ByTom Regan | csmonitor.com
In a radio interview Tuesday, US Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed that US interrogators have used a controversial technique know as waterboarding to interrogate senior Al Qaeda suspects. McClatchy's Washington bureau reports that Mr. Cheney said the White Housedoes not see the practice as torture, and allows the CIA to use it. Cheney said use of waterboarding was a "no-brainer for him."
In the interview on Tuesday, Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., told Cheney that listeners had asked him to "let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives."
"Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?" Hennen said.
"I do agree," Cheney replied, according to a transcript of the interview released Wednesday. "And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation."
Cheney added that Mohammed had provided "enormously valuable information about how many (al-Qaeda members) there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth. We've learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that."
"Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" asked Hennen.
"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president 'for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in," Cheney replied. "We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."
McClatchy also reports, however, that the US Army, senior Republican lawmakers, human rights experts, and many experts on the laws of war consider the technique to be "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that's banned by US law and by international treaties that prohibit torture." Some intelligence experts also say that it is an ineffective technique that often produces false information because people subjected to waterboarding will tell their interrogators anything to stop it.
Waterboarding involves holding "a person's head under water or pouring water on cloth or cellophane placed over the nose and mouth to simulate drowning until the subject agrees to talk or confess. ABCNews reported last year that it began as a practice in the 1500sduring the Italian Inquisition. Soldiers who had used it during US conflicts in the 20th century have been court-martialed. It was declared illegal by US generals during the Vietnam War.
A spokeswoman for Cheney denied that he confirmed, or endorsed, the use of the tactic by US interrogators.
"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture," she said. "The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."
The White House alsoposted the transcript of the interview on its website. The interview transcript, however, includes the section where the Vice President endorses the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique.
Last year, in an interview with the BBC, Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, said that in an internal Bush administration debate about the use of the Geneva Conventions in the treatment of detainees, Cheney led the argument to "do away with all restrictions."
In an opinion piece for Hearst newspapers last week, Helen Thomas wrote that the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which sets up a system for trying detainees in military tribunals, also gives the Presidentthe right to decide what constitutes torture. White House spokesman Tony Snow later declined to say if waterboarding would be permissible under the new law. Three senior GOP senators who led the fight to enact the law believe that it does outlaw the technique, despite what the administration may feel.
In a piece for the Washington Post, Stephen Richard, director of the Washington office of the Open Society Institute, writes that both those in the administration who argue that the new Military Commissions law gives them "clear authorization" for "enhanced techniques" and those critics who say it "legalizes torture"are both wrong. Richard writes that if CIA interrogators, who stopped using waterboarding and other controversial techniques last year after Congress passed the McCain amendment banning cruel treatment, allow the administration to convince them the new law gives them "carte blanche" to use whatever technique they want, "they will be at greater risk than they were last fall." He points out that in the past, the US has prosecuted every one of these techniques as a war crime.
ABCNews reported last year that CIA agents who subjected themselves to waterboardinglasted an average of 14 seconds before they "give in." Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the so-called mastermind of 9/11, is rumored to have won the "admiration" of his interrogators when he lasted almost two-and-a-half minutes before "begging to confess."