As vice president, Dick Cheney was the most enthusiastic sponsor for the brutal C.I.A. interrogation program used on Al Qaeda suspects, protesting when President George W. Bush scaled it back in his second term. Now that a Senate Intelligence Committee report has declared that the C.I.A.’s methods, later prohibited, violated American values and produced little or no useful intelligence, Mr. Cheney is fiercely defending not just the agency’s record, but his own as well.
“I would do it again in a minute,” Mr. Cheney said in a spirited, emotional appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He denied that waterboarding and related interrogation tactics were torture, noting that three of the last four attorneys general have agreed with his view.
“Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said in his latest interview defending the C.I.A. program. “There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.”
The NBC host, Chuck Todd, pressed Mr. Cheney on what might constitute torture, reading actual episodes from the Senate report: Holding a prisoner in a coffin-sized box for 11 days? Handcuffing a prisoner’s wrists to an overhead bar for 22 hours a day? But Mr. Cheney gave no ground.
Document | The Senate Committee’s Report on the C.I.A.’s Use of TortureThe report says the agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.
“I can’t tell from that specifically whether it was or not,” he replied.
He even declined to criticize C.I.A. practices used on prisoners called “rectal feeding” and “rectal rehydration,” though he noted that “it was not one of the techniques approved” by the Justice Department. “I believe it was done for medical reasons,” he said. The Senate report suggests that it was largely used without medical orders to punish prisoners who refused water or food.
In a sense, Mr. Cheney is continuing a fight that began inside the Bush administration, defending his own role in the first Bush term against the retreat from the most aggressive methods in the second term.
At 73, nearly three years after a heart transplant, Mr. Cheney clearly feels his own legacy is at stake.
In the early months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush delegated the detailed oversight of the campaign against Al Qaeda to his vice president, who embraced the task and urged the harshest measures. Mr. Cheney had long believed that restrictions placed on the intelligence agencies after scandals in the late 1970s were ill-advised, and he relished the chance to take the restraints off the C.I.A.
Mr. Cheney may be running some political risk. For some viewers, his gloves-off comments on “Meet the Press” may recall his many appearances being interviewed on Sunday morning television shows in late 2002 and early 2003 before the invasion of Iraq.
At that time, he repeatedly asserted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda, claims that turned out to be false. He also made a famously inaccurate prediction on the same show, “Meet the Press,” on March 16, 2003, that American troops would be “greeted as liberators.”
But that experience has not deterred him. In the wake of the Senate report, he has only stepped up his defense of the C.I.A., deciding that the best defense is a relentless offense.
Graphic | A History of the C.I.A.’s Secret Interrogation ProgramThe Central Intelligence Agency used waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other techniques on dozens of the men it detained in secret prisons between 2002 and 2008.
Mr. Cheney was also asked on Sunday to answer questions about detainees who had faced lengthy incarceration, and sometimes harsh treatment, even though the C.I.A. concluded they posed no terrorist threat or had been imprisoned by mistake. The Senate report counts at least 26 such “wrongfully detained” prisoners among the 119 detainees who passed through the C.I.A. secret overseas jails.
The former vice president responded that, in his mind, the greater problem was “with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield.”
Asked again whether he was satisfied with a program that erroneously locked up detainees, he replied, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”
The Senate committee’s report makes the case that the wrongful detentions and use of torture were actually counterproductive, citing C.I.A. officers’ own views that harsh tactics had “poisoned the well” in questioning some prisoners.
Graphic | Does Torture Work? The C.I.A.’s Claims and What the Committee FoundThe report undercut the C.I.A.’s claims that its tactics thwarted plots and led to the capture of terrorists.
The 6,000-page Senate study, based on a review of more than six million pages of C.I.A. records, is by far the most ambitious look at the program to date. Its damning conclusions are based strictly on what C.I.A. officers were themselves reporting inside the agency at the time.
The portrait it paints of a program that was not just brutal but incompetent has drawn global comment, most of it highly critical of the C.I.A.’s former tactics. The report has been hailed by the United Nations and human rights groups as a long-delayed step toward accountability, though they say the people who approved and conducted the program must be held responsible for grave violations of law and morality.
The report’s conclusions might have been expected to offer vindication to another Republican stalwart, Senator John McCain, who has long been the leading voice denouncing torture and countering Mr. Cheney on the interrogation question.
But the torture issue has split Congress and the country largely on partisan lines, and Mr. McCain’s commentary on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, where he was asked about Mr. Cheney’s remarks, underscored how lonely his position has become in the Republican Party.
The Senate report was produced solely by the intelligence committee’s Democratic staff members, after the Republicans decided to stop participating, and Republicans have almost universally panned it as a biased and flawed study, noting that its authors relied exclusively on documents and did not interview C.I.A. officials.
Unlike nearly every other politician in the debate, Mr. McCain has personal experience with the topic: as a downed Navy pilot, he was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors as a prisoner of war, an experience that left him with the deep conviction that the United States should never use such tactics. Mr. Cheney, by contrast, received four deferments as a student and a fifth as a new father and never served.
Mr. McCain said some defenders of the C.I.A. program are engaging in a “rewriting of history” and are whitewashing torture. “You can’t claim that tying someone to the floor and having them freeze to death is not torture,” he said. He noted that waterboarding had a gruesome pre-C.I.A. history dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, and that the United States “tried and hung Japanese war criminals for waterboarding Americans in World War II.”
“What we need to do is come clean, we move forward and we vow never to do it again,” Mr. McCain said. “I urge everyone to just read the report.”
Mr. Cheney said he had read “parts” of the report. But the former vice president responded to Mr. Todd, “Go read what the directors of the agency said about the report.”
Indeed, Mr. Cheney’s latest remarks were part of a barrage of commentary attempting to undercut the Senate’s blistering report on the C.I.A. program. Defenders of the program, including a former C.I.A. director, Michael V. Hayden, and the official who actually ran the program, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., outnumbered those criticizing its methods on Sunday morning’s political shows.
Waterboarding was never used, at least with official approval, after 2003. In 2006, against the vice president’s advice, Mr. Bush moved the accused 9/11 conspirators to an American detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The secret prisons housed only a handful of additional prisoners before President Obama ordered them closed on his first full day in office in 2009.
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- Panel Faults C.I.A. Over Brutality and Deceit in Terrorism Interrogations Dec 9, 2014
- Senate Report Rejects Claim on Hunt for Bin Laden Dec 9, 2014
- Bush Team Approved C.I.A. Tactics, but Was Kept in Dark on Details, Report Says Dec 9, 2014
- Political Divide About C.I.A. Torture Remains After Senate Report’s Release Dec 9, 2014
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