Former Vice President Dick Cheney “personally” oversaw at least four briefings with members of Congress about the Bush administration’s interrogation program in an effort to maintain support for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody.
The briefings, part of a “secret” defense of the program Cheney began in 2005, were held as congressional oversight committees were threatening to investigate, or end the use of the interrogation methods, lawmakers and officials told The Washington Post.
Cheney’s advocacy of the use of waterboarding and warrantless wiretapping are certainly no secret, but his role in defending the program to lawmakers was undisclosed to the public until this time.
Documents delivered to Capitol Hill last month by the CIA listed every lawmaker briefed on the interrogation program since 2002, but made no mention of Cheney’s involvement in the meetings. For the briefings led by Cheney, intelligence committee members were told that information pertaining to the person who oversaw the meetings was “not available.”
During the briefings, Cheney “was adamant that the enhanced interrogations were needed to preserve national security,” two participants in the briefings told the paper, and when lawmakers questioned the legality of the program, “CIA briefers said that half of the agency’s knowledge about al-Qaeda’s plans and structure had been obtained through the interrogations.”
The report offers nothing to confirm or deny that top Democrats were aware that waterboarding was being used on detainees as early on as 2002, but does state that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “was not present at any of the briefings that included Cheney.” Pelosi has been under fire since she accused the CIA of intentionally misleading her during a 2002 briefing on the use of waterboarding.
“On March 8, 2005 – two days after a detailed report in the New York Times about interrogations – Cheney gathered Rockefeller, Harman and the chairmen of the intelligence panels, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), according to current and former intelligence officials. Weeks earlier, Roberts had given public statements suggesting possible support for the investigation sought by Rockefeller. But by early March 2005, Roberts announced that he opposed a separate probe, and the matter soon died.
Beyond the secret briefings with lawmakers, Cheney also reportedly sent five senators to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with his chief counsel, David Addington. Senator Graham, who was along for the trip, voiced concern about the legality of the interrogation program, and “urged Addington to put the interrogations at secret prisons and the use of military tribunals into a stronger constitutional position by pushing legislation through Congress, rather than relying on executive orders and secret rulings from Justice Department lawyers.”
Addington pulled a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution from his coat, according to Graham, and replied “I’ve got all the authority I need right here.”