By William Fisher
Human rights advocates and legal experts are hitting back at statements made by former vice president Dick Cheney in his new book, “In My Time,” that abusive interrogation methods – torture -- yielded information that saved lives and that he had “no regrets” about their use.
Cheney has been unshakable in defense of his decision to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read torture) including waterboarding. “I would strongly support using it again if we had a high value detainee and that was the only way we could get him to talk,’’ he said.
But Human Rights First (HRF), one of the advocacy groups weighing in against the book, said, “The former Vice President has long claimed that abusive interrogation methods yielded information that ultimately saved lives, but national security experts and retired military leaders – including Senator John McCain, CIA Director General David Patraeus and former Marine Corps Commandant General Charles Krulak (Ret.) – disagree.”
Numerous official and private investigations and congressional testimony by an FBI interrogator strongly suggest that conventional interrogation techniques yield far more reliable results.
In conjunction with the release of Cheney’s memoir, HRF is launching an online ad campaign featuring prominent voices denouncing torture and highlighting the detrimental effect it has had on the United States’ anti-terrorism efforts. The ad links to an original 30 second video and will be seen on Google and YouTube, as well as in messages sent by the New York Times’ “Today’s Headlines” and Politico’s “The Huddle.”
“Former Vice President Cheney can write and say whatever he wants, but torture is torture and there’s no disputing the harm its use brought the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino. “Torture eroded the nation’s standing as an international leader in human rights. It undermined our ability to gather reliable intelligence, and it has no place in U.S. national security policy. Two days after he took office, President Obama closed the book on torture and it needs to stay shut.”
Other like organizations expressed similar disapproval of the new memoir, which was released this week.
Amnesty USA said “The failure to hold the architects of policies of torture and disappearance during the ‘global war on terror’ to account remains an enduring stain on the global reputation of the United States. Those most responsible for the shameful abuses at Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and other black sites around the world continue to boast of their ‘accomplishments’ with complete impunity.”
Since leaving office, AI said, “Cheney has been without question the most prominent apologist for the regime of indefinite detention and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ instituted by the Bush administration.
AI has revisited some of the former Vice President’s previous statements to “demonstrate how they contrast not only with the reality of the situation, but also with the United States’ obligations.” For example:
Speaking on September 16, 2001, on NBC’s Meet the Press Cheney “set the tone for the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks. He said ‘We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world… it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective’.”
AI counters with: “As a party to of a wide range of international human rights and international humanitarian law instruments, including the U.N. Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, the United States is simply not free to use ‘any means’ at its disposal – it is constrained by the applicable international law to operate within lawful parameters.”
In an interview with CNN on June 24, 2005, AI says Cheney “spun a rosy picture of conditions in Guantanamo.” ‘We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well treated there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want’."
The reality, says AI, is that “since January 2002, eight inmates have died while in custody at the U.S.-controlled detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six of these deaths have been declared suicides. Hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are known to have engaged in hunger strikes at the prison in protest of conditions and their prolonged confinement without trial.”
AI reminds us that Cheney said in 2005 of the 520 detainees then held at Guantánamo: “Hard-core terrorists is the only way to describe them. They’re unlawful combatants. They’re out to kill Americans. And if you put them back on the streets, that’s exactly what they’ll do… [W]e absolutely need to have a facility like that to house some very violent and evil people.”
It also reminds us that, by the end of President Bush’s second term, his administration had released 525 former Guantanamo detainees without charge. A January 2011 study of some 600 former Guantanamo inmates conducted by the New America Foundation put the recidivism figure at six percent.
Former Vice President Cheney has consistently maintained that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” prevented terrorist attacks and claimed that the release of classified memos would support his claim. In a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in May 2009 Cheney stated: “I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed…The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.”
Amnesty contends that “there is no evidence that hundreds of thousands of lives were saved as a result of the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. In August 2009 a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by Amnesty International and coalition partners resulted in the release of the two CIA memos that the former Vice President had claimed would vindicate his public statements. In fact, the memos confirmed that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information obtained.”
The organization charges that “Information obtained through coercion led directly to one of the greatest intelligence failures of the past decade – the assessment that Iraq posed an imminent security threat to the United States. Suspected Al Qaeda trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where he was tortured. To make his interrogators stop, he told them that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. This intelligence was used in part to justify the Iraq War. No such link existed.”
In an October 2006 interview, former Vice President Cheney told radio host Scott Hennen that authorizing waterboarding was “a no-brainer” and denied that it amounted to torture. Similarly, in a February 2008 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference Cheney told his audience: “The United States is a country that takes human rights seriously. We do not torture – it’s against our laws and against our values.”
Amnesty responds: “Torture is indeed against the law, and water boarding – or simulated drowning – has consistently been considered to be torture under both international and U.S. jurisprudence. At the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, Japanese officials were convicted of torturing captured U.S. pilots by subjecting them to waterboarding. In 1983, Texas sheriff James Parker and his deputies water-boarded a number of prisoners in an effort to elicit confessions. Parker was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for his actions and the judge presiding over the case repeatedly described waterboarding unambiguously as torture in his judgment.”
Amnesty adds, “In April 2009, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee issued the conclusions of its ‘Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody’. Among its findings is that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
The organization makes similar claims regarding the issue of trials before military commissions v. trials in the civilian justice system. Cheney has repeatedly asserted that military commissions are the most appropriate venue for alleged terrorist trials. But Amnesty points out that Federal courts successfully prosecuted 523 terrorism-related defendants between September 11th, 2001, and December 31st, 2009. Approximately 235 defendants are still on trial. About 70 have been acquitted or had charges dismissed. The present conviction rate is 88 percent.
Military commissions have only convicted six people to date, which represents less than one percent of the inmates who have passed through GTMO.
Tom Parker, AI’s policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said in advance of the release of Cheney’s memoir: "One can only hope that former Vice President Cheney’s memoir will not serve as yet another vehicle through which to peddle the same discredited mix of half-baked assertions and dark threats that marked his time in office. These have been comprehensively debunked by every new piece of information that emerges about the Bush administration’s failed counterterrorism policies.
Amnesty is also reiterating its call to US citizens to urge US Attorney General Eric Holder to “immediately open a criminal investigation into the role former President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, and other officials played in the use of torture on detainees held in U.S. government custody.”
A large number of human rights and justice organizations have taken similar positions. These include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the public service law firm that has provided many of the pro bono lawyers who volunteered to defend GTMO inmates. Cheney’s daughter Liz, a former Assistant Secretary of State, has attacked the loyalty of the volunteer lawyers.
Chip Pitts, former president of Amnesty USA, perhaps summed up the deeply held feelings of Cheney's opponents. He told The Public Record, "By debasing the United States and its commitment to the rule of law, encouraging unjustified yet devastatingly expensive and corrupt foreign wars, and even attempting to re-legitimate torture in a way not seen since the Middle Ages, Dick Cheney has likely done more damage than any other Bush administration official – or indeed anyone else in US history -- to our nation’s authentic security and future prospects.
“His continued obliviousness to the catastrophic consequences and severe harm he has caused to so many people evinces, at a minimum, an obstinate and pathological inhumanity. This memoir will no doubt serve to further incriminate him rather than exonerate him."