Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden spoke to NBC's Brian Williams about the release of the Senate report on the CIA's post-9/11 torture program, arguing that the agency showed greater concern for human rights than many other countries worldwide.
In an interview airing Tuesday evening, Williams asked Hayden how the United States is "better than our enemies," given the report's disturbing details on interrogation tactics used by U.S. agents.
"As bad as some people think CIA behavior was, with regard to these 100-or-so detainees, if everyone on the planet used CIA behavior as the model, the overall treatment of detainees on earth would actually improve," Hayden, who oversaw the agency at the end of the Bush administration, said.
"Should that be the standard, however?" Williams asked.
"Well, Brian, the standard was, what is lawful, effective and appropriate at a time of great extremists in the United States, with 3,000 fellow citizens who've been murdered," Hayden said.
The 500-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's long-awaited report detailed how the "enhanced interrogation program" was far more gruesome and widespread than the CIA previously claimed. The report details horrific tactics used by CIA interrogators, including "rectal feeding" (pumping food into one's anus), waterboarding detainees until they turned blue and confining detainees in a coffin-sized box. In one instance, an interrogator reportedly played Russian roulette with a detainee.
Williams asked Hayden how he would feel if one of his family members was subjected to such practices.
"I actually think, Brian, that my concern, or my outrage, if that were ever done to any of my family members, would be somewhat muted if my family members had just killed 3,000 of my citizens," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Hayden defended the CIA and its tactics in a Telegraph op-ed, accusing the Senate report of being biased, politically motivated and intentionally provocative.
"The Senate Democrat document reads like a shrill prosecutorial screed rather than a dispassionate historical study. What happened here seems clear. The staff started with a conclusion and then 'cherry picked' their way through 6 million pages of documents, ignoring some data and highlighting others, to make their case," he wrote. "In the intelligence profession, that is called politicization."
Hayden echoed those sentiments in the NBC interview, maintaining that the program did not go too far.
"I was in government for ten years after 9/11, and let me tell ya, a phrase I never heard from anybody in any position of authority: 'Whatever you guys do about this terrorism threat, please, please don't overreact.'" he said. "Never heard it, Brian."