By Corinne Lesnes. Translated by Leslie Thatcher of Truthout, from Le Monde. 5/2/07

Out of 505 pages, George Tenet devotes only three to what will remain at the center of his record: the detention of al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons and the use of so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques. He refuses to use the word torture, all the while acknowledging that the program put into place has brought the United States “onto new moral and legal ground.”

In the promotional interviews for his book, he was, however, questioned at length on this subject, notably by Scott Pelley on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program. “The image that’s been used to portray us was that we were sitting around a campfire and said to ourselves: ‘Oh boy, now we get to go torture some people.’ But the fact of the matter is that we don’t torture anyone. Let me repeat that for you: we don’t torture anyone, OK?” “Come on, George!” says Scott Pelley incredulously. “We don’t torture anyone,” repeats Mr. Tenet.

The journalist throws out the name of presumed master craftsman of the 9/11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006 after having been held for four years in a secret place. “We don’t torture anyone,” repeats Mr. Tenet. “Water-boarding?” (a technique that consists of making the prisoner believe he is drowning) the journalist insists. According to the press, the Pakistani is one of those who have undergone this simulacrum of drowning. “We don’t …” Mr. Tenet begins. “I don’t talk about techniques,” he finishes. “It’s torture,” the journalist remarks.

“Now, listen!” Mr. Tenet exclaims, getting irritated. “The context is post-September 11. I’m getting reports that talk about nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are going to be blown up, planes that are going to fly into airports…. Plot lines I don’t know about…. And I’m struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to happen. Everybody forgets the … context: the palpable fear we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we didn’t know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know that it has upset plans.” “What you are saying is that there are people it’s necessary to torture,” concludes the journalist. “No, I didn’t say that; I didn’t say that,” disclaims Mr. Tenet.

According to Human Rights Watch, one hundred “high value detainees” have gone through secret prisons. Last week, the authorities acknowledged that the program was still active. The Pentagon announced that an Iraqi accused of being an al-Qaeda official in Afghanistan, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, had been transferred to Guantanamo after being held by the CIA in a secret location.