Publish and Be Damned, Mr Cheney
Dear Mr Cheney,
Last night, you appeared on Fox News' Hannity show, calling for an "honest debate" on the benefits of the Bush Administration's "bold" interrogation programme. You seem unhappy with last week's publication of four new legal memos authorising torture, so you referred to reports that have not yet been declassified "that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity". You told Hannity:
Of course, you have a terrific track record on the intelligence material that you have seen and read. I recall that, back in August 2002, you told a Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Now, you seem keen that we should be able to see the reports you read showing all the benefits of interrogations to be made public. But why stop there? Let's have those reports. Let's also have the interrogation logs. Let's have the videos and audio tapes of the actual interrogations, assuming they haven't all been destroyed (in the meantime, you may want to take a quick peek at this, Christopher Hitchens writing in Vanity Fair, to see what waterboarding actually looks like in practice, and its effects on one of our more robust journalists. Why not call for the declassification of the waterboarding videos, so we can see for ourselves what information was gleaned in the moments and hours and days after the waterboarding was carried out?
I hope you'll excuse me if I am a tad sceptical. I recall, for example, that when I testified before the House Judiciary Committee last summer, Congressman Trent Franks reported that waterboarding was used on only three men and that, in each case, it had lasted no more than one minute. That gave a grand total of three minutes of waterboarding. What's all the fuss about, Congressman Franks seemed to be saying. It seems that the source on whom he relied – Michael Hayden, who happened to be the former head of the CIA – wasn't entirely accurate. This week's news reports that two of those men were waterboarded on no less than 266 occasions.
And, more to the point, as I report in my book Torture Team, I made some inquiries about your administration's claim that the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani at Guantánamo back in the autumn of 2002 had produced a great deal of useful material. It turns out that it didn't. I met with the head of al-Qahtani's exploitation team. Had the new interrogation techniques produced anything useful, I asked him? He chose his words with care.
"There was a lot of data of interest", he said. "It was contextual in nature, confirming in nature. Did it help us catch Osama bin Laden? No."
I took that as a no, confirmation that there was little to back up the usual, bullish overstatements made by your administration back in June 2004 to justify the move to abuse.
So, I'm somewhat sceptical about your claim. Perhaps waterboarding and the other techniques of torture you approved did produce information. On the basis of my conversations with seasoned interrogators, I doubt, however, that it was reliable or particularly useful.
And even if it was, that would not justify the move to torture. As you well know, such acts are never justified in law, under US law or international law. The move to torture has heaped shame on the United States, exposing its servicemen and women and intelligence officers to even greater dangers around world. It has emboldened those who seek to do us harm, serving as the primary tool of recruitment across the globe.
As you speak to the wonders of waterboarding, I wonder whether you have ever reflected on the consequences of your words and actions for others. If waterboarding isn't torture (or even cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) when you decide to use on it others, then why should other nations not resort to its use, even against Americans who may be detained overseas, at some point in the future. I once had a chance to put that question to General Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, until 2005, in respect of a raft of lesser techniques.
"Are you comfortable with all of these techniques being used on American personnel?", I asked him.
"Not in this memo," he replied without pause.
He is right and, with respect, you are wrong. The acts you authorised constitute torture, with all the consequences of criminality that follows. Bring on that honest debate, I say. Put your money where your mouth is. Call for all the evidence – all of it – to be put before the US Congress or an independent investigation.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited