Did Dick Cheney Really Approve CIA Torture?


Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf notes that Dick Cheney has been contradicting himself when it comes to his defense of torture by the CIA. Speaking on Fox News to Bret Baier, for instance, Cheney noted that George W. Bush was fully in the loop not just about torture in general but in specifics, too:

"Not true," [Cheney] says [of claims Bush wasn't fully briefed]. "Read his book. He talks about it extensively in his memoirs. He was, in fact, an integral part of he program. He had to approve it before we went forward …. We did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that." Cheney goes on to declare that "the men and women of the CIA did exactly what we wanted to have them do in terms of taking on this program."

In the same interview, though, there's this:

Later in the interview, Baier notes a particularly depraved tactic. "At one point, this report describes interrogators pureeing food of one detainee and then serving it in his anus," he says, "something the agency called 'rectal rehydration.' I mean, is that torture?" (More to the point, did Bush and Cheney know about that? Is it "exactly" what they asked the CIA to do?) "I don't know anything about that specific instance," Cheney said. "I can't speak to that. I guess the question is, what are you prepared to do to get the truth about future attacks against the United States. Now, that was not one of the authorized or approved techniques. There were 12 of them, as I recall. They were all techniques we used in training on our own people."

Which leads Friedersdorf to argue:

He can't have it both ways. Either the CIA hid depraved, unapproved tactics, or Cheney was perfectly okay with subjecting prisoners to anal rape.

Read the whole piece here.

This is not a small thing. Whether or not the CIA was actually being forthright with the Bush administration (not to mention Congress) is a what a different vice president would call a "big fucking deal." The CIA has a history of going rogue, after all.

The Fox News interview took place on December 12. Yesterday, Cheney appeared on Meet The Press and defended the treatment of Gul Rahman. Here's how host Chuck Todd described Rahman's death:

He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.

Cheney grants the point that Rahman was not in fact in any way implicated in the 9/11 attacks and that fully 25 percent of the detainees subjected to torture were in fact innocent. To which Cheney replies:

I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.

Friedersdorf is unsparing in his analysis of Cheney, who is unsparing in his refusal to acknowledge any sort of error, doubt, or ambivalence. Cheney tells Todd:

Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There's this notion that somehow there's moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do.

And that's absolutely not true.

To which Friedersdorf responds:

This is unusually naked nonsense.

Cheney is dodging questions by invoking the 9/11 dead. It would be as if O.J. Simpson said, "You think I murdered my wife and her friend? Murder is what Al Qaeda did to 3,000 New Yorkers on 9/11. The notion that there's a moral equivalence between my actions and what Al Qaeda did is an insult to the American people."

Read more here.

I've written of the ways in which both parties in Congress abdicated leadership and oversight that might have kept the United States from going down the path not simply to torture but making a defense of the torture and droning of innocent people. It's worth remembering too that the Bush administration's inability to acknowledge mistakes and missteps didn't just get us into Iraq in the first place, it contributed to the military failure of the whole operation that began the minute after major hostilities ended. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may have been fun to watch at press conferences, but his quips couldn't hide the fact that he was a total failure in his post from any conceivable perspective.