WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama acknowledged Friday that CIA interrogators tortured suspected terrorists but voiced "full confidence" in CIA director John Brennan despite criticism from Congress.
Obama rhetorically conceded that waterboarding and other brutal techniques amounted to torture, which is illegal.
"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong," Obama said at a news conference at the White House. "We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values."
"I understand why it happened. I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell." He said that "a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and were real patriots."
In other comments, Obama hailed recent economic improvements and said that in a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he pressed Putin to support a diplomatic solution to the fighting in Ukraine.
Though Obama has used the term "torture" before, his timing Friday was particularly sensitive, coming ahead of the release of a long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation practices, whose legality has been the subject of considerable debate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said late Friday that the release of the report will be delayed "until further notice" because the Obama administration blacked out large portions of it. "We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification," she said.
Brennan's future was in question, with growing congressional fury over revelations that the CIA monitored computers used by Intelligence Committee staff.
"Clearly, he has to prove himself," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Friday. "I don't know how he does that."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the report of CIA monitoring "renews the need for the Department of Justice to consider a criminal investigation," while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., called it "the last in a string of events" establishing a need for "a new CIA director." Brennan has headed the agency since March 2013.