Days before the Senate Intelligence Committee released its "torture report," which detailed gruesome tactics used by US interrogators and concluded that the CIA misled the White House and Congress, Bush administration officials were already on the defensive.
Chief among them was former Vice President Dick Cheney, a perennial advocate of the "enhanced interrogation" program, who, in an interview with The New York Times, called the committee's report "a bunch of hooey."
“What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” Mr. Cheney told the Times. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”
Cheney also said the conclusion that the CIA misled the White House about its interrogation techniques "is just a crock."
"[A]nd if I had to do it over again, I would do it," he added.
Cheney made the remarks on Monday. On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released an executive summary of its investigation into the CIA's interrogation program. Five years in the making, the report offers a harsh indictment of the CIA's torture techniques, which The New York Times has called “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach."
Among the report's chief findings were that interrogation techniques did not help the CIA get intelligence, the CIA misled the White House and Congress about the effectiveness of the techniques, and that intelligence officials questioned the CIA's tactics.
Cheney, who has said that he had not read the report at the time he made the comments to the NYT, said harsh interrogation tactics were "absolutely, totally justified," and that those responsible for executing the program deserve praise, not censure.
"They deserve a lot of praise," he told the Times. "As far as I’m concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized.”
Cheney also said he never felt the CIA misled him or the White House about the program, nor did he think the agency exaggerated the value of the information gained from the interrogation techniques.
Instead, he singled out critics who he said have forgotten that the interrogation program helped prevent another 9/11. “When we had that program in place, we kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective,” he said.
Cheney's comments drew sharp and swift censure from many on the political left.
"It takes a special kind of person to look back at morally reprehensible misconduct and feel a sense of pride and satisfaction," wrote MSNBC's Steve Benen.
In an Op-Ed blog post, the New York Times' Andrew Rosenthal called Cheney a "war crime apologist" and "one of the all-time great prisoner abuse enthusiasts."
"Key takeaway from the torture report: Dick Cheney is a dirty, stinking liar," read a Daily Kos headline.
Still, some conservatives backed the CIA's interrogation program, if not Cheney himself, and lambasted Democrats for releasing the torture report.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma said he is “very supportive of enhanced interrogation," and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said the report would infuriate terrorists, as Politico reported.
Incoming Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina and retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia said that the report's main motive was to "attack George W. Bush."
Not all Republican lawmakers criticized the torture report.
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky said the government should be more transparent and have a moral stance against torture, according to Politico.
But the most vocal supporter of the torture report was Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, himself a victim of torture while a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
He criticized the CIA’s practices as having “damaged our security interests as well as a reputation as a force for good in the world.”
“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” McCain said in reaction to the torture report. “The American people are entitled to it nonetheless. They must be able to make judgments about whether these policies and personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values.”