WASHINGTON — CIA interrogators were justified in exceeding even the broad authorizations the Justice Department gave them to handle terrorist suspects, former Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview for broadcast Sunday, suggesting that any aggressive tactic was justified in the goal of preventing another terrorist attack.
A CIA inspector general's report released Monday documented how interrogators menaced "high-value" detainees with a gun and a power drill, threatened their families and used other methods that went beyond even the permissive interrogation rules set by the Bush administration Justice Department.
Cheney, who strongly opposes the Obama administration's new probe into alleged detainee abuse, was asked in the Fox News interview whether he was "OK" with interrogations that went beyond Justice's specific legal authorization.
"I am," the former vice president replied.
"My sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks," he said. "It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well."
"Enhanced interrogation techniques" refers to waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and nine other tactics — some of which are considered torture.
Cheney said in the interview with Fox's Chris Wallace, according to a transcript, that he was aware of the waterboarding, "not specifically in any one particular case, but as a general policy that we had approved."
Cheney was a leading advocate in the Bush administration of the tactics, and since leaving office he has emerged as the chief public defender of President George W. Bush's national security legacy.
He called the new investigation ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder "very, very devastating" to morale at the CIA, noting that the cases of alleged abuse were reviewed several years ago by federal prosecutors, who chose not to proceed with cases.
Cheney also said that Obama, who declared at the beginning of his term that he wanted to avoid revisiting Bush-era policies, should've been more involved with Holder's decision. The White House has said the probe, a preliminary review, was properly an independent decision made by Holder.
"The president of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer in the land," Cheney said. "I think he's trying to duck the responsibility for what's going on here. And I think it's wrong."
In a related development, the Justice Department was scheduled Monday to respond to the America Civil Liberties Union's request for a new batch of about 270 war on terror-related documents, including a Sept. 17, 2001, presidential directive authorizing the CIA to set up secret prisons.
On Friday, Justice Department lawyers told the ACLU that it didn't plan to release the documents, but instead would be filing a justification for withholding them.
On another topic, Cheney acknowledged that he was "a bigger advocate of military action" to arrest Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program than his Bush administration colleagues. "It was not my decision to make," he said.
(Marisa Taylor contributed to this article.)
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