Politics Behind CIA Probe, Cheney Says

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News Sunday that the Obama administration's decision to investigate CIA interrogators is "outrageous" and politically motivated. Host Guy Raz recaps with New York Times reporter Scott Shane.

GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, jumped back into the debate over allegations of CIA torture today, accusing the Obama administration of playing politics in its decision to launch an investigation.

Mr. DICK CHENEY (Former Vice President): It's clearly a political move. I mean, there's no other rationale for why they're doing this.

RAZ: In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Cheney also confirmed what a number of news organizations have reported.

Mr. CHENEY: I knew about the waterboarding, not specifically in any one particular case but as a general policy that we had approved.

RAZ: President Obama has called waterboarding torture. But Cheney said what he calls enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Scott Shane, the New York Times reporter who helped uncover much of what we know about the treatment of detainees is with us now.

Welcome to the show.

Mr. SCOTT SHANE (Reporter, New York Times): Thanks so much.

RAZ: Cheney argued that this pending investigation into claims of detainee abuse will keep current and future CIA officers from taking risks in gathering intelligence. Is that fair?

Mr. SHANE: Well, I mean, he's certainly entitled to make that point. There is an awful lot of unhappiness at CIA over the prospect of possibly a long-running investigation into the interrogation techniques, but in fact, there were quite a few people at the CIA who thought the use of these techniques, which many call torture, was a bad idea in the first place. And of course, they blame Mr. Cheney and the Bush administration for taking the agency down that road in the first place.

RAZ: Scott, I want to play a bit of that interview with Fox's Chris Wallace. In this clip, we'll hear the former vice president describe two well-known detainees who were captured after 9/11.

(Soundbite of TV program "Fox News Sunday")

Mr. CHENEY: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided the overwhelming majority of reports on al-Qaida. In fact, they were (unintelligible) as pivotal in the war against al-Qaida that both of them were uncooperative at first that the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically waterboarding, especially in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is what really persuaded him. He needed to cooperate.

RAZ: Scott, is that accurate based on the documents you've seen and the reporting you've done?

Mr. SHANE: Well, I think there is no question there is quite a broad consensus that these two provided extremely valuable information that did help the CIA to dismantle the leadership of al-Qaida and certainly reduce the chance of a repeat of 9/11. But as the details have emerged from these interrogations, it's become clear that Abu Zubaydah in particular gave up some of his most important information, including the role of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the 9/11 plot, before they used any enhanced, so-called, interrogation methods and gave up little or nothing after he was waterboarded.

And with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the waterboarding appears to have begun not long after his capture. So, while it's certainly true that he gave up a huge amount of information and became almost a sort of tutor to the CIA about how al-Qaida worked, whether that would have taken place with other traditional interrogation methods or not is very difficult to say.

RAZ: Are you surprised to hear the former vice president say these things so clearly, you know, particularly when many reporters like you probably suspected that he felt this way or he knew certain things?

Mr. SHANE: Well, it's been interesting to see Mr. Cheney, who, of course, was sort of notorious for protecting government secrets during his eight years as vice president, come out in such a public way and in fact join some of the rest of us in seeking to have certain documents declassified so that they can be made public about these activities.

One thing that his interviews have played down is that there was quite a split within the Bush administration. He defends waterboarding as absolutely necessary to keep the country safe, but the last waterboarding occurred in March, 2003. And it was actually the Bush administration that re-thought that policy and that dropped waterboarding almost six years before Mr. Cheney left office.

RAZ: Scott Shane covers intelligence for the New York Times. He spoke with us from his home in Baltimore.

Scott Shane, thank you.

Mr. SHANE: Thank you.

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