The Fine Print Of Cheney’s Complaint

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Last night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has discovered a new-found love for the press now that he has no government power, continued his post-election campaign against President Obama’s national security policies. The most alarming part of the interview was his suggestion that the Obama Administration is trying to hide information from the American people about how effective harsh interrogation had been:

One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort. And there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified.

There is certainly lots of information that has not yet been declassified, but Cheney is wrong to suggest that the released documents fail to describe the reported success of the harsh treatment. The May 30, 2005 memo by Steven Bradbury (download here) includes pages of description of the benefits of harsh interrogation, which are summarized today in the Washington Post by Marc Theissen, a former Bush Administration official. Theissen, like Cheney, present a scene out of 24, the television shows. Tough guy terrorists won’t talk, until they think they are drowning. Then they give up the store.

The accuracy of this vision is, from what is known publicly at present, still in dispute. As Scott Shane reported Saturday in the New York Times, the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, which is deemed major success in the Bradbury memo, was seen as totally unneccesary and unproductive by others in the intelligence community. “Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said,” Shane reports.

Even the Bradbury memo acknowledges these disagreements within the classified community about the effectiveness of the methods. In a footnote on page 31 of the May 30 memo, Bradbury writes:

According to the [CIA] IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have information. . . . On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information. . . . At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah. . . . [I]n the Zubaydah example, CIA Headquarters dispatched officials to observe the last waterboard session. These officials reported that enhanced techniques were no longer needed. [Emphasis mine.]

The open-ended phrase “at least,” may be most important part of that footnote. Did the CIA or the Justice Department ever seek to find out if there were other examples of these disagreements, or the unneccesary use of the waterboarding? If so, those would be good documents to declassify as well. If not, why?

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