Friday, December 19, 2008

Cheney faces 'torture' criticism

Cheney faces 'torture' criticism

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A senior US Democrat has condemned Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, for his defence of waterboarding "terror" suspects, saying the abuse amounted to torture and warning there could be prosecutions over the issue under a new administration.

Cheney on Monday told ABC News he was aware and had supported the use of waterboarding on detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

But Carl Levin, senator for Michigan and chairman of senate armed services committee, told NBC when asked if Cheney had essentially admitted condoning torture that "as far as I'm concerned that's exactly what he admitted".

"He'll say that he doesn't admit supporting torture but facts are that [these are] the policies which were approved," he said.

"I think every authority on waterboarding and torture will say that waterboarding constitutes torture."

Waterboarding is a controversial interrogation technique used to make a detainee feel as if he or she is drowning.

Last week, a report by the US senate armed services committee involving both Republicans and Democrats said the abuse of detainees in Guantanamo Bay "cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own".

'Clearing process'

Cheney admitted on Monday he was aware that waterboarding was used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

Asked if he thought, in hindsight, any of the tactics went too far, Cheney said: "I don't."

"I was aware of the programme, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," he said.

"And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."

Legal assertions

However, Levin also said he strongly disagreed with Cheney's assertions that the justice department had provided legal justification for waterboarding.

"You can't suddenly change something that's illegal into something that is legal by having a lawyer write an opinion saying it's legal," Levin said later.

"It is not a defence and I was astounded, frankly, when I heard the vice-president of the US sort of just blandly and blithely saying he felt it was an appropriate thing and, yes, he was involved in discussions about it."

Levin also said he hoped that an independent commission appointed by the administration of Barack Obama, the US president-elect, would examine the possible role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and instigate investigations which "which may or may not lead to indictments or civil action".

More than 200 detainees remain at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, which has been widely condemned by international human rights groups.

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