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President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney squared off in dueling speeches on national security on May 21, 2009.
Not surprisingly, Cheney defended the controversial interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration on some terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks. And, he said, despite all the hand-wringing and public debate about waterboarding over the last couple years, the technique was used on only three detainees.
"You've heard endlessly about waterboarding," Cheney said in his address at the American Enterprise Institute. "It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about his beheading of Daniel Pearl.
"We had a lot of blind spots after the attacks on our country, things we didn't know about al-Qaida. We didn't know about al-Qaida's plans, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a few others did know.
"And with many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we did not think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all."
Public records support his claim about the three detainees, who collectively were subjected to waterboarding at least 267 times.
The use of waterboarding — an interrogation technique that simulates drowning — was first publicly acknowledged by then-CIA director Michael Hayden during a Senate intelligence hearing on Feb. 5, 2008. He said it was used on three terror suspects in 2002 and 2003.
"Let me make it very clear and to state so officially in front of this committee that waterboarding has been used on only three detainees," Hayden said. "It was used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It was used on Abu Zubaydah. And it was used on (Abd al-Rahim al-)Nashiri. The CIA has not used waterboarding for almost five years."
According to a memo released by the Attorney General's Office in April 2009, waterboarding was removed from CIA’s authorized list of techniques sometime after 2005.
Also in April 2009, the Justice Department released 2005 legal memos that detailed the use of the waterboarding technique in 2002 and 2003, including the revelation that it had been used 183 times against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Cheney is correct that during a military tribunal in 2007, Mohammed claimed responsibility for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.
The memos also noted that the CIA used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, described by the CIA as one of Osama bin Laden's key lieutenants.
And lastly, the technique was used on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing.
In all three cases, Hayden said, "We used it against these three high-value detainees because of the circumstances of the time. Very critical to those circumstances was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were imminent."
There has been no information publicly released that any other terror suspects have been subjected to waterboarding.
"We only know of those three being waterboarded," said Joanne Mariner, a counterterrorism expert with Human Rights Watch. "That's all that's on the public record."
In short, Cheney is on solid ground with this statistic. We rate his statement True.
New York Times, Justice Department Memos on Interrogation Techniques , released April 2009
New York Times, "Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects," by Scott Shane, April 19, 2009
Senate Intelligence Committee, Release of Declassified Narrative Describing the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel's Opinions on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program , April 22, 2009
CQ Transcripts, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Holds Hearing on the Annual Threat Assessment, Feb. 5, 2008
CQ Transcripts, Former Vice President Dick Cheney delivers Remarks on Natonal Security at the American Enterprise Institute, May 21, 2009
Interview with Joanne Mariner, a counter-terrorism expert with Human Rights Watch, May 21, 2009
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