Senior Bush administration officials are making a coordinated push to discredit a damning Senate report on CIA interrogation tactics authorized during President George W. Bush’s first term.
“Torture to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cellphone 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 on 9/11,” he told host Chuck Todd.
Cheney, who oversaw the nation’s response to al Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks, said he had no regrets about using waterboarding on enemy combatants to glean intelligence.
“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 terror attack against the United States,” he said Sunday. “We did capture an awful lot of the senior guys at al Qaeda who were responsible for that attack on 9/11. I would do it again in a minute.”
Cheney, along with other Bush administration officials, blasted the Senate report as one-sided and misleading.
“The report is seriously flawed. They did not talk to anybody who knew anything about the program. They didn't talk to anybody within the program,” he said.
Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general under Bush, slammed the report as a “disaster.”
“From the standpoint of the intelligence community, I think it [the report] is a disaster. It’s going to demoralize the CIA. It’s jam-packed with untruth,” he told John Catsimatidis, an AM 970 host in New York.
Mukasey faulted Senate investigators for not speaking to senior Bush administration officials and relying solely on internal CIA documents.
“The were cherry-picking, throwing away the cherries, and they printed the pits,” he said.
He noted that suspected terrorists held in U.S. custody on foreign soil do not have the same rights as criminal suspects arrested on domestic soil.
“We’re under no obligation to treat them as if they were people knocking off the local 7-Eleven,” he said.
Karl Rove, a longtime senior political adviser to Bush, said on “Fox News Sunday” that interrogation techniques were carefully designed to fall short of torture, a point Cheney made as well on NBC.
“Look, these were carefully designed with an idea, with the principles in mind of our statutory obligations and international commitments,” he said.
The tactics, Rove said, were evaluated to make sure they would not cause severe pain and suffering or prolonged mental pain and suffering.
“In each instance, these procedures were carefully designed so they would not pass those barriers,” he said.
He noted that interrogators made sure to invert the feet of detainees over their heads while waterboarding them to prevent liquid from flooding their lungs.
But those precautions to failed to convince one influential senior Republican.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report MORE (R-Ariz.), a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the techniques constituted torture.
“I urge everyone to just read the report,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“You can’t claim that tying someone to the floor and have them freeze to death is not torture,” he said.
McCain said he argued vigorously with Cheney during the Bush administration to abandon the tactics because they violated the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.
“I said these things are torture,” he said.
Jose Rodriguez, the former senior CIA official who led the agency’s interrogation program under Bush, said senior Democrats in Congress at the time knew the details of the interrogation tactics and did not object.
The Senate report asserts CIA officials mislead congressional oversight committees about its treatment of detainees.
Rodriguez said he personally briefed House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) the former senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“I remember very clearly briefing Nancy Pelosi in September of 2002,” he said.
“We briefed her specifically on the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah,” he added, referring to an organizer of the 9/11 attacks who was waterboarded 83 times in one month. “I briefed her on all the techniques.”
Pelosi disputed this in a May 2009 briefing, when she told reporters that CIA officials told her that waterboarding was an option but that it was not actually employed to extract intelligence.
“I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed,” she added.
She said intelligence officials promised her they would inform lawmakers on the intelligence committees “if that technique were to be used in the future.”
“We also now know that techniques, including waterboarding, had already been employed, and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information,” she said.
Rodriguez emphasized that the Justice Department and the CIA’s inspector general signed off on the interrogation program.
He said harsh tactics were justified by “a binding legal opinion in writing that we received from Justice Department, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, that said that waterboarding and 10 other techniques were legal.”