In the wake of the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” no one has been more vocal in the defense of the CIA’s actions than former Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney has repeatedly insisted that all acts committed during the program were justified, including those performed on innocent detainees like Gul Rahman, who was imprisoned due to a case of mistaken identity and died as a result of his treatment (p. 16, 54-55).
Cheney refuses to say such actions amounted to torture. When asked repeatedly on NBC’s Meet the Press what, if not the CIA’s techniques, would ever constitute torture, Cheney doggedly maintained that the only example of torture he knew of was what happened to Americans on 9/11.
Now, though, even some of Cheney’s former allies seem to be deserting him. On December 14, “torture memo” author and former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel John Yoo said some CIA officials could be “at risk legally” if the reports of extensive sleep deprivation and rectal feeding in the SSCI report are accurate. According to what he authorized, these things “were not supposed to be done.”
Former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo agrees: the CIA tortured detainees. In an interview with CNN, Rizzo confirmed that prolonged isolation and exposure to extreme cold “are abuses. I would characterize them as torture.” The latter is particularly relevant, given that the report detailed Rahman’s death after he spent the night shackled to a concrete wall wearing only a thin sweatshirt. An internal CIA autopsy suggested that Rahman likely died from hypothermia.
Both Rizzo and Yoo emphasized that these techniques were outside the scope of what Yoo’s controversial “torture memos” authorized, went well beyond the definition of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and constituted illegal torture. Given this, perhaps the CIA will want to investigate why its own interrogators went so far beyond what the CIA claims was legal and authorized, particularly given that the CIA station chief at the time of Rahman’s death was awarded $2500 for “consistently superior work” only a few months later.
One thing is clear, though: when even Rizzo and Yoo admit that the CIA’s interrogation techniques included illegal torture, it becomes a lot harder to keep defending the program. Unless, of course, you’re Dick Cheney.