In a statement Monday evening, former Vice President Dick Cheney accused the Obama White House of politicizing the Justice Department and insisted that a new report on interrogation policies by the CIA proved the efficacy of torture.
Neither statement was correct.
Sending his remarks to the conservative Weekly Standard, Cheney insisted that President Obama had "allow[ed] the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel."
Coming from members of an administration that put well-documented pressure on U.S. Attorneys to launch electorally-motivated investigations into Democrats, charges of politicizing the DOJ are slightly rich. But, more importantly, Cheney's remark ignores a consistent (and for progressives, irritating) theme of the Obama presidency. The White House has repeatedly stressed its preference not to launch an investigation into the use of torture. It would rather look forward, not back.
When evidence of illegality arises, however, the Justice Department is required to look into the matter. Far from succumbing to pressure from the president, Attorney General Eric Holder did just the opposite -- going against Obama's wishes by sanctioning a special prosecutor to conduct a narrow investigation into the use of torture. His hands were tied. Enough evidence was there to demand a probe.
It wasn't the only misfire in Cheney's statement. In addition to accusing Obama of allowing "the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel," the former V.P. also insisted that the 2004 CIA Inspector General report on the use and authorization of torture, which was released on Monday, proved that the enhanced interrogation techniques worked on terrorist suspects.
This is hardly a fair reading of the report. While the IG report does support Cheney's claim that Enhanced Interrogation Techniques [EITs] helped produce evidence that "played a role in nearly every capture of al Qaeda members and associates since 2002," it does not state definitively that the "intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks" -- merely that "agency senior managers" believed this to be true.
If anything, the IG report casts doubts on the effectiveness of EITs in general and waterboarding in particular.
"Inasmuch as EITs have been used only since August 2002, and they have not all been used with every high value detainee, there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness," reads the IG Report. "This Review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances, and whether the fact that it is being applied in a manner different from its use in SERE training brings into question the continued applicability of the DoJ opinion in its use."
Indeed, as Spencer Ackerman notes at the Washington Independent, the information gathered from 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was largely historical in nature -- including names from his "rolodex." The terrorist plots that these detainees detailed while under interrogation were largely aspirational, not operational.
"This Review did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent," read the IG report.
Similar reports followed the waterboarding of two other detainees. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded "at least 83 times during August 2002." During the next eight months, "he provided information" for additional intelligence reports. But the IG report notes that "it is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah's increased production."
With respect to another detainee, Al-Nashiri, the IG report notes that he was subjected to "additional EITs but not the waterboard," after which he was determined to be "compliant."