Comments by Vice President Dick Cheney to a radio interviewer prompted questions Friday about whether he advocated torturing terrorism detainees to obtain information. Cheney denied endorsing torture, and President Bush said that the United States does not practice torture.
Cheney’s remarks, in an interview Tuesday with conservative talk-radio host Scott Hennen from Fargo, N.D., stirred up fresh controversy over the interrogation technique known as “water-boarding,” which experts say simulates drowning.
Human rights groups sharply criticized Cheney, who said later that he was not specifically talking about water-boarding.
The flap began when the interviewer told Cheney that some of his listeners had asked him to tell the vice president that “if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we’re all for it if it saves American lives.” He continued: “This debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?”
Cheney replied: “I do agree. And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that’s been a very important tool that we’ve had to be able to secure the nation.... We need to be able to continue that.”
He was referring to the man captured in Pakistan who officials widely believe masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cheney was then asked: “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?”
The vice president responded: “It’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president ‘for torture.’ We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, took issue with Cheney’s remarks, issuing a statement saying: “What’s really a no-brainer is that no U.S. official, much less a vice president, should champion torture. Vice President Cheney’s advocacy of water-boarding sets a new human rights low at a time when human rights is already scraping the bottom of the Bush administration barrel.”
Late Friday, Cheney told reporters aboard Air Force Two: “I have said that the interrogation program for a selected number of detainees is ... one of the most valuable intelligence programs we have. I believe it has allowed us to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States. I did not talk about specific techniques and won’t. I didn’t say anything about water-boarding. [The interviewer] didn’t even use that phrase.”
Asked what “dunk in water” was referring to if not water-boarding, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, “I will let you draw your own conclusions, because you clearly have.”
Bush, asked Friday about Cheney’s comments, told reporters: “This country doesn’t torture. We’re not going to torture. We will interrogate people we pick up off the battlefield to determine whether or not they’ve got information that will be helpful to protect the country.”