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Cheney: Justice review of interrogation methods is political

  • Story Highlights
  • "A terrible decision" former vice president says of reviewing interrogations
  • Cheney believes probe will make CIA less effective in carrying out operations
  • Sen. John McCain says he opposes any further review of past interrogations
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(CNN) -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview broadcast Sunday that the Justice Department's decision to review waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques is politically motivated.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the review of interrogation methods.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the review of interrogation methods.

Cheney said he opposes the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to ask a former prosecutor to review CIA interrogations of high-profile terrorism suspects.

Cheney made clear he believes President Obama directed Holder to launch the review because the president is feeling pressure from left-wing Democrats. Cheney said the review will undermine the willingness of CIA personnel to conduct necessary operations.

"I think it's a terrible decision," Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's clearly a political move. There's no other rationale for why they're doing this." Video Watch senators spar over CIA probe »

He criticized Obama for allowing a review considering the president previously said that CIA operatives involved in the interrogations would not be prosecuted. "I think he's trying to duck responsibility for what's going on here, and I think it's wrong," Cheney said.

Holder has said the Justice Department would not prosecute intelligence officers that followed legal guidance from the administration "in good faith."

Cheney also addressed the separate announcement last week that President Obama had ordered a special interrogation unit to be housed within the FBI.

Cheney called that idea "silly."

"I think it's a direct slap at the CIA," Cheney said. "I don't think it will work. I think that if they were faced with the kind of situation we were faced with in the aftermath of 9/11, suddenly capturing people that may have knowledge about imminent attacks, and they're going to have to have meetings and decide who gets to ask what question and who's going to Mirandize the witness -- I just -- I think it's -- it's silly.

"It makes no sense. It's not -- doesn't appear to be a serious move in terms of being able to deal with the nation's security," Cheney said.

Also last week, a 2004 inspector general's report revealed interrogation methods, including U.S. interrogators threatening a captured al Qaeda operative with a power drill and an instance in which another threatened to kill a high-profile captive's children.

The report, released as a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, outlined the use of multiple unauthorized interrogation methods on suspected terrorists, including threats, "blowing cigar smoke, employing certain stress positions, the use of a stiff brush on a detainee, and stepping on a detainee's ankle shackles."

Critics say some of the techniques that had been authorized -- such as the use of waterboarding -- violated international law.

A primary question is whether the techniques led to suspects providing valuable information that prevented further terror attacks. No evidence citing a direct link has emerged. But Cheney said in the Sunday interview that the evidence was clear -- there has not been another attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

"I think the evidence is overwhelming that the enhanced interrogation techniques persuaded them to cooperate," Cheney said. "How do you explain that? The critics don't have any solution for that. They criticize our policy, our way of doing business, but the results speak for themselves."

Cheney said the interrogation techniques "were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives, in preventing further attacks against the United States, in giving us the intelligence we needed to go find al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed."

The former vice president also said in the interview that he had approved waterboarding as a policy but was unaware of its use on specific individuals.

"I knew about the waterboarding, not specifically in any one case but as a policy we approved," he said.

Cheney said he knew of a case cited in the newly released reports of a suspect being threatened with a gun and an electric drill.

"The fact of the matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago," Cheney said. "They looked at this question of whether or not somebody had an electric drill in an interrogation session. It was never used on the individual -- or that they had brought in a weapon, never used on the individual."

Although Holder said last week that the Justice Department would not prosecute intelligence officers that followed legal guidance from the administration, he also said that he has asked federal prosecutor John Durham to lead a preliminary investigation into the interrogations.

Durham was appointed in 2008 by Holder's predecessor, Michael Mukasey, to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.

The interrogations took place in the CIA's secret prisons before 2006, when former President Bush moved all detainees from such facilities to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

The Bush administration has acknowledged that it authorized enhanced interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists, arguing they produced valuable intelligence without violating U.S. laws banning torture.

On Sunday, Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said he disagreed with Cheney.

Holder is acting independent of the president, Kerry said on ABC's The Week.

Holder's decision "shows that we have an attorney general who is not pursuing a political agenda but who is doing what he believes the law requires him to do and we have an administration on the other hand that is balancing some of those other interests," Kerry said.

Also weighing in on Sunday was Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who spent more than five years in captivity and was tortured as a POW in Vietnam.

McCain said he opposes further review of past interrogations.

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But the senator and 2008 Presidential candidate also noted on the CBS program "Face the Nation" that the enhanced interrogation techniques violated the Geneva Convention against torture and other methods could be used to obtain the same information. The use of enhanced interrogation techniques also had harmed America's image, McCain said.

"If you inflict enough pain on anyone, they'll tell you anything to make the pain stop. So you not only get perhaps right information but you also get a lot of wrong information," McCain said. "The damage that it did to America's image in the world is something we're still on the way to repairing. This is an ideological struggle as well as a physical one."

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