WASHINGTON – Porter Goss (search), tapped as the next CIA (search) director, says the Senate lacked "balance" in its public hearings investigating the Iraqi prison scandal and should not have plucked military commanders from the field to question them about the abuse.
Goss took a hard line on interrogations in interviews with The Associated Press earlier this year, saying "Gee you're breaking my heart" to complaints that Arab men found it abusive to have women guards at the Guantanamo Bay (search) terror camp -- statements that could draw scrutiny during his Senate confirmation hearing, possibly next week.
During one interview in May, the eight-term House Republican from Florida said he couldn't count the number of ongoing prison abuse investigations, but "we've got the circus in the Senate, which is always the likely place to look for the circus."
"Even though I say that lightheartedly, I do honestly question whether or not they have balance over there on this issue," said Goss, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who has declined interviews since President Bush nominated him last month.
The comments are interesting not only because they show Goss' more guarded approach to Congress' key oversight role on intelligence matters, but also because of the criticism of his Senate colleagues, who will decide whether to confirm him as Bush's intelligence chief.
"It seems to me pulling the general in charge of the troops in a hostile combat situation back to explain something that they don't need him for, and he doesn't have the answers to, and he could get the information through subordinates anyway -- it seems to me to be some very stylish interpretation of oversight," Goss said, "and probably unnecessary and perhaps not helpful to the war effort."
"I am not comfortable with what the Senate is doing," he added.
A Senate Republican aide said that all the field generals -- including Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command -- volunteered to testify and were already in Washington on other business. "They were not pulled away from the field," the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
At the time, Goss urged patience as investigators did their work during what he called a "press frenzy" about alleged abuses. His committee held a series of closed-door briefings and hearings, including one into the importance of interrogation as an intelligence tool.
Last week, an Army investigation found that CIA detention and interrogation practices led to a loss of accountability and abuse that "further poisoned the atmosphere at Abu Ghraib."
If Goss gets the top post at CIA as is expected, he will be only the second director who was also a member of Congress, following former congressman and president George H.W. Bush.
While in Congress, Goss has fought criticism that he lacks the objectivity necessary to conduct oversight in Congress because he worked for the CIA during the 1960s.
"Some people say I am a toady for the agency. Some people say I am too hard on the agency. It depends where you are coming from," Goss said in March, after he launched into a criticism about how the agency in the 1990s had developed a "nice-spies problem" and was afraid to do business with unsavory sources.
Goss talks often about the importance of oversight. He traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shortly after the Defense Department opened a holding facility there in 2001.
"We were very concerned that Guantanamo was being set up by the military to get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval because the International Committee of the Red Cross and the human rights people were there en masse, baying in large crowds with cameras, and making sure that these people who were trying to kill us and blow up airplanes ... that these nice, friendly people would be receiving all the necessary amenities of Good Housekeeping," Goss said in May.
He said it took some time for the military to establish the appropriate interrogation systems, but he personally saw no human rights abuses.
Goss also was critical of the notion that Arab men found it abusive to have women guards because the practice subjugated them to women in front of their fellow prisoners.
"My basic reaction to that was, 'Gee, you're breaking my heart, and maybe next time you start shooting at Americans, or blowing up Americans, you want to think about that,'" Goss said.
"There was no calculated effort to send women," he added.
While acknowledging a vital need to get to the root of the prisoner abuse problem, he also cited the need to protect the practice of interrogation.
"I would make the case that without proper interrogation there would be many more dead people -- innocent as well as military. I would also make the case that probably Saddam Hussein would not be in custody," he said.
Goss has grown more critical of the CIA in recent months, complaining the agency was too reluctant to take risks, including those that might result in its officers' deaths.
And his intelligence committee attacked the CIA's clandestine service, saying in a bill that without fixes it could become a "stilted bureaucracy incapable of even the slightest bit of success."
In a separate intelligence reform bill introduced in June, Goss also broke from a 50-year tradition that prevents the CIA from operations involving U.S. citizens and companies and proposed giving the agency law enforcement powers in the United States -- when directed by the president or when allowed under law.
Democrats have indicated they may bring up that proposal during his confirmation hearings.
In the interviews earlier this year, Goss said the fact that the United States doesn't have a domestic intelligence agency may mean Americans must adjust their expectation of how effective counterterrorism efforts can be.
"We don't want Kafka knocking on the door in the middle of the night," he said. But "there is some risk."