Cheney Spin On CIA Memos Befuddles Politico

August 25, 2009 9:16 a.m.

If we’re going to have a discussion about torture and the CIA memos — and it’s not at all clear that we are — it’s worth reporting the positions of the interlocutors accurately.

Unfortunately, Politico today fell into a semantic trap set by Dick Cheney in his response to the declassification of the memos, which Cheney himself had sought.

Here’s what Cheney said in a statement:“The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda.”

The key here is Cheney’s failure to connect the use of the so-called EITs to the extraction of the “bulk of intelligence.” The distinction amounts to a walk back of Cheney’s position all along — that interrogators culled valuable intel using the techniques. That the detainees in question provided intelligence is not in dispute.

But the third paragraph of Mike Allen’s story today elides the semantic game Cheney is playing:

Cheney maintains that records released this week show that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques “provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about Al Qaeda” after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Curiously, the story later quotes Cheney’s statement in full. And curiouser still, it relies on a “Democratic official” to dispute Cheney’s (non)claim that the docs show the EITs were effective — rather than simply looking at the docs, and seeing that they do not.

Allen didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Late Update: Greg Sargent catches CNN falling into the very same trap.

Late Late Update: Ben Smith of Politico quotes a “person close to Cheney” saying the distinction in the former veep’s statement was not intended. But Cheney doesn’t seem like the type to put out a carelessly crafted statement. We’ll be interested to hear if he has anything else to say on the matter.

Late 3:30 p.m. Update: The Politico piece has now been changed to accurately reflect Cheney’s statement. This note is appended:

[The third paragraph has been updated to include a longer excerpt of the full quote in the fifth paragraph (added “the individuals subjected to”), after some readers said the excerpt misconstrued the original. A Cheney source told Ben Smith that no distinction was intended.]

Clearly, the editors agreed with “some readers.”

The False Meme Spreads Update: Here’s a clip of Tamron Hall on MSNBC this afternoon.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says the release of a CIA report on enhanced interrogation techniques used during the Bush era proves his point that those tactics work.

Again, look at Cheney’s statement above. He’s simply not saying the docs prove that the tactics in question work.

Late Cheney Camp Declines To Comment Update: Interesting CNN segment just now, which unfortunately ran with the incorrect chyron: “Cheney: I told you so / Says CIA files show harsh interrogation worked” (he did not say that). But kudos to reporter Brian Todd, who noted that Cheney is not claiming that the “enhanced techniques” extracted intelligence from detainees.

And, Todd reports, a “Cheney aide was not able to comment further on the statement.” So a “person close to Cheney” tells Ben Smith the crucial distinction in Cheney’s statement was not intended, but a Cheney aide won’t tell CNN the same. What’s going on here?

Watch the CNN segment:

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