(CNN) - President Obama, visiting CIA headquarters Monday, defended his decision to release Bush-era memos on interrogation tactics, saying the country will ultimately be stronger as a result.
The president's remarks came in the wake of criticism from a former CIA chief and others that his decision compromised national security and encouraged terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
Obama also met with CIA Director Leon Panetta, Deputy Director Stephen Kappes and other officials, and talked to employees about the importance of the agency's mission to national security.
The president asserted that he had released the documents primarily because of the "exceptional circumstance that surrounded these memos. ... The covert nature of the information [in them] had [already] been compromised."
Obama added that he ended the controversial interrogation techniques mentioned in the memos because the United States "is stronger and more secure" when it can deploy both power and the "power of our values, including the rule of law."
"What makes the United States special ... is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy," he said.
Although abiding by the rule of law can make battling groups such as al Qaeda more difficult, he added, it is ultimately why "we'll defeat our enemies. We're on the better side of history."