A Close Reading Of Cheney

Time's Michael Scherer has a close reading/analysis of former Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that the newly released CIA documents on intelligence gained from captured detainees--those Cheney called on the Obama administration to release--vindicates his approval of and continued support for enhanced interrogations. As Scherer points out, Cheney doesn't actually say that enhanced interrogations themselves saved lives...which might be because the documents don't actually mention enhanced interrogations, at least in their redacted forms.

The documents--entitled "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al-Qa'ida" and "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad: A Preeminent Source On Al-Qa'ida"--make it clear that high-value detainees like Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah gave up lots of information on the organizational structure of al-Qaeda as well as some actual plots, and led to the capture of more al-Qaeda operatives later.

But there's no mention of how enhanced interrogations aided or hurt the collection of reliable information. The documents are heavily redacted in parts, some of which probably deal with enhanced interrogations, like the first document's section on "Challenges to Detainee Reporting" and the sub-head "Refusing to Budge on Certain Topics."

But we don't know if they do--and, more importantly, we don't know what these passages might say about enhanced interrogations.

The document on gained intelligence raises questions about reliability of detainee information. It also holds in high regard the "building block" process, wherein detainees are confronted with information from other detainees and interrogators use that to leverage more information and build reliable intelligence.

We have to assume Zubaydah and Muhammad were under the enhanced interrogation program when they gave up some of this useful information. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who interrogated Zubaydah before the enhanced interrogation program was authorized by President Bush's Department of Justice, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that Zubayhdah was cooperating just fine before that program was instituted. Muhammad, who was captured after the program's authorization, told agents of his role in the Heathrow airport plot "almost immediately" after his capture (and possibly before being waterboarded), though probably because he thought another detainee had already told the CIA about it, according to the documents.

It's possible the blacked-out portions of the documents raise the same questions about reliability that have been raised by critics of waterboarding; it's also possible they say enhanced interrogations were key to getting the ball rolling on the non-physical "building block" technique.

Scherer leaves readers with a question: does Cheney now want the redacted parts of these documents released to the public--the ones that deal directly with his claims about enhanced interrogation? His statement on the matter leaves it unclear.