By Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Senior Bush administration officials Sunday slammed the Senate study on the CIA’s use of brutal interrogation tactics, and defended the techniques as necessary to get information from senior al-Qaida operatives who had stopped talking to interrogators.
“I’d do it again in a minute,” former Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It absolutely did work.”
The report released last week by the Democrat-led Senate Intelligence Committee revived a decade-old debate about whether the U.S. should use coercive interrogation techniques to get information from terrorists and if such methods produce accurate and useful information.
CIA cables written at the time show that detainees had provided key information before the harsh tactics, such as waterboarding, confinement in small spaces and beatings, had been used. The study concluded that the use of torture was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence about an imminent attack.
Cheney called the report “a cheap-shot piece of political business,” and criticized the Senate investigation for not interviewing CIA personnel. “The report is seriously flawed,” Cheney said. “They didn’t talk to anybody who knew anything about the program. They didn’t talk to anyone who was in the program.”
The Senate staff said they reviewed the transcripts of interviews with CIA staff conducted by the CIA’s inspector general.
Later on Meet the Press, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said the Democratic staff of the committee reviewed 6 million pages of documents. “There are a mountain of contradictions,” he said.
“Facts aren’t partisan,” Wyden said, adding that the Department of Justice should review the new facts in the report and reconsider the department’s decision not to prosecute those involved in the CIA’s program.
Jose Rodriguez, who helped design the detention and interrogation program as head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, defended his decision in 2005 to destroy recordings of CIA interrogation sessions.
“I knew the tapes would leak some day,” Rodriguez said on Fox News Sunday. He destroyed the tapes out of concern for the safety of the CIA officers whose faces appeared in the footage, he said. He was afraid that if the tapes were made public, a-Qaida would “go after them and their families.”
“I was concerned for their safety,” he said.
“This is one of the most highly reviewed covert action programs in the history of the agency,” Rodriguez said. “In the end no prosecutable offenses were found — no one tortured anyone else,” Rodriguez said.
Karl Rove, who was a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, said on Fox News Sunday that all of the interrogation techniques were “carefully designed” and approved by administration lawyers.
The Senate study details multiple instances where interrogators appeared to act outside of their legal authorities and used techniques that were not approved.
Rove denied this. He said the detainees that received “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” were on hunger strikes. But medical experts have said that neither technique is a legitimate medical procedure.
When it came to the use of waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning that was used on at least three senior al-Qaida members, Rove said the style of waterboarding used by Japanese soldiers on prisoners during World War II was different from the technique used by the CIA.
Unlike the Japanese method, Rove said, when the CIA waterboarded detainees, the “feet were elevated” to prevent the lungs from filling up with water. “Very careful standards were put in place,” Rove said.
The Senate study documents a program that was poorly managed, lost track of detainees, and created an environment in which some interrogators beat detainees, chained them to walls for days at a time and locked them into coffin-like boxes. There is no record of President George W. Bush being formally briefed by CIA officials about the program until 2006, the study states.
But Cheney said Bush was well aware of the program. Cheney was in briefings nearly six days a week with Bush and the director of the CIA, George Tenet, he said. Bush “knew what we were doing, he authorized it,” Cheney said.
The Bush administration was “very careful to stop short of torture,” Cheney said.
“Torture to me,” Cheney said, “is an American citizen on his cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death” on the top floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney said.
Pressed on the fact that 26 of the 119 detainees in the CIA’s custody were held in error, Cheney said he’s more concerned about the U.S. releasing “bad guys” from custody. Many former detainees that have been released have returned to the battlefield. Abu Bakr Baghdadi, for example, now leads the Islamic State and was once held by the U.S. military in Iraq.
One CIA detainee mistakenly held was named Gul Rahman. Rahman froze to death while chained to the floor of a CIA “black site” in Afghanistan.
“I am more concerned with bad guys who were let out and released than a few that were innocent,” Cheney said. “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective” to prevent a future attack, Cheney said.
CIA Director John O. Brennan said Thursday during an televised speech and press conference at CIA headquarters, that there were management failures during the program and that some of the methods used were “abhorrent.” The question of whether the specific “enhanced” interrogation techniques prodded detainees into giving up unique information is “unknowable,” Brennan said, but the CIA’s detention program as a whole was effective and helped save lives.
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb