WASHINGTON – Leon E. Panetta, President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the CIA, testified Thursday that he believed the harsh interrogation technique known as water-boarding to be torture and vowed to end an era in which the CIA’s conduct drew controversy in the United States and condemnation from around the world.
“I believe that water-boarding is torture and it’s wrong,” Panetta said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Asked whether the president could authorize the agency to resume using such harsh methods, Panetta replied: “Nobody is above the law.”
Panetta’s comments on the CIA’s methods were the most forceful to date by a member of Obama’s intelligence team.
The hearing was marked by pointed exchanges over the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies.
At one point, Panetta took a verbal shot at former Vice President Dick Cheney, who suggested in an interview this week that Obama’s decisions to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to ban harsh interrogation methods risked the nation’s security.
“I was disappointed by those comments,” Panetta said. “The implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of this country wants to abide by the law and the Constitution.”
Panetta, a former California congressman and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, is expected to be confirmed as early as next week.