WASHINGTON, December 30, 2014 – In the spirit of the New Year, where we take care of those things we’ve left undone for far too long, sweep out the dusty corners where nasty things hide unseen, and allow ourselves a clean start, we should prosecute and convict former Vice President Richard Cheney for ordering and abetting torture as a means of interrogation.
It’s certainly not the only thing Mr. Cheney is guilty of, but it would be a nice beginning.
Mr. Cheney’s responses on Meet the Press last week made it clear that people in the employ of the United States Government kidnapped, tortured, and murdered people who may or may not have been “enemy combatants” as a retribution for what was done to Americans on 9/11. He’s proud of it and ready to do it again in a minute.
If it weren’t for the fact that the penalties for torture are tougher than the penalties for flat out lying, I’d say that Cheney truly deserves to go down for the latter. He claimed that “we avoided another mass casualty attack against the United States” without mentioning that his administration is almost certainly responsible for the first one.
Yes, they were warned repeatedly by President Clinton’s National Security Team that al Qaeda was an imminent danger—in fact, Clinton had already shot several million dollars worth of Tomahawk cruise missiles at the guy–and chose to brush off the Clinton Administrations insistent warnings with the same sort of bland assurance of invincible wisdom that they demonstrated with such brio in the disastrous invasion of Iraq.
In fact, even though outgoing National Security Director Richard Clarke left a memo in January (along with two plans of action) pleading for a top-level meeting on “al Qida,’ the Bush/Cheney administration didn’t get around to it until, well, until September 6, 5 days before the jet planes hit the World Trade Towers.
The guy almost makes a game of getting things wrong:
They captured bin Laden. No, they didn’t, Obama did. Cheney’s administration was busy fighting a war in the wrong country. They abandoned bin Laden in the hills of Tora Bora.
The “enhanced interrogations” stopped additional terrorist plots against the United States. They didn’t. In every case, the information was obtained by the usual means of interrogation. Of course, that didn’t mean that the poor bastards didn’t get tortured—if you read the report, they usually were tortured after they’d told the CIA anything useful.
They had legal authority for everything they did. Nope. John Yoo, the attorney who wrote the infamous terror memo, told Fareed Zakaria that, “if these things happened as they are described in the report, as you describe them, those were not authorized by the Justice Department. They were not supposed to be done and those people who did those are at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders.”
That is what is particularly disturbing about all the defenses that have been raised about the use of torture. By defining torture as “what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11” and bragging, Cheney and his buddies suggest it must all be ok.
“These are not American citizens. They are unlawful combatants. They are terrorists. They are people who have committed unlawful acts of war against the American people. And we put them in places where we could proceed with the interrogation program…”
Cheney essentially turns a serious search for the perpetrators of the next plot into a brutal quest for vengeance for the last one. He doesn’t even care if the guy who is being slammed up against a wall or forced to live in his own excrement is guilty of anything.
As the former Vice President said, “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”
Yep, guilty until proven innocent or until my guys here run out of questions—now that’s the American Way.
Perhaps the worst aspect of all this was that it was unnecessary and incompetent.
When the administration couldn’t find any experts who would back the medieval methods Cheney and his cohorts clearly preferred, the geniuses at the CIA turned to two hucksters who sold them a snake oil interrogation program. Two “psychologists,” one whose doctorate compared diet and exercise in controlling hypertension and the other whose expertise was in “family sculpting, in which patients make physical models of their family to portray emotional relationships,” gave their clients what they wanted: a pseudo-scientific excuse to act like barbarians.
A steal at only 81 million dollars.
All of those involved, from the lowliest guard to the middle management spies at the CIA to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith. and the rest of the co-conspirators should be prosecuted.
The enlisted grunts at Abu Ghraib got years for their crimes—the precedent is well established. Don’t be afraid that nailing our bad guys who beat up their bad guys will harm the intelligence apparatus that is, in truth, central to our security.
No, there were hundreds of skilled professionals who refused to be involved in the “enhanced interrogations,” wrote complaints to their superiors, and from the CIA to the Navy JAG corps to the FBI, proved to be real patriots who fought to stop this insanity.
We would be better off trusting to them for a while.
That brings us to the part of all this that is really repellant: most of the effort being expended by Cheney and the experts at the CIA isn’t to stop the next attack or even to prove that their techniques were right; it’s to make sure that no one gets prosecuted.
If they were so damn sure that they were right, why did they need $5 million insurance policies like the two psychologists? Why do they need their names redacted? Why were they demanding all along that they be guaranteed immunity?
Because everyone involved in this farce knew damn well that it was illegal. They knew that drowning people, smashing them against walls, telling MPs to strip them naked and put them in piles—all of the revolting things they either did or ordered to be done; they knew it was illegal and, as the irrepressible Mr. Cheney said, “Can you imagine what it’s going to be like if you were out there now as an officer in the agency and you were undertaking a complicated, difficult, dangerous task and you had the view that ten years from now even though the president approved it, even though the Justice Department signed off on it, some politician on Capitol Hill is going to come back and want a piece of your fanny.?”
Damn right. IIt is precisely what has happened every time that a part of our government gets out of control—whether it be the CIA trying to kill Castro, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program spying on ordinary citizens, or local police getting a bit trigger happy—the facts come out, the public is “shocked, shocked” to find out what’s been going on, hearings are held, people go to jail, and laws are changed.
It is exactly what has kept this nation on an even keel for two centuries and it’s what we need to do again.
And, if it will shut up Mr. Cheney, whose deep and serious pronouncements are not only incorrect and dangerous but are also loud, declamatory, and self-righteous to the point of delusion—well, then that’s a fringe benefit.