WASHINGTON: Defenders and critics locked horns Sunday over last week’s release of a US report that aired harrowing new details of America’s torture of “war on terror” detainees, and opened fresh political wounds.
The US Senate report released Tuesday said the CIA’s interrogation of Al-Qaeda suspects, including beatings, rectal rehydration, and sleep deprivation, was far more brutal than acknowledged — and did not produce useful intelligence.
Former US vice president Dick Cheney on Sunday vehemently defended the program, lauding the CIA operatives who ran it as heroes.
“I’m perfectly comfortable that they should be praised, they should be decorated,” the right-hand man to former president George W. Bush told NBC television’s “Meet the Press” program.
“I’d do it again in a minute,” Cheney said.
But one of the fiercest critics of the use of torture, US Senator John McCain, who himself suffered grievous mistreatment at the hands of his captors during the Vietnam War, was adamant that the detainees’ treatment was wrong.
“There were violations of the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners,” the Republican senator told CBS television’s “Face the Nation” program.
Senate Democrats last week released the long-awaited investigation into detention and interrogation practises at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and at secret detention facilities — so-called “black sites” — where detainees were secretly held at locations worldwide.
Cheney insisted there was “no comparison” between the tactics and the deaths of American citizens on September 11, 2001, adding that the CIA “very carefully avoided” the practise of torture.
“Torture is what the Al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Cheney said.
But others, including many Democrats, said the agency deliberately misled the public about the severity and extent about what they euphemistically called its “enhanced interrogation program.”
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said the US public, lawmakers and other top US officials were all kept in the dark about the true nature of the program.
“We spent a lot of time looking into it and were told, this is a very minor thing,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
“You know, you just touch them with the waterboard and they confess,” he said, describing how the intelligence agency soft-pedaled what it was doing.
Another Democrat, Ron Wyden, senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it may be time to fire CIA Director John Brennan, who last week delivered an unprecedented speech defending the agency’s conduct.
The CIA, Wyden said, is afflicted with a “culture of denial,” and expressed concern that the discredited interrogation methods could come into use again unless those who tolerated them are purged.
The 500-page report spearheaded by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee asserted that interrogation tactics used on terror suspects were more brutal than previously known.
In excruciating detail, the report described crude torture methods including waterboarding, hanging people for hours from their wrists, and locking them in tiny coffin-shaped boxes.
It also concluded that the CIA deliberately misled Congress and the White House about the value of the intelligence its interrogators were gathering.
The document also revealed the existence of one practise viewed as particularly abhorrent — “rectal rehydration” — which critics categorised as a variation on a medieval form of torture in which the intestines are swollen with fluid in order to cause pain.
The report questioned the effectiveness of such techniques, which it determined were actually counterproductive for getting actionable intelligence.
Cheney, however, strongly disagreed.
“It worked. It absolutely worked,” he said on Sunday about the program which US officials euphemistically have referred to as employing “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Reiterating comments he made last week, the former vice president insisted that his then-boss was fully aware about the details of the program as it was being conducted.
“This man knew what we were doing,” he said about ex-president Bush. “He authorised it. He approved it.”
The debate over the past several days has swirled not just about whether the program was justified, but whether details about it should be made public.
Many Republicans have suggested that America and its overseas interests could become the target of revenge attacks details about the way it once treated detainees was made known.
McCain however, insisted that releasing the document was the right thing.
“We do things wrong. We make mistakes. We review those. And we vow never to do them again,” he said.