The Cable

Cheney: We waterboarded U.S. soldiers, so it’s not torture

Former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Friday morning that the waterboarding of terror suspects did not amount to torture because the same techniques had been used on U.S. soldiers during training.

"The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true," Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. "Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us."

"Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that we used were all previously used on Americans," Cheney went on. "All of them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the military. So there wasn't any technique that we used on any al Qaeda individual that hadn't been used on our own troops first, just to give you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing' the people we captured."

Of course, there are some differences between the waterboarding of troops as part of their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training and the waterboarding of suspected al Qaeda prisoners. For example, the troops in training are not subjected to the practice 183 times, as KSM was. Also, the soldiers presumably know their training will end, and they won't be allowed to actually drown or left to rot in some dark, anonymous prison.

Some in Cheney's party, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), believe that waterboarding is torture. Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism consultant for the U.S. government and a former SERE instructor, has argued repeatedly that waterboarding is torture and called for prohibiting its use on prisoners.

"Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten[ed] with its use again and again," he said.

Cheney said the George W. Bush administration had received approval for the "enhanced interrogation program" from all nine congressional leaders who had been briefed on its details: this included the leaders of both intelligence committees, the leaders of both parties, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

When asked if they thought the program should be continued, they all said, "Absolutely," Cheney said. And when asked if the Bush administration should seek additional congressional approval for the program, the nine Congressional leaders unanimously told him, "Absolutely not," according to Cheney's account.

Cheney also said the Bush administration's interrogation policies were partially responsible for recent successes in the fight against al Qaeda, includig the killing of Osama bin Laden.

"I'd make the case we've been successful in part because of the intelligence we have, because of what we've learned from men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, back when he was subjected [to enhanced interrogation]," he said.

In the one-hour discussion at AEI with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, Cheney also talked about huddling with his wife and daughter at Camp David on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Camp David was the "secure, undisclosed location" that the Secret Service rushed Cheney to just after the attacks. Other top administration officials met him there over the follow days.

When asked if he ever broke down and cried in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as had President George W. Bush and other top officials, Cheney said, "Not really," and then grinned sheepishly as the crowd giggled.

"You understand that people will find that peculiar," Hayes noted.

"It wasn't that it wasn't a deeply moving event," Cheney responded. "The training just sort of kicked in, in terms of what we had to do that morning and into the next day."

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Berman: Ros-Lehtinen's bill to 'eviscerate' U.N. is 'radical'

In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's proposal to drastically reform the United Nations and cut U.S. contributions to the organization was ill-advised and probably dead on arrival.

"I cannot see this legislation becoming law. I think there are some radical proposals here," he said. "I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.'s actions and I share her frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you will still get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good things they are doing."

Ros-Lehtinen's bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't get 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United States to cut its contribution by 50 percent.

The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented, and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for examining U.S. contributions to the United Nations.

The United Nations has been a target of Ros-Lehtinen and the GOP House leadership since they took power early this year. In Ros-Lehtinen's State Department authorization bill, which was debated last month, her committee voted to cut off foreign assistance to any country that did not support U.S. positions at the United Nations. Berman called the debate over that bill a "series of tantrums."

Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, defended U.S. spending at the U.N. on Wednesday in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

"In short, U.S. engagement with the U.N. has never been more critical or more beneficial to our nation. We cannot turn back the clock to a time when the world was simpler and less interconnected, and multilateral engagement was less essential to core U.S. interests," she said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Foundation, an NGO that advocates on behalf of the United Nations, has created an entire initiative to fight Ros-Lehtinen's proposal.

"Last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced anti-UN legislation (H.R. 2829) in Congress that would threaten vital funding to the UN and forfeit American leadership at the United Nations. In response to such a drastic measure, the Better World Campaign announced today the launch of Let U.S. Lead ( in opposition to H.R. 2829," reads a U.N. Foundation press release issued on Thursday.

The Better World Campaign is a project of the Better World Fund, which is affiliated with the U.N. Foundation. Both the fund and the foundation are supported by former CNN head and philanthropist Ted Turner.

"The U.N. is playing a greater role in promoting American interests than ever before and we strongly oppose H.R. 2829, which threatens America's leadership role at the United Nations and undermines our national security," said Peter Yeo, executive director of the Better World Campaign and vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation.

The campaign is an effort to educate the public and encourage opposition to Ros-Lehtinen's bill. It includes a petition against the bill and provides information on the issues raised in the legislation.

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