Cheney: 33 detainees suffered ‘enhanced interrogation’
The outgoing vice president said CIA interrogators subjected 33 detainees to the harsh techniques, which critics say constitute torture, and he vigorously defended the practice. After a weekend interview with Fox News Sunday, Cheney spoke to the conservative Washington Times on Monday.
"I think there were a total of about 33 who were subjected to enhanced interrogation; only three of those who were subjected to waterboarding," Cheney told the paper, according to a transcript released by the Vice President’s office Monday. "Was it torture? I don’t believe it was torture. We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the Office of Legal Counsel, which is where you go for those kinds of opinions, from the Department of Justice as to where the red lines were out there in terms of this you can do, this you can’t do. The CIA handled itself, I think, very appropriately."
Techniques beyond waterboarding include use of stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation and exploitation of fears, for example by threatening detainees with vicious dogs.
Cheney went to great lengths to separate the extreme treatment of nearly three dozen detainees in US custody from the abuses recorded at Abu Ghraib. He essentially rehashed the line the Bush administration has been giving since the scandals first erupted, that abuses were the results of a few low-level bad actors and in no way stemmed from policy decisions at the top.
Buying into this logic, of course, would require ignoring reams of evidence to the contrary, including a comprehensive, bipartisan Senate report on detainee treatment.
The Committee’s investigation found, however, that senior officials in the U.S. government decided to use some of these harsh techniques against detainees based on deeply flawed interpretations of U.S. and international law.
The Committee concluded that the authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials was both a direct cause of detainee abuse and conveyed the message that it was okay to mistreat and degrade detainees in U.S. custody.
Cheney was unapologetic about the use of harsh techniques, which he admitted he "signed off on." The vice president even claimed it would have been immoral to not mistreat the detainees.
And come to the question of morality and ethics, in my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in on January 20th of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done. And I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11. We made the judgment, the President and I and others, that that wasn’t going to happen again on our watch. And I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again, I’d do exactly the same thing.
Left out of Cheney’s interview was any acknowledgement that intelligence agencies — without resorting to torture — were warning of a pending attack in the summer of 2001, and that President Bush dismissively ignored the implications of his infamous Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief. (To refresh, Bush’s reaction to hearing "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US," was to tell his CIA briefer, "All right. You’ve covered your ass, now" and return shortly to his brush clearing.)
While the CIA’s tactics have been widely deplored because of the myriad human rights violations they likely involve, there’s also virtually no evidence they actually work (beyond, of course, the oh-so-trustworthy Cheney’s repeated assurances). On this point, Cheney may take heart in his old colleague’s verdict on the never-found Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq: "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."