Republicans divided over Senate torture report. Dick Cheney in the spotlight

Support for the Senate Intelligence Committee report on harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects has divided mostly along party lines. But within both parties there are dissenting voices as well.

Joshua Roberts/REUTERS
Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in 2009. Cheney has been very critical of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects by the CIA.

That the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture has become a partisan document – and may have started out that way – is obvious.

When it’s mostly Democrats who signed the 6,700-page report on what the CIA calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used to make suspected terrorists talk while Republicans issue a minority report critical of their colleagues’ efforts, that’s partisanship by definition.

But among Republicans, there are strong differences of opinion – both about the report and, more broadly, the use of harsh techniques to elicit what is known as “actionable intelligence” that might thwart terrorist plots.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who wrote speeches for former president Ronald Reagan, writes: “America should never again do what is asserted and outlined in the report, which enumerates various incidents of what I believe must honestly be called torture.”

“American policy should be to treat prisoners the way we would hope – with clear eyes, knowing it is a hope – our prisoners would be treated,” Noonan asserts. “The war we are engaged in is different, we know, and it is still going on and will be for some time, but it won’t help us fight it to become less like ourselves and more like those we oppose. Torture is not like us.”

At the same time, she writes, the Senate report “is believable but insufficient” – mainly because CIA officers who planned, oversaw, and carried out the harsh interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects were not interviewed by Senate staff.

Democrats aren’t totally united regarding the report.

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska lauds the work of Sen. John McCain (R) regarding torture.

Sen. McCain sponsored the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of captured combatants, whether they wear a nation’s uniform or not.

McCain also successfully offered amendments to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, among other things, prevented the attempt to weaken the Geneva Conventions, and broadened definitions in the War Crimes Act to make the future use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques punishable as war crimes.

But Sen. Kerrey (a Vietnam veteran and former US Navy SEAL team leader who was awarded the Medal of Honor), also takes the Senate Intelligence Committee to task for its decision not to interview CIA officers involved with the enhanced interrogation techniques which critics – including the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan –  call torture.

“The worse consequence of a partisan report can be seen in this disturbing fact: It contains no recommendations,” Kerrey writes in USA Today. “This is perhaps the most significant missed opportunity, because no one would claim the program was perfect or without its problems.”

The chief defender of harsh interrogation techniques is former vice president Dick Cheney, who calls the Senate report “full of crap,” although he acknowledges not having read it. 

Speaking on Fox News about a program that included waterboarding, being kept awake in stress positions for days at a time, experiencing hypothermia as a result of being dunked in cold water, and something called “rectal feeding,” Mr. Cheney said the ends “absolutely” justify the means.

But several reports take apart Cheney’s assertions, citing Fox News interviewer Bret Baier’s conversation with the former vice president this week in which he holds to now-discredited assertions that enhanced interrogation “absolutely” led to actionable intelligence, that waterboarding “worked, providing information that prevented future attacks.”

In a Politico piece headlined “Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture,” former interrogator Mark Fallon writes: “Cheney’s claim that the frequent waterboarding of [9/11 mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ‘produced phenomenal results for us’ is simply false.”

“As special agent in charge of the criminal investigation task force with investigators and intelligence personnel at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq, I was privy to the information provided by Khalid Sheik Mohammed,” Mr. Fallon writes. “I was aware of no valuable information that came from waterboarding.”

“Professional interrogators … know that legal, rapport-building interrogation techniques are the best way to obtain intelligence, and that torture tends to solicit unreliable information that sets back investigations,” Fallon writes.

On Sunday, Cheney will be interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He's not much for social media, but his daughter Liz Cheney has been busy tweeting and retweeting her objections to the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

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