I’ve been listening to Dick Cheney’s recent claims that the Bush Administration was justified in doing anything and everything that it wanted to do, including the torturing of detainees. While my initial reaction was to wish that Dick Cheney would just shut the hell up and go away, I now think it’s good that Cheney himself won’t let the country move on from the Bush Administration. He’s forcing Americans to take a hard look at the questions and issues which necessity has forced President Obama to try to quietly sweep under the rug.
I think the big thing that Dick Cheney doesn’t understand about torture is that whether or not techniques such as waterboarding yielded valuable information from detainees is a moot point. Only a man who has no firm set of morals could consider torture to be acceptable under any circumstances. You can shout all you want to that it isn’t torture if someone doesn’t die, or it isn’t torture if it doesn’t lead to organ failure, but you’re just as full of it. I have a simple equation that lets me figure out right away if something is torture, and I wish more Americans would use it. If we would consider it torture if the enemy does it to our soldiers, it’s certainly torture if we do it to the enemy. And don’t be a dumbass by getting into the semantics about whether soldiers in actual national uniforms have more human rights than terrorist operatives in blue jeans. It is the very fact that our values cannot be compromised that makes this such a great country. We cannot claim to be that shining beacon of hope on the hill if we have one set of values where certain people are concerned, another set of values for others, and the ability to switch between them at will.
Only a man with no morals whatsoever could insist that the ends justify the means under any circumstances. Using Dick Cheney’s, George W. Bush’s, and nearly every Neo-Con talking heads’ bizarre brand of logic, what was done to Senator John McCain in Vietnam was not torture at all. Since McCain obviously did not die during interrogation, and his wounds did not lead to organ failure, it does not constitute torture that he was hung by his fractured arms for hours at a time and cannot to this day lift his arms higher than shoulder height. Clearly, Dick Chaney would have approved of those torture techniques, and would have argued that it was not, in fact, torture, since John McCain had survived his interrogation. I’m sure in the minds of McCain’s Vietnamese captors, the ends clearly justified the means; however questionable the intelligence they might have rung out of John McCain.
Last month, the Department of Justice released memos showing the legal justification for waterboarding (an interrogation tactic that simulates drowning) which was written by Bush-era officials. Using the same bizarre logic as her father, Liz Cheney, a former State Department official, defended her father’s views on enhanced interrogation and spoke directly to the issue of those memos.
Releasing those memos gave “terrorists a new insert for their training manual,” said Liz Cheney on “Good Morning America”, echoing remarks her father made yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute. “It takes a tool out of the toolbox for every future president.”
Um… yeah. That’s sort of the point, isn’t it? Shouldn’t waterboarding be taken out of the toolbox? And what’s this about the memos giving terrorists a new insert for their training manual? What does that mean, exactly? That they won’t have any reason to fear being waterboarded, and will therefore develop new ways to resist interrogation? Or is she wondering if it’ll give terrorists an idea; that maybe they’ll start waterboarding our personnel? And if so, what do they care, if waterboarding isn’t torture? I mean, it’s just kind of unpleasant, right? What’s the fuss?
Lawrence O’Donnell, former Senate Democratic chief of staff, disagreed with Dick Cheney and his daughter, arguing that the policies of the Bush-Cheney administration actually made the country less safe.
“It is torture. This government has prosecuted people in the past for doing exactly this,” O’Donnell said on Good Morning America. “He [Dick Cheney] can never acknowledge what waterboarding actually was as practiced by the Bush administration.”
“If [it was] so effective, why did they use it only on three?” questioned O’Donnell. “Why didn’t they use it on the 500 people the Bush-Cheney administration released from Guantanamo – 75 of whom we know… have gone back into the terrorism business?”
President Obama himself argued Thursday that his predecessor’s policies on terrorism made the country less secure. He affirmed that he considered waterboarding torture and said techniques such as those not only made the United States less safe, they were also against American values.
“I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more,” the president said in his speech at the National Archives. “As commander in chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”
In a speech that ran nearly 50 minutes, Obama laid out his case for ending so-called enhanced interrogation methods, closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and moving detainees currently held there. He stressed that he inherited these complex legal and ethical questions from the previous administration.
“We are cleaning up something that is – quite simply – a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country,” he said.
Dick Cheney, desperate to defend the Bush administration, has recently run around making speeches to that effect. But really, he would be well advised to shut the hell up. He keeps complaining about how he wants more memos released, inferring that the Obama administration cherry-picked the memos it released, and that releasing more of those memos would somehow vindicate the Bush administration on the issue of torture.
However, Dick Cheney is no fool. He well knows that President Obama can’t release every bit of information, because to do so would be damaging to the security of the country. Cheney is counting on that. He can infer whatever he wants to about that information as long as it’s still Top Secret, knowing that it’ll never be released.
Cheney should be careful about what he claims to wish for. Should President Obama take the unexpected step and release much of this information, Dick Cheney might find himself defending more than the reputation of the Bush administration.
In a stunning 370-page US Justice Department Inspector General’s report released last year, it was revealed that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had formally opened a “War Crimes” file, documenting torture they had witnessed at the Guantánamo Bay US prison camp, before being ordered by the Bush administration to stop writing their reports. The report made it absolutely clear that torture was ordered and planned in detail at the highest levels of the government — including the White House, the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the Justice Department. Attempts to stop it on legal or pragmatic grounds by individuals within the government were systematically suppressed, and evidence of this criminal activity covered up.
So, while Dick Cheney may protest that torture techniques such as waterboarding are just good, clean American fun, the mountain of conclusive evidence that has recently emerged directly linking top Bush officials to the worst abuses, is making the former Vice President look like a dottering old man who is trying to justify a mis-spent youth. His brazen, defiant acknowledgment of his role in crimes such as waterboarding (which parallels Bush’s equally defiant 2005 acknowledgment of his illegal eavesdropping programs and his brazen vow to continue them) – is forcing even the most reluctant among us to reconsider the general feeling that it might be best for the country if we move on from this.
With Dick Cheney standing up there making speeches and flipping his middle finger at the American people, might it be time to embrace the necessity of some kind of accountability for the Bush administration? If Dick Cheney wants all the memos released, shouldn’t we just give him what he wants? Once the culpability of our highest government officials is no longer hidden, but is increasingly all out in the open, who but the most ardent Kool-Aid drinker of Neo-Con ideology could insist not only that sanctioned torture is legal and ethical, but still defend the notion that the Bush administration should remain immune from consequences for their patent lawbreaking?
As Law Professor Jonathan Turley said several weeks ago on The Rachel Maddow Show: “It’s the indictment of all of us if we walk away from a clear war crime.” And this week, Turley pointed out to Keith Olbermann that “ultimately it will depend on citizens, and whether they will remain silent in the face of a crime that has been committed in plain view… It is equally immoral to stand silent in the face of a war crime and do nothing.”
I say give Dick Cheney what he wants, Let the pieces fall where they may. If Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are vindicated by the release of certain memos, I can live with that. At least then we would know for sure, right?
But… just in case it turns out that the Bush administration has much to hide, we need to get a move on with it. Most Americans aren’t aware that there is an 8-year statute of limitations in the U. S. on prosecuting certain types of war crimes – including torture. It’s the avowed strategy of the Bush Administration, and their Republican protectors in Congress, to stall any investigations into these issues in a cowardly attempt to close, and whitewash, the books on one of the most horrific chapters in American policy. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has called for extending the statutes, but his appeal has fallen on deaf ears. President Obama, knowing that the resulting political firestorm would make dealing with Congress on the economic crisis virtually impossible, has so far declined to press the issue.
So, I say give Dick Cheney exactly what he wants. Release those memos. Give us the evidence either vindicating him and President Bush, or damning them. But just in case Congress and the Obama Administration don’t move on this, there’s a grassroots effort underway to sidestep the federal government and bring charges against Bush, Cheney, et al through the individual states attorneys general; it’s a circuitous, but do-able, tactic – and it’s the very essence of true democratic action.
I say let the chips fall where they may. President Obama owes it to the American people to let history judge the Bush administration. We can’t fully heal the wounds of the Bush presidency until some kind of closure has been achieved and certain questions have been answered. History’s judgment of our fundamental character as a nation outweighs the more immediate considerations of political discomfort. And while we wait, Dick Cheney himself is flipping his middle finger at us and daring us to call his bluff.
Give him what he wants. Release the memos that Cheney feels would exonerate the Bush administration. But at the same time, just to be on the safe side, let’s also extend the Statute Of Limitations on Bush and Cheney’s Wiretapping and War Crimes.
Of course, Dick Cheney could easily lay the issue to rest by proving to us that there’s nothing particularly horrifying about waterboarding by asking his daughter to submit herself to a waterboarding session. If Liz Cheney can stand up after being waterboarded, look straight into a camera and convincingly state that it wasn’t so bad, I’ll totally reconsider my opinion of waterboarding and other forms of torture.