Cheney: Bush fully informed about CIA tactics

David Lerman
Bloomberg News

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said President George W. Bush was fully briefed on interrogation tactics used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, disputing a conclusion reached by Senate Democrats in a report last week.

The report by Democratic members of the Senate intelligence committee said Bush wasn’t briefed on specific CIA techniques until April 2006 — four years after the program had begun.

“The notion that we were not notified at the White House about what was going on is not true,” Cheney said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

“This man knew what we were doing,” Cheney said of Bush. “He authorized it. He approved it. A statement by the Senate Democrats for partisan purposes that the president didn’t know what was going on is just a flat-out lie.”

The dispute over the extent of Bush’s knowledge of techniques the report called torture is one of several arising from a partisan Senate investigation into the CIA’s interrogation of terrorism suspects from 2002 to 2007. The report concluded the techniques, such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and rectal feeding, were largely ineffective at obtaining useful information.

The report also found the CIA misled the Department of Justice about its program, “impeding a proper legal analysis” of the interrogations.

John Yoo, the former deputy assistant attorney general in the Bush administration who wrote the legal justification for the techniques that President Barack Obama has called torture, said tactics such as rectal feeding, week-long sleep deprivation and forced standing for hours with broken limbs were never approved.

“If those things happened as they’re described in the report, as you describe them, those were not authorized by the Justice Department,” Yoo said in an interview that aired today on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program. “They were not supposed to be done and those people who did those are at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders.”

Cheney, a vocal defender of Bush administration anti- terrorism policies since leaving office, said the techniques “absolutely did work” to prevent more attacks and denied they amounted to torture.

CIA Director John Brennan, in a rare press conference last week, said the agency’s detention and interrogation program had produced “very useful” information, while backing away from assertions that the techniques used were essential for obtaining the needed intelligence.

Brennan said it was “unknowable” whether the information could have been gained by other means.

That admission “is a big change and really speaks volumes about the effectiveness of this program,” Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who serves on the intelligence committee and supported the report, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.

The Senate committee reviewed 20 cases often cited as examples of the program’s usefulness and none showed that information was obtained that saved lives or that couldn’t have been gleaned by other means, according to the panel’s report.

Cheney said the probe by Senate Democrats was “seriously flawed,” partly because they relied on CIA documents without interviewing any of the people involved in the program. Senators have said interviews weren’t possible because of an ongoing Justice Department investigation.

In concluding Bush was kept largely in the dark about specific techniques being used in the field, the Senate committee report said CIA records show that no CIA officer briefed the president on them before April 2006. “By that time, 38 of the 39 detainees identified as having been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques had already been subjected to the techniques,” the report said.

Cheney said Bush learned of the interrogations through daily meetings with the CIA director and national security advisers.

“That’s where we got most of our information,” Cheney said, along with the President’s Daily Brief, a top-secret written report on intelligence matters.

Bush portrayed himself as intimately familiar with the interrogation techniques in his 2010 memoir, “Decision Points.”

Shortly after the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, in 2002, Bush wrote, “I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm.”

When former CIA Director George Tenet asked Bush if he had the authority to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush replied, “Damn right,” according to the book.

Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s former director of clandestine operations who was an architect of the interrogation program, said the release of the Senate report poses a threat to the safety of CIA personnel.

“This report throws the CIA under the bus,” Rodriguez said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “Leaders at the agency are going to wonder whether the authorities that they received from their president will last longer than one election phase. That’s a big concern.”

Rodriguez reiterated Republican assertions that key members of Congress were fully briefed on all the techniques used by the CIA, which some lawmakers have disputed.

“We came to learn very gradually about it,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and former member of the intelligence committee. “We did not really understand this program until a considerable period of time had gone by,” he said on Fox.