On Wednesday I wrote about the strange dynamic whereby the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “torture report” seemed to absolve top Bush administration officials of culpability by claiming they had been consistently misled by the CIA, even as former Vice President Dick Cheney called it “hooey” the day before it was released.
Cheney’s remarks suggested that he was prepared to own up to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) in all their shocking inhumanity.
Later that day, Cheney chimed in — on Fox News of course — when he spoke with Bret Baier on Special Report, calling the report a “terrible, terrible piece of work” and “full of crap.” The following exchange sums up the interview nicely:
Baier: You had one detainee — Gul Rahman – who died in captivity. November 2002.
Cheney: Three thousand Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did, and I have no sympathy for them. I don’t know the specific details. I’m sure there were instances cited in the report. I haven’t read the report, but I know for a fact [enhanced interrogation] worked.
Baier: Now wait, you haven’t read it?
Cheney: Six thousand pages? No, not yet.
Baier: No, but how about 500 [page] summary?
Cheney: I’ve seen parts of it. I’ve read summaries of it.
You didn’t read the what?
I don’t know which is more incredible: the fact that Cheney didn’t read the very report that he spoke about on national television for 14 minutes, or the fact that Cheney admitted to not reading the very report that he spoke about on national television for 14 minutes. Either way, once again Cheney looks like a complete asshole.
And his ignorance goes even further. It’s clear by the exchange that Cheney is unaware that the 6,000 Senate report has yet to be declassified, and that what the intelligence committee released was a 499 page summary of that report. Remember, this is the former vice president of the United States, who has long been so proud of the fact that his administration tortured people, declaring that he couldn’t be bothered to read one of the most important declassified intelligence reports of our time before popping off about it like some half-employed Bud-chugging redneck posting nasty comments on Breitbart.
Beyond this stunning admission of ignorance, Cheney’s response to the troubling fact that Gul Rahman, who died from exposure after being left shackled naked to a concrete wall in near freezing temperatures, is also telling. Cheney’s defense was to simply cite the 9/11 body count despite the fact that no evidence has ever been presented that Rahman was involved in the planning or execution of the September 11, 2001 attacks. But even if Rahman had, Cheney’s own position has always been that the point of the “enhanced interrogation” program was to elicit actionable intelligence from detainees, and that it in no way amounted to torture.
Yet, Rahman died as a result of these EITs, and what was Cheney’s response? Was it to lament the death of a detainee who — by virtue of his status as a detainee being subjected to EITs — might have had valuable information to tell? No. Was it to admit that the interrogators might have gone too far? No. Was it to say that the CIA and/or the administration initiated a thorough review of EITs after the incident? No. Cheney’s response was, fuck that guy and whatever information he might have had.
There was another revealing exchange, coming earlier in the interview when Cheney defended the administration by saying,
“Torture was something we very carefully avoided. One of the reasons we went to the Justice Department on the program was because we wanted them to tell us where’s the line legally between what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and they did.”
Baier — who was more adversarial than you’d expect from a Fox News anchor — asked Cheney specifically about the now infamous “rectal rehydration” EIT, where one detainee was force-fed pureed food through his anus. Baier asked Cheney if this constituted torture, and the former vice president replied,
“I don’t know anything about that specific instance. I can’t speak to that… That was not one of the authorized or approved techniques. There were twelve of them as I recall. They were all techniques we used in training on our own people. Even waterboarding.”
So it looks as though Cheney was wrong when he said the idea that CIA executed unauthorized EITs was “hooey.”
Baier countered that Cheney was involved in the administration’s narrowing of the government’s legal definition of torture in order to give itself more latitude when interrogating detainees. After Cheney demurred, Baier came right out and said, “But you rewrote the justification.”
“I didn’t rewrite the justification,” said Cheney. “The lawyers wrote it over in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department.”
Baier pushed back again, saying, “You had an intimate role in dealing with it.”
“I was strongly supportive of the program,” said Cheney,” I didn’t read the opinion and say, ‘You’ve got to change this and change that.’ But my job as the vice president who was actively involved in the national security area was to push to get programs like this in place…”
In other words, Cheney didn’t personally rewrite the justification. That’s what useful idiot John Yoo was for, whose razor-thin definition of “torture” that was used to justify the program was subsequently repudiated by Jack Goldsmith, the head of that same Office of Legal Counsel under Bush.
Often, heads of state and other high-ranking officials who authorize the type of activity Bush and Cheney did go to great lengths to cover up their involvement in it, but not Dick Cheney. Cheney is willing — even proud — to take credit for the “push” to implement the torture regime. And why shouldn’t he?
It’s not like he’ll ever be prosecuted.