- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dick Cheney as vice president conducted secret briefings for lawmakers in 2005 aimed at defending harsh interrogations as their methods were coming under congressional scrutiny, according to current and former government officials.

The secret briefings followed the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and public revelations about the CIA’s rendition and interrogation program, current and former officials with ties to Congress and government intelligence told The Associated Press.

One official with direct knowledge of a March 8, 2005, meeting on the CIA’s interrogation program said the briefing was run by Cheney in the situation room at the White House, a secure meeting room. The official said CIA officers were on hand to provide details.

The official said it was not unusual for Cheney to lead such briefings, as he was an aggressive champion of Bush administration national security policies and periodically conducted or sat in on meetings with members of Congress at the White House. The official asked not to be identified because the meeting was secret.

Another Cheney briefing occurred in October 2005 for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., around the time he had won overwhelming Senate support for banning cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment for all U.S. prisoners, The Washington Post reported in its Wednesday editions. Two other briefings took place in October and November 2005, according to the Post.

The briefings add to questions about the role Cheney played in the creation, approval and conduct of the CIA’s interrogation program, either directly or through his powerful chief of staff, David Addington.

The Cheney briefings were among 40 conducted for members of Congress by Bush administration officials between 2002 and 2009.

The CIA detailed the briefings on a chart created in May at the request of members of Congress after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that the CIA failed to tell her at a September 2002 briefing that waterboarding had been used against a prisoner. That briefing occurred within weeks of the waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah.

Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning that President Barack Obama says is torture. It was used against three alleged terrorists by the CIA in 2002 and 2003.

Cheney personally signed off on the CIA’s interrogation program in 2002 as part of the National Security Council. He defended the program again this week, saying that it was the CIA’s idea but that he supported it.

“We all approved it. I’m a strong believer in it. I think it was the right thing to do,” Cheney said.

Republican members of Congress argue that Democrats knew about waterboarding as it was going on and did little to stop it, and say they should not now be criticizing the CIA for it.

The identities of the briefers were left off the descriptions of seven of the meetings. The names of those briefers were “not available,” according to the charts.

CIA officials said the charts, which were leaked to the news media, were drawn from meeting notes and recollections and that is why the records are sometimes incomplete or faulty.

At least one of the seven briefings where the briefer is listed as “not available” was conducted by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden, according to a former intelligence official. Hayden is identified by title on the chart as conducting seven other briefings, with specific details on what he said in four of them.

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