“I think we were fundamentally justified and I would do it again in a minute,” said former Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday about the Bush administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” now characterized as torture in a scathing Senate report.
Cheney spoke with FOX News’ Bret Baier in response to the report, which graphically described brutal treatment of detainees. He called the report a “terrible piece of work” that was “deeply flawed” because it failed to interview key people involved in the program.
Revelations also included the claim that torturing terrorism suspects yielded no actionable intelligence. “The report’s full of crap,” Cheney shot back. “It did in fact produce actionable intelligence that kept us safe from attacks.”
He added that “The work that was done was absolutely essential” and said that the intelligence gathered by the methods yielded information that included a warning about a potential attack on the West Coast.
“I am totally comfortable with it,” Cheney said. “We had reporting that al Qaeda was trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons, that they had been dealing with Pakistanis, who had nuclear weapons.”
During the interview, the ex-vice president insisted that the Bush administration had worked with Justice Department lawyers and the office of the general counsel in particular to ensure the “enhanced interrogation practices” used were legal.
“Torture is something we very carefully avoided,” he said. “One of the reasons we went to the Justice Department is because we wanted to know specifically what was legal and what was not.”
When asked about the detail in the Senate report that one detainee was rectally fed a puree of food and that rectal rehydration was also used, Cheney said he had no specific knowledge of that but again focused on the justification for the methods.
“Three thousand Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did,” he said of the detainees. “And I have no sympathy for them.”
That sentiment also extended to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks who was reportedly waterboarded 183 times in a single month. “He is in our possession and he is the architect [of 9/11], what are supposed to do? Kiss him on the cheeks?” Cheney said. “We did what we had to do.”
He specifically defended the practice of waterboarding. “It was not deemed torture by our lawyers — and it worked,” Cheney said, adding that the drowning simulation was used in training the country’s own intelligence operatives.
The CIA was reportedly so concerned by the legality of the practices that it double checked with the Bush administration after President George W. Bush condemned torture at the 2003 U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Shortly afterward, Cheney said “that the CIA was executing administration policy in carrying out its interrogation program,” according to the Senate report. He reiterated that sentiment in Wednesday’s interview.
He repeatedly commended the CIA for doing “a hell of a job” and said the Senate report amounted to “throwing professionals under the bus.” Cheney also focused on the national mood and challenges the Bush administration faced in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
In response to Sen. Mark Udall’s blistering criticism Wednesday of the CIA’s practices and his call for accountability at the highest levels, the former vice president was unfazed.
“I don’t know where he was on 9/11, but he wasn’t in the bunker,” Cheney said.
He also noted that they began the drone program, and that he had no concerns about treating the detainees according to the Geneva Convention.
“Remember the terrorists were not covered by the Geneva Convention. They were not entitled to the normal courtesies,” he said, adding that he’s certain that detainees now are “being treated very reasonably.”
The Justice Department conducted a criminal investigation into the interrogation program in 2009, and a senior administration official told msnbc’s Joy Reid Tuesday that the attorney general’s office had no plans to reopen the case. Nonetheless, human rights advocates have been calling for accountability at the highest levels of government and for assurances that the U.S. would never again use such shocking practices.