Cheney Spinning His Way Out the Door (on Gitmo and Torture)

In his first–dare we say it?–farewell interview, Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl that he’d like to keep Guantanamo open until the “end of the war with terror.” How long will that be? “Well, nobody knows,” the veep said. To defend his hold-’em-forever stand, Cheney referred to the much-repeated claim that many of those released from Guantanamo have returned to terrorism. He said:

We’ve had, as I recall now–and these are rough numbers, I’d want to check it–but, say, approximately 30 of these folks who’ve been held in Guantanamo, been released, and ended up back on the battlefield again, and we’ve encountered them a second time around. They’ve either been killed or captured in further conflicts with our forces.

This figure of 30 back-to-the-battlefied Gitmo vets has been used by the administration and its supporters for some time now. One problem: it seems to be hype.

Last year, researchers at Seton Hall University School of Law researched this contention, examining the extensive records covering those who have been released from Guantanamo, and they found that the data did not support this claim:

The Department of Defense has publicly insisted that “just short of thirty” former Guantánamo detainees have “returned” to the battlefield, where they have been re-captured or killed, but to date the Department has described at most fifteen (15) possible recidivists, and has identified only seven (7) of these individuals by name. According to the data provided by the Department of Defense:

• at least eight (8) of the fifteen (15) individuals alleged by the Government to have returned to the fight” are accused of nothing more than speaking critically of the Government’s detention policies;

• ten (10) of the individuals have neither been re-captured nor killed by anyone;

• and of the five (5) individuals who are alleged to have been re-captured or killed, the names of two (2) do not appear on the list of individuals who have at any time been detained at Guantánamo, and the remaining three (3) include one (1) individual who was killed in an apartment complex in Russia by local authorities and one (1) who is not listed among former Guantánamo detainees but who, after his death, has been alleged to have been detained under a different name.

Thus, the data provided by the Department of Defense indicates that every public statement made by Department of Defense officials regarding the number of detainees who have been released and thereafter killed or re-captured on the battlefield was false.

That did not stop Cheney.

Also in the interview, Cheney exclaimed, “We do not torture.” Yet Cheney acknowledged that he believes that waterboarding is “appropriate.” Cheney must not accept the definition of torture put forth by national intelligence director Mike McConnell: “Is it excruciatingly painful to the point of forcing someone to say something because of the pain?” McConnell also noted, “If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful. Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.” Cheney apparently is made of sterner stuff.

As for regrets, he said, “Oh, not a lot, at this stage…I think we’ve done pretty well.”


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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.