Former Vice President Dick Cheney is making waves with his new memoir In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir. Many people, including Colin Powell, have lashed out at some of the “outlandish” statements in the book as well as the statements he has made on national television in defense of his book.
On Tuesday, Cheney sat down with the Today Show's Matt Lauer to discuss the criticism that’s been thrown his way. Lauer said he wanted to discuss Cheney’s term in office, when he was called everything one could imagine, from shrewd to divisive.
“You left out Darth Vader,” Cheney joked.
He continued by saying that his critics “extracted a pound of flesh” due to his advocacy of “controversial policies in order to keep the country safe.”
One of those controversial policies is waterboarding. Cheney insists that those techniques, which many deem as torture, were essential in keeping Americans safe. He said he has “no regrets” in use of the technique and in hindsight, he said, would still approve its use.
“It’s important for us not to get caught up in the notion that you can only have popular methods of interrogation if you want to run an effective counter-terrorism program,” Cheney said. “The fact is it worked. We learned valuable, valuable information from that process and we kept the country safe for over seven years.”
He also says that waterboarding is acceptable because the technique was used on people who “were not American citizens.”
Not everyone agrees. “Mr. Cheney disgraced this country and continues to disgrace himself,” the Rev. Rich Killmer, executive director of National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said in a statement.
“If it’s wrong to do it to Americans," he told The Christian Post, "why wouldn’t it be wrong to do it to people from other parts of the world? [Cheney] doesn’t understand that torture is always wrong, no matter who you are using it against.”
Killmer brings up the fact that the United States convicted members of the Japanese military after World War II for using waterboarding, a technique that was explicitly referred to as torture by the U.S. government.
After the war, Lt. Chase Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Force officers who flew the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, went on trial testifying against his captors. Many other servicemen did as well and had similar testimonies.
"I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure," Nielsen stated, according to tribunal records. He was asked what it felt like and responded, "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death."
This was far from the first time the U.S. government convicted military personnel of torture in the form of water. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the "water cure" to question Filipino guerrillas.
Evan Wallach, a judge for the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, writes in The Washington Post: “We know that U.S. military tribunals and U.S. judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That's a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is – as well as what it ought to be.”
So, many ask, why has the U.S. government done an about-face on the definition and legality of waterboarding?
Killmer says Cheney went directly to the Office of Legal Council, which advices the President, in order to “come up with a new definition of what is in fact legal.”
“To change the definition of what is against the law is absolutely wrong and is a serious offense." he said. "[I am] concerned because no one should be above the law. Cheney is granted impunity. And that’s contrary to what America stands for.”
Still, Cheney argues that these techniques gathered valuable information to safeguard America.
Daniel Goure, vice president of Lexington Institute, says there is no evidence of this claim.
“At the time it was used, back in 2003 and 2004, it provided no direct information to Osama and other high ranking terrorist’s capture or death. It did provide initial leads that eventually allowed us to get them, particularly Osama. But would we have gotten to the same endpoint had we used a different technique? Possibly.”
Goure says only three to four people were ever waterboarded. "This fact points to the idea that waterboarding was not considered so critical or useful to national security that made its widespread use valuable or necessary,” he said. “If this is the case, you have to wonder if it’s worth it at all.”