Obama Acknowledges That "We Tortured Some Folks"

During a surprise press conference on Friday, the president voiced what we all already knew: "We tortured some folks," Obama acknowledged. The wide-ranging press conference covered everything from the state of the economy to the situation in Gaza to the House of Representatives' ridiculous lawsuit. But there are lots of questions to be answered these days, and the gaggle of reporters present were stepping on one another's toes by the end to get their own questions in.

According to the transcript from the conference, the series of shouts from reporters that led to the seemingly surprising statement on torture went as follows:

Q: What about John Brennan?

Q: The Africa summit -- Ebola?

THE PRESIDENT: I thought that you guys were going to ask me how I was going to spend my birthday. What happened to the happy birthday thing?

Q: Happy birthday.

Q: What about John Brennan?

Q: Africa summit?

THE PRESIDENT: I will address two points. I’ll address --

Q: And Flight 17?

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on, guys. Come on. There’s just --

Q: And Africa.

THE PRESIDENT: You're not that pent up. I’ve been giving you questions lately.

The question Obama chose to answer was the one about Brennan. (Sadly, we still don't know where he'll be spending his birthday.) CIA Director John Brennan has been in plenty of hot water lately after the agency was caught improperly accessing Senate computers. The president expressed confidence in Brennan, noting that "he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved."

But even after answering the question, Obama kept speaking, taking his opportunity to preempt a Senate report on the CIA that is expected to be declassified next week. The report, which will be released with a response from the CIA, criticizes those practices that have long been euphemized as "enhanced interrogation techniques." The report is none too friendly to the CIA, and Obama's remarks seem intended to tell the public that things are more complicated than they seem. "It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had," Obama said of the CIA interrogators implicated in the report. "And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots."

With his mild defense, it might seem surprising that Obama is outright calling the government's techniques "torture." But this isn't the first time, as others have noted. More surprising is his bluntness of speech. He notably avoided using terms like "enemy combatants" or "detainees." After all, both sides of the coin are still, deep down, just "folks."