WASHINGTON (AFP) – Defenders and critics of the CIA clashed over the release of a US report that revealed harrowing details of America’s torture of “war on terror” detainees, and opened fresh political wounds.
The US Senate report released last week said the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects, including beatings, rectal rehydration, and sleep deprivation, was far more brutal than acknowledged – and did not produce useful intelligence.
Former US vice president Dick Cheney on Sunday vehemently defended the programme, lauding the CIA operatives who ran it as heroes.
“I’m perfectly comfortable that they should be praised, they should be decorated,” the right-hand man to former president George W Bush told NBC television’s “Meet the Press” programme.
“I’d do it again in a minute,” Cheney said.
But one of the fiercest critics of the use of torture, US Senator John McCain, who himself suffered grievous mistreatment at the hands of his captors during the Vietnam War, was adamant that the detainees’ treatment was wrong.
“There were violations of the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners,” the Republican senator told CBS television’s “Face the Nation” programme.
Senate Democrats last week released the long-awaited investigation into detention and interrogation practices at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and at secret detention facilities – so-called “black sites” – where detainees were secretly held at locations worldwide.
Cheney insisted there was “no comparison” between the tactics and the deaths of American citizens on September 11, 2001, adding that the CIA “very carefully avoided” the practice of torture.
“Torture is what the al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Cheney said.
But others, including many Democrats, said the agency deliberately misled the public about the severity and extent about what they euphemistically called its “enhanced interrogation programme.”
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said the US public, lawmakers and other top US officials were all kept in the dark about the true nature of the programme.
“We spent a lot of time looking into it and were told, this is a very minor thing,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” programme.
“You know, you just touch them with the waterboard and they confess,” he said, describing how the intelligence agency soft-pedaled what it was doing.
Another Democrat, Ron Wyden, senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it may be time to fire CIA Director John Brennan, who last week delivered an unprecedented speech defending the agency’s conduct.
The CIA, Wyden said, is afflicted with a “culture of denial,” and expressed concern that the discredited interrogation methods could come into use again unless those who tolerated them are purged.