The release of the CIA inspector general's report on interrogations of suspected terrorists is restoking the battle between former Vice President Dick Cheney and his many critics.
Cheney has been the most vocal defender of the Bush administration's war on terror, arguing that it prevented another attack like Sept. 11 and saved countless Americans' lives.
In the newly declassified portions released Monday of the 2004 report, officials credited the harsh questioning for thwarting multiple plots against Americans, writing that "there is no doubt that the program has been effective."
But the inspector general said it was unclear whether the interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration says is torture, was part of that success.
In a statement late Monday, Cheney said the documents prove his claim that the "enhanced" interrogation techniques "provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda."
"This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks," Cheney said. "These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al Qaeda members and associates since 2002."
"The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States," he added.
But the groups that went to court to force the disclosure of the document say they show no such thing.
“These are the documents Dick Cheney was so excited to see declassified, but they don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact. The descent into torture has made the world a darker and more dangerous place for everyone,” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez said in a statement.
Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA policy director for counterterrorism and human rights, added, “Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Vice President Cheney's track record, the two CIA memos released today are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khaled Shaik Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.”
(Read their report here.)
In his statement, Cheney also blasted the Obama administration for launching a preliminary criminal investigation into some of the abuses outlined by the inspector general's report.
He said the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into cases that the Bush Justice Department had already reviewed raises "doubts about this administration's ability to be responsible for our nation's security."
The interrogators, Cheney added, "deserve our gratitude. "They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions."
Cheney went after Obama directly in May in unprecedented back-to-back speeches in Washington where he and the president faced off and laid out their diametrically opposing views on how to keep America safe from terrorism.
Top House Republican John Boehner backed up Cheney, complaining today that the preliminary investigation appears political.
“The men and women who protect this country should never have to worry that they will face criminal prosecution as a result of a political election. The Obama Administration’s decision smacks more of a witch hunt designed to satisfy political allies than a strategy to keep the American people safe. When asked about potential prosecutions of our intelligence professionals, President Obama himself has said that he wants to look forward and not back. It is deeply disappointing that the President and Attorney General have taken this course of action considering the fact that career professionals at the Justice Department previously determined that the facts did not support prosecuting our intelligence professionals," Boehner said in a statement.
“I’ve said repeatedly that politically-motivated prosecutions would have a chilling effect on the ability of our intelligence professionals to do their jobs. The terrorist threat to our nation today remains very real and our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan come face-to-face with terrorists every single day. Our intelligence professionals should be focused on keeping America safe and helping keep our troops safe, not about how politicians in Washington, D.C. and the Justice Department may prosecute them for doing their job.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.