Four evening news programs uncritically aired discredited claims Dick Cheney made suggesting that detainees provided information after -- and only after -- "enhanced interrogation techniques" were used.
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In May 21 reports on former Vice President Dick Cheney's speech that day at the American Enterprise Institute, the CBS Evening News, Fox News' Special Report, CNN's The Situation Room, and ABC's World News all uncritically aired discredited claims Cheney made suggesting that detainees provided information after "enhanced interrogation techniques" were used, and had not provided it before being subjected to those methods. As Media Matters for America has noted, former FBI agent Ali Soufan -- who interrogated Abu Zubaydah -- testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 13 about the success of standard interrogation methods, which he contrasted with "ineffective" harsh techniques.
The CBS Evening News and The Situation Room uncritically aired Cheney's claim of harsh interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration: "The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed."
Similarly, World News and Special Report uncritically aired Cheney's claim later in the speech that, with regard to "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a few others": "[W]ith 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." After airing the clip from Cheney's speech, Fox News' chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported that Cheney "said enhanced interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed and that they were legal, essential, justified, and successful."
Soufan stated in his written testimony that "the Informed Interrogation Approach outlined in the Army Field Manual is the most effective, reliable, and speedy approach we have for interrogating terrorists. It is legal and has worked time and again." He continued: "It was a mistake to abandon it in favor of harsh interrogation methods that are harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective, and play directly into the enemy's handbook."
Soufan pointed to "[t]he case of the terrorist Abu Zubaydah" as "a good example of where the success of the Informed Interrogation Approach can be contrasted with the failure of the harsh technique approach." Soufan then presented a "timeline" of the Zubaydah interrogation, which he said showed that "many of the claims made in the memos about the success of the enhanced techniques are inaccurate." He added: "For example, it is untrue to claim Abu Zubaydah wasn't cooperating before August 1, 2002. The truth is that we got actionable intelligence from him in the first hour of interrogating him."
Soufan also testified about other uses and successes of the informed interrogation approach. He stated that his interrogation of Osama bin Laden's former chief bodyguard, Nasser Ahmad Nasser al-Bahri, also known as Abu Jandal, was "done completely by the book (including advising him of his rights)" and that, from it, "we obtained a treasure trove of highly significant actionable intelligence."
From the May 21 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
BILL PLANTE (White House correspondent): Answering what he called the president's mischaracterization of his administration's war policy, former Vice President Cheney began by defending the use of harsh interrogation tactics.
CHENEY: The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed. They prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
PLANTE: Cheney argued that the proof of the strategy is in the result.
From the May 21 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
JONATHAN KARL (senior congressional correspondent): Cheney said the interrogations accomplished their one and only goal: getting specific information on terrorist plans.
CHENEY: Those are the basic facts on enhanced interrogation. To call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives and to cast terrorists and murders as innocent victims. What's more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness and would make the American people less safe.
KARL: Cheney offered an unapologetic defense of the CIA's most controversial tactic.
CHENEY: You've heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9-11, who's 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 Qaeda. We didn't know about Al Qaeda's plans, but Khalid Shaikh 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.
KARL: He was especially critical of President Obama's decision to release top-secret memos detailing the CIA's interrogation program.
From the May 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
DAN LOTHIAN (White House correspondent): Standing in front of a copy of the Constitution, President Obama delivered a defense for his national security policy, from banning so-called enhanced interrogations like waterboarding to closing the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
OBAMA: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantánamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.
LOTHIAN: While the president admitted some detainees could wind up in U.S. prisons, he tried to calm fears that it would put Americans at risk.
OBAMA: We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security.
LOTHIAN: But both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill want proof. They rejected funding to close Gitmo until more details about what will be done with all detainees are provided. In his speech, the president did not fill in all the blanks. But he did blame the Bush administration for creating a, quote, "mess."
OBAMA: Our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight. And all too often, our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.
LOTHIAN: In what felt like a Republican response, former Vice President Dick Cheney struck back in his own speech, defending harsh interrogation techniques.
CHENEY: The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do.
LOTHIAN: And criticizing the Obama administration for trying to close Gitmo without a plan.
From the May 21 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
ANGLE: President Obama argued that enhanced techniques were not necessary, were illegal, and did not work.
OBAMA: I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more.
CHENEY: You've heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists.
ANGLE: Including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the planner of 9-11. Cheney didn't flinch on enhanced interrogation, saying he was a strong proponent.
CHENEY: We didn't know about Al Qaeda's plans, but Khalid Shaikh 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.
ANGLE: He said enhanced interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed and that they were legal, essential, justified, and successful. But President Obama sees another effect.
OBAMA: They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America.