Simmons says CIA doesn't use torture,
but defends vote on bill protecting agents
By Don Michak, Journal Inquirer
"In my experience, torture doesn't work," the three-term incumbent told the Journal Inquirer last week." And in the training that our military personnel receive, and in the training that the CIA receives, we do not focus on or condone or employ those practices. And that's been the case for a long period of time."
Simmons' comments came as he defended his vote last month approving the so-called detainee bill that permits aggressive interrogation of suspected "enemy combatants" in secret prisons.
The measure also extends special protection to CIA officers from possible prosecution or lawsuits stemming from their use of techniques like "water-boarding," in which the person being interrogated is made to feel like he is drowning, as well as extended sleep deprivation and hypothermia.
Simmons responded to questions about the bill first by noting that he was one of only two current members of Congress "who have worked as interrogators or who have done interrogations," saying the other lawmaker was another former CIA operative, Rep. Joe Schwartz of Michigan, a one-term Republican defeated in his party's primary in August.
Simmons then recounted his experience as a CIA officer in Tuy Hoa, a provincial capital in the former South Vietnam, where he reportedly assisted a counterpart from the South Vietnamese special police in identifying civilians in the "Viet Cong infrastructure" and penetrating their organization with double agents.
He was describing part of a counter-insurgency program code named "Phoenix," under which Special Forces were dispatched to capture or assassinate Vietnamese believed to be working with the Vietcong. U.S. personnel relied on the South Vietnamese Army and village chiefs to identify targets.
After much-publicized hearings in 1971, several members of Congress who had traveled to Vietnam said they believed torture was "a regularly accepted part of interrogation" at centers like the one in Tuy Hoa and that U.S. military and civilian personnel had participated for years in "the deliberate denial of due process of law to thousands of people held in secret interrogation centers built with U.S. dollars."
Simmons denied any involvement in physical torture.
Asked if by voting to approve a bill that protected government operatives who may use torture techniques he was indirectly condoning such tactics, Simmons said he was not.
"I'm not convinced these people are using them," he said. "When I worked for the CIA as a case officer, I was essentially told that if my operational activities placed me at risk, I would be protected by my organization. Now working overseas, abroad, in a foreign environment, a hostile environment, is risky. And when you take those risks, you like to think your parent organization will take care of you.'"
Simmons cited a report on U.S. intelligence agencies prepared by a national commission prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that he said had concluded that government agents "operating in the counterterrorism domain were not protected from liability lawsuits.