Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cheney's Torture Logic

Perhaps there was one good thing about having Vice President Dick Cheney in office, you didn't hear from him very often. But now that he is a civilian he just can't stop talking. It is especially surprising because there is nothing much good to say about the past eight years. Record government deficits, a failed financial system, a collapsed housing market, a senseless war in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction and an increase in global terrorism.

Unlike his former boss, and most of his predecessors, Cheney can’t seem to move on with life, so he has taken the offensive. Cheney has one self-proclaimed accomplishment to hang on to; terrorists did not attack America again after 9/11. So he has been attacking President Barack Obama for making America less safe from a terrorist attack by ending surveillance and other intelligence procedures implemented under President Bush. Further, he has emphatically and unabashedly defended the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Let's face it, Vice President Dick Cheney didn't just have the President's ear, it is pretty clear he had President Bush by the ear. Take this exchange about enhanced interrogation techniques with CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation this past Sunday:

Schieffer: "You approved this?"

Cheney: "Right."

Schieffer: "Did President Bush know everything you knew?

Cheney: "I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew -- he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it."

He "basically authorized it?" It sounds like back then Cheney said, "Just sign here George and don't worry, I got your back." Only now it is clear Cheney is saying, "If you go after me, you got to go after Bush too!"

One of Cheney's central arguments is that the enhanced interrogation techniques used were legal. "We had pursued interrogation in a normal way. We decided that we needed some enhanced techniques. So we went to the Justice Department," Cheney said to Schieffer. "What we got from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) were legal memos that laid out what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate," he continued. "If we had been about torture, we wouldn’t have wasted our time going to the Justice Department."

The United Nations Convention Against Torture, of which America is a signatory, says, "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession" is torture. Further, torture is illegal under U.S. law, and "The Army Field Manual" specifies that waterboarding is prohibited.

Clearly the OLC was instructed by the White House to manufacture guidelines under which waterboarding would not be torture. In other words, harsh enough to have an impact but gentle enough so as not to cause pain. Journalist Christopher Hitchens underwent waterboarding for a Vanity Fair article last August and his conclusion was, "If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture." So much for legality.

Whether waterboarding worked or not appears to be, at best, a jump ball. Most experts believe that torture does not work because prisoners lie. But Dick Cheney is emphatic that waterboarding did work, and he says four former directors of the CIA agree. As Cheney told Schieffer, "No regrets. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I’m convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives."

So Cheney has asked the Obama administration to release all the classified memos pertaining to the enhanced interrogations. "Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced," Cheney said. This makes a lot of sense. By releasing all of the relevant memos Americans will likely know conclusively if the enhanced techniques worked. There should also be a bipartisan special commission investigation into the use of enhanced interrogations and the role of the OLC.

In the end the Bush administration abandoned American values and played with the truth. Illegal acts are rewritten as legal through some tortured logic. That will be the Bush/Cheney legacy here. And Dick Cheney doesn't care what anyone thinks.

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