Hayden Dismisses Waterboarding As ‘Uninteresting For The CIA,’ Calls Torture ‘A Legal Term’

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"Hayden Dismisses Waterboarding As ‘Uninteresting For The CIA,’ Calls Torture ‘A Legal Term’"

According to a November 2007 CNN poll, 69 percent of the public believes waterboarding is a form of torture. But yesterday on Meet the Press, CIA director Michael Hayden was dismissive about whether the CIA’s waterboarding constitutes torture. “We have not waterboarded anyone in now over five years,” Hayden said, concluding that it is “an uninteresting question for the Central Intelligence Agency.”

When asked about the broader issue of torture, Hayden referred to it as just a “legal term,” saying that the ongoing public discussion on “torture” per se tends to “cloud the debate”:

Well, first of all, we’re not talking about torture, all right? I mean, torture is a legal term. Now, there are some things that are illegal that are not, that are not torture. And so we cloud the debate when, when we throw the word torture out there, I think, in a far too casual way.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/03/haydenmtp38.320.240.flv]

Hayden’s claim that torture is largely a “legal term” underscores the administration’s approach to detainee treatment. Instead of considering it a moral or leadership issue, the Bush administration has repeatedly narrowed the legal definition of torture to fit its aims.

Later in the interview, Hayden said he is unaware of how the Justice Department currently defines waterboarding’s legality — because he hasn’t asked:

RUSSERT: Do you believe now that the Justice Department allows the CIA to engage in waterboarding?

HAYDEN: I don’t — the real answer is — I’m going to be very candid — I have no idea. And do you know why? Because I’ve not asked. And, and I know that previous opinions may no longer be extant because there have been a series of changes in American law since those opinions were issued.

Hayden claimed that waterboarding is “uninteresting” to the CIA as they haven’t waterboarded in five years. But if this is the case, then why did CIA officials leave “open the option of reinstating” the tactic as late as this year?

Transcript:

RUSSERT: Do you believe that waterboarding’s torture?

HAYDEN: What’s more important is what the Department of Justice believes, and, frankly, the question of waterboarding, I’ve, I tried to point this out in as many ways as I can publicly, is an uninteresting question for the Central Intelligence Agency. We have not–and I, I made this public last month–we have not waterboarded anyone in now over five years, and only three people have been waterboarded in in the life of the CIA’s interrogation program.

The issue with the Army Field Manual is not the false dichotomy that, that some people want to create, that on the one hand you’ve got the Army field manual and on the other hand you’ve got the licensing of torture. That, that’s not the choice at all. The Army has listed–and by the way, the real debate, the real impact for us isn’t on the list of things you’ve forbidden. That’s fairly uninteresting to us.

What’s critical for the Army Field Manual, were it to be applied to CIA, is what’s authorized and limiting the CIA only to what’s authorized. No one claims that that list of authorized techniques in the Army Field Manual exhausts the universe of lawful interrogation techniques that the republic can draw on to defend itself.

[…]

RUSSERT: As you know, many in Congress disagree. They think the CIA should abide by…

HAYDEN: I know.

RUSSERT: …what’s in the Army Field Manual.

HAYDEN: Right.

RUSSERT: Because they don’t want U.S. servicemen who are taken in captivity by others to be tortured.

HAYDEN: Right. Well, first of all, we’re not talking about torture, all right? I mean, torture is a legal term. Now, there are some things that are illegal that are not, that are not torture. And so we cloud the debate when, when we throw the word torture out there, I think, in a far too casual way.

[…]

RUSSERT: Do you believe now that the Justice Department allows the CIA to engage in waterboarding?

HAYDEN: I don’t–the real answer is–I’m going to be very candid–I have no idea. And do you know why? Because I’ve not asked. And, and I know that previous opinions may no longer be extant because there have been a series of changes in American law since those opinions were issued.

RUSSERT: So anything the CIA would do would be approved and signed off by the Justice Department?

HAYDEN: It would have to be approved and signed off as lawful, consistent with our Constitution and our international obligations.

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