Lots of fiction, few facts in discussion of torture report

Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the Senate CIA torture report in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the Senate CIA torture report in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Americans coming to grips with the CIA’s torture methods are hearing competing arguments over whether the agency’s actions were just.

One not surprisingly critical voice of the Senate report is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who disagrees with the report’s main findings that the methods were not effective and that the CIA misled Congress and the White House.

Cheney told NBC’s Chuck Todd he would use the torture methods again "in a minute," a defense consistent with his past positions.

But not unlike other pundits and politicians weighing in, Cheney’s latest talking points have strayed from the truth.

Cheney on Saddam Hussein’s 10-year relationship with al-Qaida

On Meet the Press, Cheney argued the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaida terrorists justified the brutal interrogation program and subsequent invasion of Iraq.

"We got to the point where we were very concerned about the possible linkage between terrorists on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other," Cheney said. "Saddam Hussein had previously had twice nuclear programs going. He produced and used weapons of mass destruction. And he had a 10-year relationship with al-Qaida."

The latter claim is False.

Two major investigations disprove his point. The 9/11 Commission, the independent, bipartisan body created by Congress and President George W. Bush, examined links between al-Qaida and Hussein as part of its investigation into Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The commission’s report, released in 2004, found no evidence that isolated contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida operatives "ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship" or coordinated attacks against the United States.

A 2007 assessment from the Institute for Defense Analyses, the nonprofit research branch of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command, churned up a similar finding. The review, based on more than a half-million captured Iraqi documents, "found no ‘smoking gun’ " between al-Qaida and Hussein’s Iraq. They had little in common beyond supporting the same third-party militant groups in different countries, the report said.

Cheney has made the claim for years but "failed to present any evidence to support it," said Peter Neumann, a professor of war studies at King’s College in London.

Terrorists not covered by Geneva Convention?

Fox News’ Bret Baier asked Cheney in a Dec. 10 interview if there was "anything to the Geneva Convention, to the world rule of law on this?"

Cheney responded, "Sure there is. But remember, the terrorists were not covered by the Geneva Convention. They were unlawful combatants. And under those circumstances, they were not entitled to the normal kinds of courtesies and treatment you would accord to those."

His claim is Mostly False.

The Geneva Conventions refer to four international treaties covering how civilians, prisoners of war and soldiers should be treated when they can no longer fight, down to food, clothing, shelter, safety from combat, access to medical care, and other matters. There is a distinction, protection-wise, between captives who are prisoners of war and unlawful combatants, but it is misleading for Cheney to say those combatants are not covered by the Geneva Conventions.

Really, these detainees would have had lower-level protections spelled out in the Geneva Conventions from the procedures detailed in the Senate report. Passages in the four conventions known as "Common Article 3" say "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," as well as "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" are prohibited at all times.

Experts pointed to the 2006 Supreme Court case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, in which the court ruled against the Bush administration and found that Common Article 3 offers some basic, but not full, protection for detainees, and the ruling is binding in the United States.

Detainees were not killed, suffered no lasting injuries?

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., tried to downplay the findings released in the 600-page executive summary of the Senate report, saying, "This is not a case where people were killed."

"We’re not talking about anyone being burned or stabbed or cut or anything like that," he added. "We’re talking about people being made to stand in awkward in positions, have water put into their nose and into their mouth. But again, nobody suffered any lasting injuries from this."

But King’s statements don’t hold up from reading just one-tenth of the mostly classified study. His ludicrous claim is Pants on Fire!

To start, the report details how one man, suspected Islamic extremist Gul Rahman, died after being interrogated in Cobalt, an undisclosed, overseas detention center. Rahman experienced two days of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment, according to a CIA cable to headquarters. The morning after being shackled to a wall, forced to lie on a cold concrete floor, and stripped of most of his clothes, Rahman was discovered dead, likely from hypothermia.

In addition, CIA operatives performed "takedowns" of detainees that resulted in physical harm, and they also practiced "rectal feeding" or "rectal rehydration," in which detainees were force-fed through their anus, at least five times. Detainee Mustafa al-Hawsawi was diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anual fissure and symptomatic rectal prolapse as a result of rectal feeding.

Read more examples in the complete fact-check.

CIA officer input

One of the senators to decry the Senate committee’s report was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who called the release of the executive summary "reckless and irresponsible."

"The one-sided report that will be released by Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence cost U.S. taxpayers over $40 million dollars to produce, and its authors never interviewed a single CIA official," Rubio wrote in a statement with Sen. Jim. Risch, R-Idaho, on Dec. 8.

His claim misses some context but is not too off-base, so it rates Half True.

The committee did not meet with CIA employees and contractors for face-to-face interviews, as they were under "potential legal jeopardy," the report says.

But then-CIA director Michael Hayden, who took helm of the agency years after the questioned techniques began, testified in a closed-door session.

Plus, the committee drew from interviews of CIA officials by the agency’s inspector general, as well as the CIA’s oral history program and more than 6 million pages of CIA materials that included cables, reports, internal memos and emails.

What officials knew

Finally, an old claim from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting new attention on cable news as Democrats try to distance themselves from the CIA’s practices. In April 2009, as Democrats in Congress explored legal action against lawyers who approved CIA torture practices like waterboarding, reporters asked Pelosi if she and other key members of a House intelligence committee were brief about the practices in the fall of 2002.

She said she received a CIA briefing about that only once, but "we were not, I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

"What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel -- the Office of Legislative Counsel opinions that they could be used, but not that they would."

"Further," she said, "the point was that if and when they would be used, they could brief Congress at that time. ... My experience was they did not tell us they were using that, flat out. And any contention to the contrary is simply not true."

PolitiFact rated her claim False.

A timeline prepared by the director of national intelligence put her claim in dispute, showing she and Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., then-chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, were briefed on the"enhanced interrogation techniques." Goss, who resigned from Congress in 2004 to lead the CIA until 2006, backed up this account.

Pelosi insisted her briefing was about interrogation techniques considered for future use, which is not supported by Goss or the CIA timeline based on briefing notes. On the point about waterboarding, though, there is no definitive public document showing it was specifically discussed in her briefing, though it was mentioned in briefings for other members of the intelligence committee (who would be covered by her reference to "we").