A response to Cheney’s pro-torture media blitz.
By Jeremy Scahill
First of all, Dick Cheney has all sorts of nerve purporting to speak in defense of the CIA. His administration outed a senior CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in retaliation for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, exercising his freedom of speech (because he exercised it to criticize the Bush administration’s lie-filled, one-way propaganda train to the Iraq war).
Second, CIA interrogators themselves have said that they believed that Cheney’s torture policy put individual CIA personnel in legal jeopardy. As Greg Sargent has pointed out, on page 94 of the recently released Inspector General’s report, we learn the following:
“During the course of this Review, a number of Agency officers expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action resulting from their participation in the CTC program….One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some “wanted list” to appear before the World Court for war crimes…”
This is not even to mention, in a broader sense, the risk to any US personnel that possibly ended up in “enemy” hands where captors of US prisoners could justify their own acts of torture by pointing to US tactics.
Third, Dick Cheney showed utter contempt for the CIA when he went not once, not twice, but more than a dozen times to Langley to pressure analysts to fit intelligence to his political agenda. He and his top aide Scooter Libby were “attempting to pressure analysts on the subject of weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, according to Vincent Cannistraro, a former counterterrorism chief at the CIA. So when Cheney talks about being “offended as hell,” let’s remember how much faith Cheney had in the CIA in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. I’m sure the CIA analysts who he tried to manipulate were “offended as hell” by Cheney’s actions. “The visits were, in fact, unprecedented,” wrote Ray McGovern, who was vice president George HW Bush’s national security briefer. “During my 27-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, no vice president ever came to us for a working visit.” Those personal visits were in addition to the ones Cheney received at home. “I enjoyed having the CIA show up on my doorstep every morning, six days a week, with the latest intelligence,” Cheney said on Fox News Sunday.
Fourth, the tactics Cheney apparently loves were a violation of US law, international law and conventions that the US has ratified—including the Convention Against Torture ratified under the militant leftist regime of Ronald Reagan. That dovish draft-dodger who wouldn’t know torture if he endured it for several years, John McCain, pointed out the lawless aspects of Cheney’s torture program on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan,” said McCain. “I think these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq… I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And I believe that information, according go the FBI and others, could have been gained through other members.”
Fifth, there is no evidence—none—to suggest any of this torture produced any actionable intelligence. “I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” Cheney told Sean Hannity back in April on Fox News. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.”
Well, those documents were released last week. Cheney, clearly knowing that many “journalists” apparently wouldn’t bother reading them, was all over the media claiming the documents absolve him and that torture worked. The problem is, they showed nothing of the sort and actually—upon a close read—indicate that techniques that did not involve torture produced better results. Some portions “actually suggest the opposite of Cheney’s contention: that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA’s interrogations,” as Spencer Ackerman observed in the Washington Independent.
Let’s remember: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a blowhard braggart long before he was taken prisoner by the US in March 2003, as Jane Mayer has pointed out. Al Jazeera did not need to waterboard him or put a drill to his head or threaten to rape his wife before he bragged about being the mastermind of 9/11 on the network before being captured. “[T]here’s no evidence that I see in [the declassified documents] that these things were necessary,” observed Mayer. “I spoke to someone at the CIA who was an adviser to them who conceded to me that ‘We could have gotten the same information from tea and crumpets.’”
Also, Mohammed told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he gave misinformation to US interrogators as well. “During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop,” Mohammed told the ICRC. “I later told the interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order tomake the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” This raises an unanswerable question: Who knows how many US lives were put at risk because of bad intelligence obtained from torture?
One of the few people that had actually seen the documents to which Cheney was referring before they were released and had the courage to speak up was Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. In May, he said: “I am a member of the Intelligence Committee, and I can tell you that nothing I have seen, including the two documents to which [Cheney] has repeatedly referred, indicates that the torture techniques authorized by the last administration were necessary or that they were the best way to get information out of detainees.” Now that the public has had access to these documents, it is clear, as Feingold said months ago, that Cheney was “misleading the American people.” And, with the cooperation of a lazy and pliant media, Cheney continues to run his own televised miseducation camp. And let’s be honest: It ain’t just Fox News. The Washington Post now appears to be a private little Pravda for Cheney and his tiny group of minions formerly employed by the CIA. “The Postmanagement, it seems, is determined to return to its past practice of acting as stenographers for the CIA’s PR machine,” McGovern, the former CIA analyst, recently wrote.
The role that the media should actually play in all of this wassummed up well by Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who rightly points out that the tactics were not limited to waterboarding, but included “threats of rape, of killing children, of blowing cigar smoke into detainee’s faces until they retch, in addition to the power drills and mock executions:”
“We’ve long said that if you televise an execution that will be the end of public support for the death penalty. In a similar way, one hopes that the more the reality of torture is put before the American public, the less support there will be for it. When the issue is presented — as in the earliest leaked torture memos — as a legal abstraction, it’s easier for the public to rationalize the idea that nothing wrong is taking place.”
Sixth, at the end of the day, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the debate about whether torture actually worked is not the central point here:
The debate over whether torture extracted valuable information is, in my view, a total sideshow, both because (a) it inherently begs the question of whether legal interrogation means would have extracted the same information as efficiently if not more so (exactly the same way that claims that warrantless eavesdropping uncovered valuable intelligence begs the question of whether legal eavesdropping would have done so); and (b) torture is a felony and a war crime, and we don’t actually have a country (at least we’re not supposed to) where political leaders are free to commit serious crimes and then claim afterwards that it produced good outcomes. If we want to be a country that uses torture, then we should repeal our laws which criminalize it, withdraw from treaties which ban it, and announce to the world (not that they don’t already know) that, as a country, we believe torture is justifiable and just. Let’s at least be honest about what we are. Let’s explicitly repudiate Ronald Reagan’s affirmation that ”[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever … may be invoked as a justification of torture” and that “[e]ach State Party is required  to prosecute torturers.”
Seventh, one last point about Dick Cheney and his little toadie Chris Wallace when they talk about how there hasn’t been another attack since 9-11. Remember toadie’s sarcastic words: “I just want to point out to the audience that it is purely coincidental that this country has not been attacked since 9/11.” How about the more than 4,300 US troops that have been killed in Iraq as a result of the Bush-Cheney lie factory? That is more American dead than perished on 9/11. Those young men and women would not have died in Iraq had it not been for the policies of Bush and Cheney.
Ed. Note: You can see his segment tonite from Countdown with Keith Olbermann: http://bit.ly/mWAPU