Former Vice-President Cheney continued his one-man crusade to convince Americans that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that he favored worked and that the don’t need to be investigated any further:
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney asserted on Sunday that the Justice Department’s decision to review detainee interrogation practices by Central Intelligence Agency workers and contractors was “a political move” and that President Obama was trying to “duck the responsibility” by saying the choice was the attorney general’s.
Speaking on the television program “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Cheney called Attorney General Eric H. Holder’s decision to name a federal prosecutor to examine abuse of prisoners held by the C.I.A. “clearly a political move — I mean, there’s no other rationale for why they’re doing this.”
Mr. Cheney said the review would create “an outrageous precedent” for the Justice Department under Mr. Obama to take an “intensely partisan, politicized look back at the prior administration.” This, he said, would be devastating to C.I.A. morale and undercut future efforts to prevent terror attacks.
Mr. Cheney strongly defended the tough approach on detainee treatment that he helped craft, and said he was comfortable even with the fact that some C.I.A. interrogators went beyond the tactics approved by the Bush administration.
What “offends the hell out of me,” Mr. Cheney said, was that after eight years without terrorist attacks, the Obama team was raising the possibility of legal action, rather than asking Bush officials, “How did you do it?” “It’s an outrageous political act that will do great damage, long-term.”
Cheney even went so far as to say that interrogations that went beyond the legal guidelines that he himself had a hand in drafting should be excused:
WALLACE: Do you think what they did, now that you’ve heard about it, do you think what they did was wrong?
CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States, and giving us the intelligence we needed to go find Al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed. Those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all the Al Qaeda members that we were able to bring to justice. I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.
It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.
WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?
CHENEY: I am.
Cheney also argued that any investigation of past terror interrogations would set a bad precedent:
WALLACE: This is your first interview since Attorney General Holder named a prosecutor to investigate possible CIA abuses of terror detainees.
What do you think of that decision?
CHENEY: I think it’s a terrible decision. President Obama made the announcement some weeks ago that this would not happen, that his administration would not go back and look at or try to prosecute CIA personnel. And the effort now is based upon the inspector general’s report that was sent to the Justice Department five years ago, was completely reviewed by the Justice Department in years past.
I just think it’s an outrageous political act that will do great damage long term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions, without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say.
There are several points worth addressing here.
First of all, Cheney’s argument that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” prevented mass terror attacks simply isn’t supported by any evidence. As I noted yesterday, the incredibly detailed cooperation by Khalid Shiekh Mohammed didn’t occur until two years after he was waterboarded and there’s significant evidence that much of the information he provided wasn’t reliable to begin with.
Furthermore, as Steven Taylor notes, Cheney’s argument is essentially little more than a post-hoc ergo proctor-hoc logical fallacy:
Cheney and Wallace both are making a radically simplistic and logically problematic argument here: that specifically the only reason there were no attacks on the US post-9/11 was because of “enhanced interrogations”. Setting aside that we had the still unsolved anthrax attacks after 9/11 (and the fact that these “enhanced interrogations” did not prevent massive attacks in Bali, Madrid and London), one cannot reduce all of post-9/11 security policy to the interrogation of detainees (which is essentially what Cheney and Wallace are trying to do).
Not only is there the very real possibility that the same intel could have been obtained without abusing prisoners, the bottom line is that there were other policy actions that are rather relevant here, not the least of which being the massive disruption of al Qaeda after 9/11 by the invasion of Afghanistan. Indeed, the very arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed itself was likely directly responsible for disrupting al Qaeda’s plans, whether he spoke or not.
The very fact that post-attack US security was going to radically increase meant that more attacks were less likely. And there is always the very real possibility that al Qaeda had invested all of its assets into 9/11 and didn’t have the capabilities for another massive attack on the US.
In other words, there is no reason to believe that enhanced interrogation is solely responsible for the lack of attacks on American soil (again, ignoring what happened in London, Madrid, and Bali), or even that it played a significant role in making those attacks less likely.
Second, Cheney’s assertion that oversight, either before or after the fact, is a bad thing goes against pretty much every principle of limited democratic government there is. If the Executive Branch is permitted to do whatever it wants in the name of “national security,” then there are no limits to it’s power. And, if that’s the case then we’ve come a long way from where the Founders intended us to be.
Finally, there’s Cheney’s assertion that even interrogation techniques that went beyond the legal guidelines that the Bush White House had establish should be forgiven. This is such a direct assault on the very idea of the Rule of Law that it’s hard to believe that someone raised in the American political system could even come up with it. Even if you believe that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used were acceptable somehow, the fact remains that the CIA and the military were under strict orders as to what they could and could not do to detainees. Anyone who went beyond those guidelines broke the law, and deserves to be prosecuted. That’s what the Rule of Law is all about.
I’ve yet to understand what Cheney’s real agenda here is, but he’s clearly trying to justify himself even if it’s at the expense of his President. We haven’t heard the last from him.