Barack Obama: 'We tortured some folks' after 9/11
White House said those responsible were 'real patriots', as human rights groups call for 'legal consequences'
The CIA tortured captured Al-Qaeda suspects following 9/11, President Barack Obama has admitted in one of his "most candid comments" about the treatment of prisoners since taking office, The Guardian reports.
The speech, in which he bluntly confessed "we tortured some folks", was delivered to address the upcoming release of a highly anticipated Senate report which criticises the tactics used by security agents to gather information from terror suspects.
Obama said law enforcement and national security teams were under "enormous pressure" to deal with terrorist threat following the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
He said even though the actions were "contrary to our values, I understand why it happened". He told people not to judge those responsible for the acts, warning them not to "feel too sanctimonious in retrospect" about the actions of those who carried out the torture. "A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots."
Obama banned water boarding and other forms of torture that US intelligence officials referred to as "enhanced interrogation methods" in 2009.
Slate blogger David Weigel points out that this isn't the first time Obama has "used the T-word" since becoming president, despite media reports. Last year, he said in a speech at the National Defense University that America had used "torture to interrogate our enemies". Obama is repeating the issues again publicly to make the "assurance that the worst practices ended when he took over", Weigel writes.
Human rights groups are calling for greater accountability and transparency following the revelations. There must be "legal and ethical consequences," Zeke Johnson, a spokesman for Amnesty International, told Vice News. "We can't just say, 'Oops, we tortured some folks'." Amnesty is calling for accountability "at the highest levels from Bush on down", saying the US government owes victims the truth and should be responsible for compensation.
"Now the question is whether the US will abide by its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, or will impunity continue?" Amnesty said.
Obama said the report was an indication that the US was taking "responsibility" for torturing prisoners. But critics in the senate claim that the report is heavily redacted and does not offer the whole truth.
"Hopefully," Obama said, "we don't do it again in the future."