Dick Cheney endorses Gina Haspel to head the CIA, wants to make torture great again

"There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks in the terrorism business," the former VP says on Fox Business

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published May 10, 2018 2:20PM (EDT)

Dick Cheney (Getty/Money Sharma)
Dick Cheney (Getty/Money Sharma)

Vice President Dick Cheney threw his full support behind Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's embattled nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, claiming the veteran spy would "be a great director" while also calling for a continuation of the torture programs she once oversaw.

"If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs," Cheney said of the George W. Bush administration's controversial use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks during an appearance on the Fox Business network on Thursday. "I would have them active – and ready to go."

Trump's nominee Haspel — who, if confirmed, would become the first female director of the nation's top intelligence agency — faces scrutiny and uncertainty due to her past history with torture. Following 9/11, Haspel ran a secret CIA "black site" in Thailand where advanced interrogation techniques, waterboarding among them, were used on terror suspects. Haspel was later involved in the destruction of videotapes documenting the agency's handling of suspected terrorists.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is the Senate body's lone survivor of torture, came out publicly in opposition to Haspel on Wednesday, arguing that she had failed to both clarify her involvement in the Bush administration's enhanced interrogation program and address "the mistakes" the U.S. made in torturing detainees post-9/11 during her hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked. I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm," McCain declared. "I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But, as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world."

As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain was tortured by being held in solitary confinement and being beaten regularly while suffering from inadequate medical attention. Despite being physically in Arizona as he battles an advanced form of brain cancer, an ailing McCain issued his blunt statement on Wednesday. The senator is not expected to return to Washington to cast a vote, according to multiple reports.

And it was on the heels of McCain's rebuke that Haspel's use of torture was also praised by Cheney, who himself is a proud architect of the Bush administration's implementation of torture. At the time, Cheney believed it was the right thing to do – and he would not hesitate to make it great again, to borrow from Trump's campaign slogan.

"She's got a distinguished career in the clandestine service. She's done difficult jobs and done them very well," Cheney said, seemingly alluding to Haspel's time in Thailand. "I think the Democrats are trying to find some way to vote against her, but it's hard."

Cheney holds his own military prowess and opinions on torture in high regard – despite the fact that he, unlike McCain, dodged the draft five times.

As the New York times reported:

It was 1959 when Dick Cheney, then a student at Yale University, turned 18 and became eligible for the draft. Eventually, like 16 million other young men of that era, Mr. Cheney sought deferments. By the time he turned 26 in January 1967 and was no longer eligible for the draft, he had asked for and received five deferments, four because he was a student and one for being a new father.

For what it's worth, Cheney offered a prophecy to Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, predicting that Haspel would ultimately be confirmed.

"There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks in the terrorism business," the former VP lamented to Bartiromo. But one thing Cheney cannot do is change the past – in spite of the revisionist historical narrative he offered Bartiromo.

"They got the intelligence they needed, and we were safe from many further mass casualty attacks in the seven-and-a-half years on our watch," Cheney told the Fox star before bemoaning that "now, people want to go back and try to re-write history."

"You tell me that the only method we have is, 'Please, please, pretty please, tell us what you know.' Well, I don't buy that," he continued. "And I think the techniques we used were not torture. A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn't deemed torture at the time."

Yet an exhaustive 554-page report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released in 2014 concluded the opposite, and the upper chamber of Congress later approved an historic amendment barring the government from interrogating prisoners by means of torture. Former President Barack Obama added his signature to the anti-torture law in November 2015; McCain was a co-sponsor.

"The CIA's use of torture after 9/11 not only undermined our core values as a nation, it did not make us safer," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who co-wrote the amendment to the annual defense authorization bill with McCain, said in a statement at the time. "It wasted valuable time and money, created rifts with our allies and was used as a recruitment tool by terrorists."

Cheney and Haspel have a similar moral compass, it seems: On Wednesday, Haspel demurred to answer Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) simple "yes or no" question: Is torture immoral?

"I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools,” Haspel responded during the testy exchange.

Watch Cheney's full interview with Bartiromo here:




By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

MORE FROM Joseph Neese

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Dianne Feinstein Dick Cheney Fox Business Gina Haspel John Mccain Maria Bartiromo Torture