WASHINGTON – Former Vice-President Dick Cheney says politics are driving the Justice Department’s decision to investigate whether CIA interrogators abused terror suspects detained after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“I just think it’s an outrageous political act that will do great damage, long term, to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions, without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say,” Cheney said in an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday.”
At issue is Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to look into abuse allegations after the release of an internal CIA inspector general’s report. President Barack Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines.
However, the report concluded that some CIA interrogators went beyond Bush administration rules that gave them wide latitude to use severe tactics against detainees such as waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that critics call torture. Three high-level suspects underwent waterboarding scores of times.
Cheney called the techniques “good policy,” saying he was comfortable in cases where interrogators went beyond what they were specifically authorized to do. The CIA report found they included cases of interrogators threatening a detainee with a handgun and an electric drill.
Cheney said those techniques were “directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.”
He noted that the Justice Department, during the Bush administration, approved the harsh tactics in legal memos to the White House.
“Now you get a new administration and they say, well, we didn’t like those opinions, we’re going to go investigate those lawyers and perhaps have them disbarred,” Cheney said. “I just think it’s an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look back at the prior administration.”
Cheney was striking out at a Justice Department that has reeled from accusations of bending to White House politics for years, most recently under the Bush administration.
Asked for comment Sunday, Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller pointed to Holder’s earlier comments about the probe in which the attorney general said he would not target anyone who was acting within the Bush-approved interrogation guidelines.
“I fully realize that my decision to commence this preliminary review will be controversial,” Holder said in comments last week. “In this case, given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”
Cheney said he has serious doubts about Obama’s policies – especially whether the new Democratic administration understands the threat to Americans.
“I was not a fan of his when he got elected, and my views have not changed any,” Cheney said of Obama.
In a related issue, Cheney said he was aware of a Bush administration order prohibiting the CIA from advising Congress about a program to kill or capture top al-Qaida leaders. But he stopped short of saying he personally issued that order, as has been reported.
“My recollection of it is, in the reporting I’ve seen, is that the direction was for them not to tell Congress until certain lines were passed, until the program became operational, and that it was handled appropriately,” Cheney said.
The House Intelligence Committee last month launched an investigation to determine whether the CIA broke the law by not informing Congress about the secret program as soon as it was begun.
In the interview taped last week at his home in Wyoming, Cheney also touched on policies for two reclusive regimes – Iran and North Korea. He said he supported taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program but was overruled by President George W. Bush.
“I thought that negotiations could not possibly succeed unless the Iranians really believed we were prepared to use military force,” Cheney said.
He also said he thought it was a mistake for former President Bill Clinton to secure the release for two U.S. journalists from North Korea, given the regime’s nuclear weapons proliferation.
“Obviously, you are concerned for the reporters and their circumstances, but I think if we look at it from a policy standpoint, it is a big reward for bad behaviour on the part of the North Korean leadership,” Cheney said.