Before the Senate Intelligence Committee’s extensive report on the forms of torture used on Guantanamo Bay detainees was released this week, former Vice President Dick Cheney was already defending the CIA’s actions. The report ended up containing graphic details about the various techniques used and concluded that none of them actually helped in the gathering of intelligence. Sunday morning, Cheney sat down with Meet The Press‘ Chuck Todd to nevertheless reject the report as a “political cheap shot” and defend all of the actions the administration took, claiming that the system “worked” to help keep the country safe.
Todd opened the interview by asking Cheney to define “torture.” Cheney responded, “Torture to me is an American citizen on his cell phone making the last call to his 4 young daughters before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.” It was the first of multiple times throughout the interview he referred to the 9/11 attacks as a point of comparison to justify that the torture documented by the report.
He denied that any of the approved techniques were, in fact, torture. “All the techniques that were authorized by the President,” he explained, “were in effect blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without in fact committing torture.”
When Todd referred to specific examples from the report, Cheney demurred. For example, he claimed that the use of “rectal feeding” was not approved, so “it wasn’t torture in terms of it wasn’t part of the program.” He also suggested there may have been a medical reason for that technique, though none exists.
Confronted with another example — a detainee chained to a bar above his head for 22 hours a day and forced to wear a diaper — Cheney couldn’t say whether that was part of the approved techniques or not. He did, however, think that the use of a coffin-sized confinement box, which one detainee was forced into for 266 hours, “was, in fact, one of the approved techniques.”
But Cheney was adamant that the use of torture actually produced information that helped protect the country’s national security. Calling the report a “crock,” he claimed, “The techniques that we did in fact use, that the President authorized, that produced results that gave us the information we needed to be able to safeguard the nation against further attacks and to be able to track down those guilty for 9/11, did, in fact, work.”
Todd pressed to see if Cheney had any seed of doubt. “No,” Cheney insisted. “It worked. it absolutely worked.” This is despite the fact that even CIA Director John Brennan admitted this week that it was “unknowable” whether the interrogation techniques produced any useful intelligence.
Todd also asked Cheney about the many detainees who were later found to be innocent — at least 26 of the 119. Cheney deflected, saying, “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that were in fact were innocent.”
In fact, he seemed to suggest that if some innocent people were tortured, it doesn’t matter, because the program still overall has had what he believes to be a successful result. “It worked. It worked now for 15 years,” he explained. “We’ve avoided another mass-casualty attack against the United States. We did capture bin Laden. We did capture an awful lot of the senior guys who were responsible for that attack on 9/11. I’d do it again in a minute.”
Todd pointed out that the intelligence reports that the White House was receiving about the effectiveness of the torture techniques were coming from the same intelligence sources that were wrong about the presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. But Cheney defended the entire process: “I know what they were asked to do and I know what they did,” he assured. “And I’m perfectly comfortable that they deserve our praise. They deserve to be decorated. They don’t deserve to be harassed.”
Cheney went on to reject the notion that the President should issue a blanket pardon for those who were involved in the torture because of possible legal consequences they still might face. “No pardon needed. No crime was committed.”
Instead, he claimed that Senate Democrats were simply “trashing a very very good program that worked, that saved lives, that kept us from another attack.”