Cheney to Trump: Bring back waterboarding

Somehow, I doubt this will help Gina Haspel to a winning vote on confirmation. Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo caught up with former VP Dick Cheney and discussed the renewed debate over enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) that took place in the nominee’s confirmation hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill. Haspel got criticized for not condemning the practices as immoral even though she affirmed that she would not implement them even if ordered to do so by the president.

Cheney said that’s exactly what Donald Trump should do — bring back the waterboard and everything else:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday the CIA should restart the controversial enhanced interrogation program used during the George W. Bush administration.

“If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs. I’d have them active and ready to go,” Cheney said during an interview with Fox Business. “And I’d go back and study them and learn.”

Cheney, a former secretary of Defense, has long defended the interrogation program that was launched after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. While critics denounce the techniques that were used as torture, Cheney says the program was necessary to keep the nation safe.

“I think the techniques we used were not torture. A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t deemed torture at the time,” he told Maria Bartiromo. “People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if it were my call, I’d do it again.”

Cheney’s been nothing but consistent on this issue. Not only does he still not believe that it amounts to torture, but he’s recommended that the techniques be reinstated whenever asked. After the Senate Intelligence Committee condemned the programs as torture in December 2014, Cheney went on Meet the Press and told Chuck Todd that “I’d do it again in a minute”:

The first question one would need to ask would be … use them on who? We haven’t been doing much capturing of terrorists over the last several years, using drones and other military options to kill them instead. The capture of five ISIS leaders is the exception, not the rule. Trump has made a point of declaring that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will be an option for terrorists captured overseas, but it hasn’t seen any new admissions so far.

But beyond that, Trump would have to be insane to order the use of EITs, for several reasons even beyond the moral implications of these techniques, which are undeniably considerable. First, a statute passed by Congress in 2005 and signed by George W. Bush makes most of them illegal. Trump could rescind Barack Obama’s EO 13491, which limited CIA interrogators to the techniques allowed in the US Army field manual, but that would only open up some gray areas rather than authorize the reuse of EITs. Congress would have to pass a law rescinding the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and establishing new and clear limits into which EITs could be used.

Congress will never do this — and that’s precisely why Haspel will never order their use, and why CIA interrogators wouldn’t use them even if she did. Before the use of these techniques became widely known, Congressional leaders knew about and at least tacitly approved of them. As long as they didn’t get publicly exposed, almost every member of Congress who knew about it supported the Bush administration’s use and thought that they produced good enough intel to continue with it. When EIT use finally did get exposed, opponents of Bush and Cheney distanced themselves from it and demanded investigations and prosecutions. For years, intelligence officers worried that they would get hauled into prison for conducting interrogations as ordered by their superiors and as winked-at by legislators.

After what happened between 2005 and Eric Holder’s eventual decision not to prosecute anyone in 2012, who wants to test out Cheney’s EIT theories, even with presidential authorization? No one who doesn’t want to spend the rest of their lives paying attorneys to keep out of prison when everyone changes their minds. Haspel, who had a ringside seat to all of this, is about as likely to risk that as she would be to jump in front of a bus. And while Trump might temperamentally agree with Cheney, his advisers have seen enough to warn him off of it, and so far he’s been wise enough to heed their counsel.

Cheney is an intelligent, sincere man and a determined patriot, but this is bad advice … and bad timing to boot.

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