President Barack Obama’s administration sought Tuesday to reassure its allies around the globe that the United States no longer engages in the brutal interrogation tactics outlined in a scathing Senate committee report.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, ambassadors and other senior officials reached out to foreign leaders to explain that the report is part of a “political oversight process” of past methods, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity as a matter of policy.
Among the calls was one Monday by Obama to Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz. Poland was the site of one of the CIA sites where suspected terrorists were allegedly tortured, and Polish cooperation is the subject of a criminal investigation there.
Officials declined to specify what other countries’ leaders Obama and other officials had spoken with about the report in recent days.
The administration has been particularly concerned with reassuring the 60 nations working with the U.S. to fight the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria that it halted abusive practices after Obama was sworn into office in 2009.
“We value our partnerships around the world. We hope and have confidence that foreign governments and foreign publics will understand that this is a program that was ended years ago,” the senior administration official said. “The United States greatly values our close cooperation with our allies on a range of shared initiatives, and that won’t change.”
Europeans, including those from countries that aided the U.S. the U.S. rendition and interrogation program, reacted mostly positively to the release of a highly critical summary report that described examples of torture.
“Torture is wrong,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday during a visit to Turkey. “Torture is always wrong to those of us who want to see a safer, more secure world, who want to see this extremism defeated. We won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority, or if we lose the things that make our systems work and our countries successful.”
There were no acts of violence against U.S. troops or installations across the globe in the hours immediately after the release of the report, which took place in the late afternoon in Europe. Some U.S. officials had worried that the report would provide a reason for fresh anger against the United States and an excuse to attack embassies and Americans.
But the only terrorism-related incidents reported had nothing to do with the report.
In England, 10,000 police were alerted to a plot to kill an officer in the West Midlands region around Birmingham. Police said the threat was “plausible and very worrying.”
Meanwhile, in France, President François Hollande announced the release of a hostage who’d been held by al Qaida of the Islamic Mahgreb in Mali. Serge Lazarevic had been captured in November 2011. “Our last hostage is free,” Hollande said.
The French government would not comment on the terms of the release, though French media reports noted the possibility that it required both a ransom and the release of two AQIM prisoners.
A second senior Obama administration official who was at the briefing for reporters and also spoke on the condition of anonymity said Tuesday that the White House had spent five months preparing for potential threats that might occur after the release of the report.
The intelligence community and the State Department conducted a threat assessment of every U.S. diplomatic facility to identify locations most at risk and to assess security. Kerry asked all ambassadors last week to form emergency action committees or groups to assist in preparing for and responding to threats.
“We were constantly mindful of the impact that the release of this report could have on the security of our embassies and personnel serving abroad,” said a third official, also speaking at the briefing on condition of anonymity.
The State Department expects to notify Americans abroad about any changes in security as well as recommended precautions.
“We will be watching social media especially to see how terrorist groups might use this release for propaganda purposes or to threaten our people or Americans in general,” the third official said.
The European press was mostly critical of the delay of the report.
The Guardian in England noted that the world had expected Obama to quickly expose the tactics when he came into office in 2009. The world, it said, had been deeply disappointed.
“Only the most cynical could have guessed back then that it would take six years even for a limited official account of what happened to emerge, that it would be Obama’s own administration that stood in the way of its publication and that no one would end up taking personal responsibility for the crimes or the coverup.”
The website of the German newspaper Tagesspiegel noted that the report’s publication was a mixed blessing. It was needed, the website said, but it clearly wasn’t wanted by U.S. officials.
“To publicly account for what the powers that be did wrong in the name of a nation is at the core of democracy and the state of law,” the paper said. “Such accounting ensures control from those in power and provides transparency and truthfulness. The U.S. met that obligation Tuesday, with regard to a dark chapter: the counterterrorism methods post 9/11.”
Still, the paper noted, “The publication of the report is not a shining example. It came late and against immense resistance from the secret services and the Republicans (that) were in charge of the country and responsible for the abuse back then.”
The Bonn newspaper Generalanzeiger, in a piece headlined “The truth, fast!” accused the Obama administration of manufacturing worries in hopes of delaying the report’s release.
“To state that the report’s release could lead to possible unrest in the Middle East and additional danger for U.S. hostages amounts to thwarting an overdue act of self-purification,” it said.
But on its website, the German news magazine Der Spiegel noted that despite the controversial nature of the release of the report, the fact that it was released is a positive.
“In a democracy, investigation has to take place in public, not in secret. . . . The publication also contains a message to America’s opponents: The United States makes mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, but they have the strength to confront and to learn from them. Transparency has never hurt a democracy.”
McCalatchy special correspondent Duygu Guvnc contributed from Ankara, Turkey. Schofield reported from Berlin, Kumar from Washington.