Revolution #68, November 5, 2006


The Vice President for Torture Advocates Waterboarding

On October 24, in a interview in his White House office with right-wing talk show host Scott Hennen of the North Dakota radio station WDAY, Vice President Dick Cheney openly advocated a form of interrogation known as waterboarding. In waterboarding, a prisoner is brought to the brink of drowning. According to Human Rights Watch, “Waterboarding is intended to cause a victim to believe he is about to die, and is similar to a mock execution” and “There is no doubt that waterboarding is torture.” In fact, waterboarding does sometimes result in death by drowning.

At one point in the interview, Hennen asked, “I’ve had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we’re all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?” Cheney answered, “I do agree.” He pointed to the Military Commissions Act, recently passed by the Congress and signed into law by George Bush on Oct. 17, and said, “Are we going to allow the executive branch to have the authority granted and authorized by the Congress to be able to continue to collect the intelligence we need to defend the nation.”

Then there was this exchange:

Hennen: “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?”

Cheney: “It’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President ‘for torture.’ We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.

“And, thanks to the leadership of the President now, and the action of the Congress, we have that authority, and we are able to continue the program.”

Three days after this interview, White House press secretary Tony Snow faced an unusually combative series of questions from reporters at a press briefing about Cheney’s comments. After Snow said, “The Vice President says he was talking in general terms about a questioning program that is legal to save American lives, and he was not referring to waterboarding,” there was this back-and-forth between Snow and the press, according to official White House transcripts:

Q: What could “dunk in the water” refer to if not waterboarding?

Snow: I’m just telling you—I’m telling you the Vice President’s position. I will let you draw your own conclusions, because you clearly have. He says he wasn’t talking…

Q: I haven’t drawn any conclusions, I’m asking for an explanation about what “dunk in the water” could mean.

Snow: How about a dunk in the water?

Q: So, wait a minute, so “dunk in the water” means what, we have a pool now at Guantánamo, and they go swimming?…

The questioning goes on for several more minutes, with Snow continuing with his line of argument that 1) Cheney never used the word “waterboarding,” and 2) the U.S. doesn’t torture.

But Cheney was clearly talking about—and advocating for—the use of waterboarding and other torture. As the reporter at the press briefing pointed out, “What could ‘dunk in the water’ refer to if not waterboarding?”

And with the Military Commissions Act, the U.S.’s global program of torture has now been legitimized and legalized [see “The Facts About the Military Commissions Act (Torture Law) in Revolution #64, online at]. While banning certain forms of torture, this law leaves other kinds of torture unmentioned and legal—including sleep deprivation, exposure to dangerously cold temperatures, and waterboarding. In the Orwellian language of the Bush regime and those around them, such brutal methods are part of what they call a “robust interrogation program.”

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