Leon Panetta, President Obama's surprise choice to be CIA director, yesterday promised a "new chapter" for the embattled spy agency, telling a Senate panel he would banish controversial interrogation policies while demanding greater candor and accountability with Congress and the American public.
The former Clinton White House chief of staff flatly denounced as "torture" the CIA's previous use of waterboarding and said he would not allow secret prisons or the forced transfer of suspected terrorists to countries that condone torture. But Panetta also pledged an aggressive fight against al-Qaeda and said he would oppose prosecutions for CIA officers who were only following orders when they participated in harsh interrogations.
"We need a strong CIA that keeps us safe and upholds our values," he told the Senate intelligence committee during a two-hour confirmation hearing.
Panetta, a former eight-term congressman who is expected to easily win confirmation, used the hearing to signal his intention to improve the CIA's often stormy relations with its congressional overseers.