WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney personally oversaw at least four briefings with senior members of Congress about controversial interrogation programs, part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used against detainees.
The Cheney-led briefings came at some of the most critical moments for the program, as congressional oversight committees were threatening to investigate or terminate the techniques used in interrogations, according to lawmakers, congressional officials and current and former intelligence officials.
Cheney's role in helping handle intelligence issues in the Bush administration has been well-documented, particularly his advocacy for the use of aggressive methods and warrantless wiretapping against alleged terrorists. But his hands-on role in defending the interrogation program to lawmakers has not been previously publicized.
The CIA made no mention of the former vice president's role in documents delivered to Capitol Hill last month which listed every lawmaker who had been briefed on "enhanced interrogation techniques" since 2002. For meetings that were actually overseen by Cheney, the agency told the intelligence committees that information about who oversaw those briefings was "not available."
The revelations do not shed light on whether top Democrats, as Republicans contend, were aware that waterboarding, a harsh technique that simulates drowning, was being employed on suspected terrorists as early as the fall of 2002.
That discussion has embroiled Capitol Hill since last month, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was not present at any of the briefings that included Cheney, accused the agency of intentionally misleading her in a 2002 briefing about the use of waterboarding.
The CIA declined to comment on why Cheney's presence in meetings was left out of the records. Since leaving office in January, Cheney has mounted a vigorous public defense of the interrogation practices.