Key figures in the George W. Bush administration and an architect of the CIA's post-9/11 torture program are defending the so-called enhanced interrogation tactics in the wake of the Senate Intelligence Committee's bombshell report.
The 500-page report summary released Tuesday sheds light on gruesome tactics used by CIA interrogators on terror suspects who were captured and brought to secret locations outside U.S. jurisdiction. Some detainees were subject to a practice known as "rectal feeding," in which food is pumped into an individual through the anus. Others were waterboarded until they were close to drowning. Interrogators deprived detainees sleep, forced them to maintain "stress positions" and in one instance reportedly played Russian roulette with a detainee, according to the summary.
The report also deflates the argument that torture helped find Osama bin Laden and led to the capture of other terror suspects. At times, the report found, interrogation prompted detainees to give fabricated or inaccurate information.
Shortly before the report's release, The New York Times' Peter Baker reported that former Bush officials had decided to "link arms" against the report and its findings. They appear to have maintained that strategy since the report's release, in spite of its grisly findings.
"The report's full of crap, excuse me," former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News' Brett Baier in a Wednesday interview. “What happened here was that we asked the agency to go take steps and put in place programs that were designed to catch the bastards that killed 3,000 of us on 9/11 and make sure that didn’t happen again. And that's exactly what they did and they deserve a lot of credit, not the condemnation that they’re receiving from the Senate Democrats."
Cheney specifically disputed the claim that Bush was kept in the dark about interrogation practices.
"I think he knew certainly the techniques, we did discuss the techniques, there was no effort on our part to keep him from that," Cheney said. "That the president wasn’t being told is just a flat-out lie."
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who helmed the agency at the end of Bush's second term, maintained that he "didn't mislead Congress" about the brutal tactics used by interrogators.
"I don't know that the report that was released yesterday is that historically accurate," Hayden said in an interview with NBC. "It reads like a prosecutorial screed rather than a historical document."
Later, appearing on CNN, Hayden sought to explain the practice of rectal rehydration.
"It's a medical procedure is what it is." Hayden told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I'm learning about this somewhat too, because as you know, almost all of this took place before I became director. But I have learned that in some instances, one way that you can get nourishment into a person is through this procedure as opposed to intravenous feeding, which of course involves needles and a whole bunch of other dangerous things."
Hayden compared the practice to force-feeding detainees at Guantanamo -- which he acknowledged is not performed rectally.
In a Wednesday Wall Street Journal op-ed, Hayden joined fellow former CIA directors George Tenet and Porter Goss (in addition to other former agency officials) in defense of the program, crediting the "aggressive" policies with saving American lives.
"The al Qaeda leadership has not managed another attack on the homeland in the 13 years since, despite a strong desire to do so," they wrote. "The CIA’s aggressive counterterrorism policies and programs are responsible for that success."
John Yoo, who served as a senior Justice Department attorney after 9/11 and gave legal justification for the interrogation program, also stepped up to defend the efficacy of torture in obtaining information -- a talking point disputed in the Senate torture report and elsewhere.
"A President charged with this responsibility cannot wait weeks, months, or never; he must obtain intelligence as soon as possible to stop the next attack. Under these emergency conditions, a chief executive would reasonably give the green light to limited, but aggressive interrogation methods that did not cause any long-term or permanent injury," Yoo wrote in Time.
The Senate report directly contradicts that statement, noting that one detainee died of hypothermia after being chained to a concrete floor.
"The Feinstein report cannot deny that most Americans agree President Bush acted reasonably under these emergency conditions," Yoo continued. "And the [Senate] report cannot deny the record of success."
Also coming to the CIA's defense is James E. Mitchell, one of two psychologists who were paid $81 million by the agency to advise and help implement the interrogation practices. Mitchell accused the Senate committee of cherry-picking evidence to make its case against torture.
"It's flat wrong," he told The Associated Press of the report's claim that he had no special knowledge of al Qaeda and no experience in interrogation.
"I completely understand why the human rights organizations in the United States are upset by the Senate report," Mitchell said. "I would be upset by it too, if it were true."