Backing C.I.A. Tactics, Cheney Ramps Up Criticism of Senate Torture Report
WASHINGTON — Dick Cheney, who as vice president was a powerful sponsor of the brutal interrogation tactics used on detainees suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda, on Sunday escalated his counterattack on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, which found that the C.I.A.’s now-defunct program violated American values, was incompetently run and produced no useful intelligence that could not have been obtained in other ways.
“I would do it again in a minute,” Mr. Cheney said in a spirited, emotional appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He denied that waterboarding and related interrogation tactics were torture, noting that three of the last four attorneys general had agreed with his view.
“Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said. “There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.”
Mr. Cheney was also pressed to answer questions on detainees who had faced lengthy incarceration before being found not culpable. The former vice president responded that, in his mind, the greater problem was “with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield.”
Asked again whether he was satisfied with a program that erroneously locked up detainees, he replied, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”
Mr. Cheney’s latest remarks were part of a barrage of commentary attempting to undercut the Senate’s blistering report on the C.I.A. program. Defenders of interrogation methods long considered torture, including waterboarding, outnumbered those criticizing such methods on Sunday morning’s round of television interview shows from Washington.
Also featured on the shows was Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director; Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former agency official who ran the program; and the top Republicans on the Congressional intelligence committees — Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan. All have stuck up for the C.I.A.'s methods and denounced the Senate report as a flawed and partisan work.
Most prominent of those supporting the Senate report’s findings and denouncing the C.I.A. methods was Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, whose remarks on CBS’s “Face the Nation” underscored how lonely his position has become in the Republican Party. Mr. McCain was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors as a prisoner of war, an experience that left him with the deep conviction that the United States should never use such tactics.
Mr. McCain said some defenders of the C.I.A. program were engaging in a “rewriting of history” and whitewashing torture.
“What we need to do is come clean, we move forward and we vow never to do it again,” he said. “I urge everyone to just read the report — these are the communications within the C.I.A. as to what happened. You can’t claim that tying someone to the floor and having them freeze to death is not torture.”
Two Democrats also defended the Senate report, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon, as well as an independent, Angus King of Maine.
The Senate committee’s report, researched and written by Democratic staff members after Republicans dropped out of the project, is a 6,000-page study based on a review of more than six million pages of C.I.A. records. It is by far the most ambitious look at the program to date, and its damning conclusions are based strictly on what C.I.A. officers were themselves reporting at the time.
The portrait it paints of a program that was not just brutal but also incompetent has drawn global comment and has been welcomed by the United Nations and human rights groups.
But the top C.I.A. officials who ran the agency in the years after 9/11, including Mr. Hayden and Mr. Rodriguez, for months have been working on a coordinated pushback against the Senate findings. Mr. Cheney has enthusiastically joined their effort.
In the latest of his multiple interviews attacking the report, Mr. Cheney was sticking up for the C.I.A.'s previous practice of grabbing suspects around the world, holding them in secret overseas prisons and using methods previously viewed as torture by the United States. But at 73, two years after a heart transplant, he was also defending his own legacy.
In the early months after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, PresidentGeorge W. Bush delegated the detailed oversight of the campaign against Al Qaeda to his vice president, Mr. Cheney, who took it up with energy. He had long believed that restrictions placed on the intelligence agencies after scandals in the late 1970s were ill advised, and he relished the chance to take the restraints off the C.I.A.
He could run some political risk in his latest round of interviews. For some viewers, Mr. Cheney’s gloves-off comments on “Meet the Press” may recall his many appearances on Sunday morning television interview shows in late 2002 and early 2003, in the months before the invasion of Iraq.
At that time, he repeatedly asserted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda, claims that turned out to be false. He made a famously inaccurate prediction on the same show, “Meet the Press,” on March 16, 2003, that American troops would be “greeted as liberators.”
Now, as then, Mr. Cheney was less concerned with factual details than with a visceral appeal to Americans’ emotions. He even declined to criticize a C.I.A. practice used on prisoners called “rectal feeding,” though he noted that “it was not one of the techniques approved” by the Justice Department.
In Mr. Bush’s second presidential term, against Mr. Cheney’s advice, the president scaled back the secret prison program and moved the accused 9/11 conspirators to an American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006.
Waterboarding was not used, as least with official approval, after 2003. So Mr. Cheney is, in part, defending his own influence in the first Bush term against the retreat from the most aggressive methods in the second term.