[This story has been edited from its original version.]
Last spring, the news media trumpeted Vice President Dick Cheney’s challenge to release the CIA’s torture memos.
It was a move Cheney supported because, he said, the documents would vindicate his claims that the Bush administration’s torture program operated within the law, and provided indispensable information in protecting the US from further terrorist attacks.
Since Monday, when the CIA released a significant part of those documents — a 2004 CIA inspector general’s report on torture practices — there has been hardly a mention in the mainstream press about the fact that the report largely contradicted what the former vice president has been saying in public.
“The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful — wouldn’t do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal,” Cheney told ABC News last December. “And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong. Did it produce the desired results? I think it did.”
Yet, this week, as the report was slowly processed by reporters and analysts, it became increasingly clear that the program did not produce “the desired results.”
As Greg Sargent points out at WhoRunsGov, a senior homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush now admits the report’s conclusions do not make it possible to give credit to the torture program for the fact the US has not suffered a major terrorist attack since 9/11.
“It’s very difficult to draw a cause and effect, because it’s not clear when techniques were applied versus when that information was received,” Frances Townsend reportedly told CNN. “It’s implicit. It seems, when you read the report, that we got … the most critical information after techniques had been applied. But the report doesn’t say that.”
Cheney’s efforts to paint the torture program as being professionally run and closely supervised run into problems in light of the report.
In February of 2008, Cheney told a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee: “The procedures of the CIA program are designed to be safe, and they are in full compliance with the nation’s laws and treaty obligations. They’ve been carefully reviewed by the Department of Justice, and very carefully monitored. The program is run by highly trained professionals who understand their obligations under the law.”
He had used almost the exact same words in a speech at the Heritage Foundation a month earlier.
“The procedures of the CIA program are designed to be safe,” Cheney told the conservative group. “They are in full compliance with the nation’s laws and treaty obligations. They’ve been carefully reviewed by the Department of Justice, and they are very carefully monitored. The program is run by highly trained professionals who understand their obligations under the law. And the program has uncovered a wealth of information that has foiled attacks against the United States; information that has saved countless, innocent lives.”
Yet some of those “highly trained professionals” had little more than two weeks of training on the job.
“With just two weeks of training, or about half the time it takes to become a truck driver, the CIA certified its spies as interrogation experts after 9/11 and handed them the keys to the most coercive tactics in the agency’s arsenal,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
“It was a haphazard process, cobbled together in the months following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington by an agency that had never been in the interrogation business,” the AP report continued. “The result was a patchwork program in which rules kept shifting and the goals often were unclear.”
Nor, would it seem, was the program “carefully monitored.” At the FirstRead blog, NBC’s Brian Williams reported:
In late December 2002 or early January 2003, the report says, unauthorized techniques were used on an al Qaeda suspect, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. An American, who was not a trained interrogator and was not authorized to use enhanced methods, used a gun and a power drill to frighten al Nashiri. The gun was held close to his head and “racked,” to produce the sound of a round being loaded into the gun’s chamber. The power drill was revved while the detainee stood, naked with a hood over his head.
Yet none of the contradictions between the inspector general’s report and Cheney’s claims appear to have changed the vice president’s talking points.
“The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda,” Cheney said Monday in a statement to the Weekly Standard.
“This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. … The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude,” said Cheney, who has reportedly seen the full, unredacted version of the report.
It’s unclear whether the people “deserving of our gratitude” include those who, according to the CIA report, went beyond the guidelines laid out by the Bush administration in their use of torture techniques.
Those people are the presumed targets of an investigation that Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered into the conduct of the torture program. Holder has appointed a special prosecutor, Connecticut prosecutor John Durham, to investigate incidents where interrogators may have gone even beyond the permissive rules outlined by the Bush administration.
Those people “do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions,” Cheney said in his statement to the Standard. “President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel … serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this Administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.”
‘POCKET LITTER’ WORTH MORE THAN TORTURE?
Political bloggers have led the way in holding the former vice president accountable on the torture issue.
At the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman points out that newly revealed documents “actually suggest the opposite of Cheney’s contention: that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA’s interrogations.”
Ackerman mentions the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the Al Qaeda operative widely credited as “the architect of 9/11,” who was waterboarded 183 times during CIA interrogation and — according to the new CIA report — had his family threatened with death if the US were attacked again.
We learn from the July 2004 document that not only did the man known as “KSM” largely provide intelligence about “historical plots” pulled off from al-Qaeda, a fair amount of the knowledge he imparted to his interrogators came from his “rolodex” — that is, what intelligence experts call “pocket litter,” or the telling documentation found on someone’s person when captured.
In his December, 2008, ABC News interview, Cheney was careful not to credit “enhanced interrogation” with the evidently successful attempts to extract information from Mohamed.
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information,” Cheney said. “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source. So, it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.”
Other bloggers have focused instead on the lack of mainstream media attention to the contradictions between Cheney’s assertions and the facts as presented in the torture report.
“You’d think that since the media reported so much on Cheney’s claims about the documents, they would also rush to report that Cheney was wrong. Not so,” writes Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress, adding that she had gone “through the coverage on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC and found that television outlets are performing as poorly as their print counterparts. Most of the networks’ reports omitted the Cheney angle.”
Ron Brynaert contributed to this report
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