were cooperating with us, and their extreme sensitivity about their role, it was kept to an absolute minimum.
Now, Wolf, I cannot guarantee that the president and the vice president weren't told the locations by someone, because there were a few people in the White House that knew. I can't guarantee they weren't told by them. All I can tell you is we at CIA did not tell them and they did not want to know.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona, former presidential candidate, himself a POW during the Vietnam War who was tortured by the North Vietnamese. This is what he said today on the Senate floor after Dianne Feinstein released this report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of water-boarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Are you ready to concede that these techniques amounted to torture?
RIZZO: No. No.
Torture is a legally defined term in statute. I did not believe at the time they were approved they were torture. Certainly, the Justice Department didn't conclude that. And I do not believe it today.
They were harsh, they were brutal, but they did not in my view cross that legal line. Senator McCain of all people has the right and experience to say what he is convinced is torture and that this was torture. We and everyone at the CIA totally respect that and have always respected him. So I have absolutely no quarrel with Senator McCain.
And, honestly, it is not my place to start debating a hero like that.
BLITZER: You heard our reporting, and I have heard this for a long time, that some high-ranking Bush administration officials, CIA officials are now afraid to go to various countries in Europe because they might be arrested, accused of war crimes based on these allegations of torture.
You were the top lawyer at the CIA who signed off on these techniques. Are you afraid to leave the United States?
RIZZO: Yes. I'm concerned. And I'm sure once I finally read that report, I will be concerned, yes. Anyone would.
BLITZER: Concerned that what would happen?
RIZZO: Well, as Evan noted in his piece, some of these governments, not a government like North Korea, but these governments like Spain and Italy and France have very independent magistrates. So anything, anything is possible.
BLITZER: So you're staying put here in Washington, D.C.?
RIZZO: I'm going on visit Yosemite National Park, yes.
BLITZER: All right, John Rizzo, thanks very much for joining us. You have a unique perspective on what's going on. We appreciate it.
RIZZO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, new fuel for protests. We have some more information now about the Ferguson shooting grand jury. Much more on that story and a lot of other news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. A new warning by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI of possible terrorist activities in the United States or overseas in response to an explosive new Senate report.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress are debating the report's release today and whether the brutal CIA tactics and outlines amounted to torture. I spoke a little while ago with Senator Dianne Feinstein. She's the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I asked her about the timing of the report and the possible backlash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But if Americans are killed as a result of this report and they tell you that, I assume you would feel guilty about that.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I would feel very badly. Of course. I mean, what do you think, Wolf Blitzer?
But we lose control at the end of this year. The Republicans take control, and there's some evidence that this report would never see the light of day. We believe it should see the light of day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is getting more reaction. And the reaction has been explosive, I must say, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certain has. People are used to seeing partisan political warfare here on Capitol Hill, Wolf, but the Senate Intelligence Committee is actually usually a rare oasis of bipartisanship. Not on this.
FEINSTEIN: My words give me no pleasure.
BASH: An impassioned 58-minute Senate floor speech, with graphic descriptions of grisly torture.
FEINSTEIN: Detainees were subjected to the most aggressive techniques immediately. Stripped naked, diapered, physically struck and put in various painful stress positions for long periods of time.
BASH: Senate Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein says those technique did not work. The controversial conclusion of her committee's report, which has the backing of most Democrats and even some Republicans.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: They stained our national honor. Did much harm and little practical good.
BASH: John McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years.
MCCAIN: I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence.
BASH: But for most Republicans, Democrats who wrote the report are living in an alternate reality, ignoring the context of post-9/11 times.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: Over $40 million focused on a program that effectively ended over eight years ago while the world around us burns.
BASH: Top intelligence committee Republican Saxby Chambliss says the tactics did produce critical intelligence. He paints Democrats' conclusions as inaccurate and its investigation flawed. No interviews with CIA operatives.
CHAMBLISS: This is a poor excuse for the type of oversight that the Congress should be conducting.
BASH: Many Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're more interested in trying to bury (ph) the Bush administration.
BASH: Orrin Hatch even said this.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: It's a pure political piece of crap.
BASH: Others accuse Democrats of recklessly risking national security.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), INCOMING MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think what it does for the U.S. government is endanger every one of our people overseas, every embassy flying an American flag.
BASH (on camera): How do you respond to those who worry that releasing this will put American lives at risk?
FEINSTEIN: There really is no good time. And I think the greatness of this country is that we can examine mistakes and remedy them. And that really is the hallmark of a great and just society.
BASH: Now Feinstein has been trying to declassify and release this report for months. There has been a protracted and very tense negotiation with the CIA. Finally the White House and CIA green- lighted it this week, but timing certainly was a factor here, Wolf, since Democrats lose control of the Senate, effectively, this week. Republicans take over, and Feinstein admitted to me that that was part of the reason they wanted to do it this week.
BLITZER: Because if it didn't happen this week under the Republican majority in the new Senate in January, it probably wouldn't happen... BASH: It wouldn't happen.
BLITZER: ... for a while. All right. Thanks very much, Dana, for that report.
Now let's get more now on these CIA interrogation tactics. The new Senate report and the fallout.
Still with us is John Rizzo. He served as the top lawyer for the CIA. We're also joined by our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen. The former CIA officer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
You were right at the center, Mr. Rizzo, of approving these interrogation techniques, including the waterboarding, right after 9/11 of these al Qaeda suspects. But you were never questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee about any of this.
Now Dianne Feinstein says they couldn't question CIA officials, because there were separate Justice Department investigations underway for possible criminal action. As a result, they just read transcripts from other interviews that all of you gave, but they couldn't question you directly. Do you accept that?
RIZZO: No. That's absurd. And I could go on for 25 minutes on this. But the fact of the matter is the Justice Department has never had real power over a congressional committee who seeks to interview employees. It is up to employees in the case of an ongoing criminal investigation to decline because of possible self-incrimination.
But the point is the choice is with the employee. Every previous congressional investigation including Iran-Contra I was deeply involved in. The congressional committee wants to talk to the people whose work they are scrutinizing. And in this case, maligning. So the fact that this notion that somehow they were precluded is silly.
First, a personal example. January 2008. I testified, not interviewed. I testified under oath, under threat of perjury, with no lawyer, no handler before the full House Intelligence Committee. Twenty-six members on the issue of the destruction of the CIA videotapes. Remember that?
At the same time there was a criminal investigation ongoing into those tapes.
BLITZER: They would have asked to you testify about this investigation. You would have been happy to go up there and tell them whatever you knew.
RIZZO: I would have been delighted. I wrote a whole book about it.
BLITZER: All right. So what do you make about that? That they didn't question one CIA official. Yet in this report, they're accusing these CIA officials of basically breaking the law. RIZZO: Well, in their defense, you know, documentary evidence
tends to be better than people's faulty recollections, particularly about events nine years later. So I mean, I think one of the strengths of the report is it's tied to a lot of documents that were written at the time the events happened.
That said, I mean, I'm hearing John Rizzo here. You know, if he was willing to testify, he obviously had things to say, why wouldn't they speak to him? I think it's an interesting question.
BLITZER: I want you to listen. This is the president of the United States. He is acknowledging that there was, in fact, torture. He'd been saying this long before he became the president of the United States. Let me play you a little clip. This is what he said last year at the National Defense University here in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we compromised our basic values by using torture to interrogate our enemies and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So he -- do you agree that the United States engaged in torture?
REUEL MARC GERECHT, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I don't know. I mean, I'd have to -- I haven't read the 528 pages yet from the redacted executive summary so I'd have to look at that.
I -- I think it's a reasonable criticism to say that the Bush administration, particularly the president and the vice president, and the senior members of Congress who were briefed on the enhanced interrogation techniques, should have made this a public issue very early.
BLITZER: What does that mean, make it a public issue?
GERECHT: We should have had a debate about it. You should have been able -- we should have said, "All right, these are the type of techniques that we're going to do. Let's have a debate about it."
BLITZER: You want to tell al Qaeda suspects that this is what the United States is...
GERECHT: I don't really think -- the distance between abstract and the real is enormous. So I don't think they would have been able to prep themselves terribly well for this.
So I think the most important thing at that time was to ensure that the case officers and other ops officers involved in this were assured that they were under no legal jeopardy.
BLITZER: And General Hertling, as you well know, the U.S. military has strict rules banning torture. The civilians, the CIA in this particular case, contractors, others, they didn't have those rules. But for the military, there was no use of torture. You guys in the U.S. military always stayed away from these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Is that right?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Pretty much so, Wolf. I mean, there was a manual that we would teach some interrogators about different enhanced interrogation techniques. But it was attempted to stay at a professional level.
But again, I have to remind everyone that during this period of time, there was a demand for a great number of interrogators. They were brought on very quickly. Some of them did not have the best of training. But that's all part of the argument.
What I'm very concerned about, as your guest just said, there's a difference between the real and the philosophical. Right now we have soldiers and military people in harm's way. And this is going to have severe repercussions, I believe, as did it in 2004 when I was in Baghdad and the Abu Ghraib photographs were released. This is something that will affect our soldiers in the field. I talked to some of my friends in Europe today, and they're -- they're perplexed as to why this report was even released.
BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by. We're going to continue our analysis of this extraordinary report, released today by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Much more coming up right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get more on the CIA interrogation tactics, the new report and the fallout.
Still with us, John Rizzo, he served as the top lawyer for the CEO during all this controversy. We're also joined by the CIA national security analyst, Peter Bergen, the former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht, and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
You say you've been speaking with military personnel, General Hertling? They are deeply concerned today that there could be terrorist attacks against U.S. military personnel around the world as a result of the release of this report. I want to be precise. Is that what they're telling you?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: These are individuals in Iraq right now, Wolf, and they are concerned, because one of the individuals was in Baghdad with me in 2004. And he said, we had the same experience when the Abu Ghraib photos were released. And it's just not something you want to have happened in the middle of a conflict where you feel as Secretary Hagel reported to Jim Sciutto, you feel like you're getting ISIL, they, at a culminating point, and then to have the potential for additional recruiting efforts and they are used to social media, we've been attempting to learn how to counter their social media. This is not the way to counter it. BLITZER: But, Peter, the terrorists, whether al Qaeda or ISIS or
any of the other groups, they have wanted to kill Americans for a long time. They don't necessarily need more inspiration, do they?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's right. They executed Steve Foley and Steve Sotloff and others, you know, in the absence of anything like this. And also, there was a federal of -- they will seize on whatever they cause du jour is. So, Guantanamo was a cause for a long time, Abu Ghraib became something.
The difference I think here, Wolf, is that picture speak much more clearly than documents. And I think Abu Ghraib, people were reacting very viscerally to a set of pictures. This is a document, which there isn't like seismic news in here. We -- much of the details of this were already out.
BLITZER: People knew the U.S. was waterboarding, engaging in these harsh interrogation techniques, but no pictures like Abu Ghraib where you saw these prisoners were being, in effect, tortured and humiliated. Do you accept that, that there's a major difference there?
REUEL MARC GERECHT, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Yes. No, I think there is. I mean, I -- you know, I doubt seriously that anyone is going to attack the United States that wasn't planning on attacking the United States anyway. And I also -- whatever you think about the Democrat- driven Senate intel report, you know, it is an appropriation function of the U.S. government. And I don't think you should hold functions of the U.S. government hostage to whether some terrorist is going to strike you or not.
BLITZER: If you look back, Mr. Rizzo, and you were there, and you authorized it, you were at the top lawyer at the CIA, you worked with the top lawyers at the department and in sanctioning these harsh terror techniques, looking back on all of that, what would you have done, if anything, differently?
JOHN RIZZO, FORMER CIA ACTING GENERAL COUNSEL: Well, the main thing I would have done -- it was a major mistake and I bear the responsibility for that. This program should have been briefed to far more many members of Congress in its first years than it was. It was only briefed as we discussed with the leadership, eight members of Congress, not the full intelligence committees. That was a serious mistake.
BLITZER: The four top leaders in the Senate, and the four top leaders in the House.
RIZZO: As we've seen in subsequent years, some of these people have obfuscated, claiming they didn't remember or weren't told. We should have, for a program like this, should have done the full committee.
BLITZER: Fair enough. All right, guys, thank you very much.
Obviously, these questions are going to continue, the fallout from this report will be, I suspect, major, in the coming days and weeks. Just ahead, other news we're following, including get this, a synagogue attacks and a student stabbed in the head, with suspect shot and killed by police in New York City. We're learning new details.
BLITZER: Investigators are reviewing the disturbing video of a stabbing attack inside a New York City synagogue and the police response.
Here is CNN's Rosa Flores.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chaotic scene between New York City police and a suspect armed with a knife inside a Brooklyn synagogue early Tuesday morning.
FLORES: Police say the suspect had just stabbed this man, Levi Rosenblat, on what they call a random attack. The 22-year-old struck in the left temple with what police say was a nine-inch knife with a 4 1/2 inch blade while in deep study at the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was following the cops running out. The cops (INAUDIBLE) run out.
FLORES: The man who captured it all on video doesn't want to show his face but he wants to share what he witnessed.
"ISRAEL", RECORDED POLICE STANDOFF: It was just shocking. A guy is running around trying to stab people for no reason. He is not saying anything, he's not demanding money, he's not demanding anything. He's just saying, who wants to die tonight.
FLORES: The standoff lasting several minutes, the police repeatedly telling the suspect to put down his blade.
Meanwhile, a bystander off camera trying to play arbitrator.
"ISRAEL": The guy inside is trying to negotiate with him.
FLORES: And also asking the suspect to put down the knife. That didn't work either.
"ISRAEL": He grabbed the knife again in front of the cops.
FLORES: Police say the suspect lunged toward the officer before the officer took a shot.
FLORES: And didn't miss, shooting the suspect in the chest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't move.
"ISRAEL": Even after he was shot, he didn't give up.
FLORES: The suspect identified by police as 49-year-old Calvin Peters, later pronounced dead at the hospital.
FLORES: The stabbing victim is in serious condition tonight. Members of the synagogue gathered in prayer for him this afternoon. People say the suspect had psychological issues and it's unclear why he snapped -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Rosa, thanks for that. Rosa Flores in New York.
Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss it.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.