Cheney's involvement in interrogation abuse

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

KATY CLARK: Many of the questions surrounding the use of enhanced interrogation techniques lead back to former Vice President Dick Cheney. John Nichols is the author of an unofficial Cheney biography. He's also Washington correspondent of the magazine, The Nation. John Nichols what do you believe Cheney's role was in authorizing or pushing these techniques?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, there's very little doubt at this point that Vice President Cheney, when he was in office, was a passionate advocate for an aggressive approach to gathering intelligence and he himself has said that he encouraged the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which is of course the euphemism used by members of the administration, or what an awful lot of people call torture. So, I think it would be almost comic at this point to suggest that he was anything but a driving force in initiating discussions about using enhanced interrogation. Promoting the authorization of that enhanced interrogation by the Whitehouse and by legal counselors, and finally making sure that it was implemented, encouraging the CIA to do so. So, I think it would be fair to say he was the central figure.

CLARK: As we hear more learn and learn more about these techniques they seem to have taken place as a result of the slow considered steps of a very vast bureaucracy. How fair is it to say that all roads lead back to Dick Cheney?

NICHOLS: Of course we have to be careful about assuming that he hatched every plan, came up with every plot. We don't need to make him ino the ultimate Machiavelli. What we do need to find out is the extent to which he was actively engaged at many, many different levels of

bureaucratic and legislative, official and unofficial in promoting the use of what most people in the world would describe as torture.

CLARK: Mr. Cheney has been pretty vocal in defending the Bush administration's record using enhanced interrogation techniques saying that they delivered intelligence success. How do you argue with that?

NICHOLS: Well, it's always very, very important to look at Dick Cheney's statements. He is a master communicator of ideas that he wants to get across, but that are carefully plotted so that he doesn't necessarily have to take responsibility. And if you look at some of his recent statements about the successes of enhanced interrogation, they're a little bit vague in the area of whether it was the enhanced interrogation that actually got the intelligence that people are talking about, and this is very, very important. There is no question that some people on whom enhanced interrogation techniques were practiced did provide intelligence that may have been quite useful to the United States, but neither Cheney nor anyone else that I've seen so far, has successfully made a clear linkage between the water boarding, the enhanced interrogation, the torture, and the accessing of that information.

CLARK: Would that be some of the information that would come out in an investigation. I mean do you think that would be more of what we would find out?

NICHOLS: Well, of course that's what we want to find out. And the important thing about this discussion is that we have two roles. One, in an investigation let's find out what the United States did. Were lines crossed, why were they crossed, how were they crossed, what was done that was irresponsible, wrong-headed, potentially illegal?. And then once you've discovered that the much more important question becomes, who made this the case. Those who promoted those actions are the ones who need to be held to account, and yet it's very, very silly frankly to fret about the CIA operatives at the low level. If somebody did something that is grossly illegal, of course they should be held to account, but really what we want to know, who was telling that low level officer what to do, and again there's an awfully lot of evidence that suggests that Dick Cheney or at least people around Dick Cheney had some role in that telling.

CLARK: Given how much Dick Cheney has really been out there speaking about things that the Bush administration did, do you get a sense that perhaps in some way he is setting himself up as the fall guy here.

NICHOLS: No, I don't think he's setting himself as the fall guy. I think there's another strategy altogether and that is to win the public relations war, i.e. to keep pushing the idea that the use of these techniques gained intelligence that protected America, to fight, if you will, above the level of the investigation so that even if an inquiry ultimately does point fingers of blame at Dick Cheney, the average American may not view him as an evil player. They might view him as perhaps and overzealous defender of the safety and good of the nation.

CLARK: John Nichols is Washington correspondent of The Nation and author of Dick, the Man Who is President. Thanks.

NICHOLS: It's a pleasure.