19 May 2009

Cheney and torture

I would vote for he and President Bush again in a heartbeat over the bumbling, incompetent, egomaniacal Kerry/Edwards ticket, but it's time for Dick Cheney to go away.

His behavior since the Bush administration exited office has been equally as disdainful as Al Gore's global warming fanaticism and former President Carter's frequent critiques of American foreign policy. Such harsh criticism is entirely unbecoming of a man who held the second-highest office in the country for eight years. As President Bush noted, President Obama deserves the former administration's silence and respect. 

I genuinely believe that President Bush acted in good faith in ordering and approving these complained-of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the Obama administration has outlawed. Bush was unflinching in his determination that the U.S. mainland would not be attacked again while he was in office, and for his success in preventing further attacks, he deserves great credit.

But Condoleeza Rice's recent justification, caught on candid camera at Stanford University, that "enhanced interrogation techniques" weren't torture because the president told them so tells me plenty about the grandoise conception of wartime executive power that many in the administration actually believed that the president possessed.

If this was feudal England or modern-day Russia, I suppose this explanation would be perfectly acceptable. However, in a system of divided government whereby the president does not make nor interpret the law, and where the United States is a party to myriad treaties (such as the International Convention Against Torture, signed in 1988) that I am sure President Bush never heard of until he won the election, that's not good enough. The president can ask the Justice Department for legal advice, but the "because I said so" statement does not good law make.

I think a very good case can be made that things like sleep deprivation, stress positions and loud music aren't even in the ballpark of the internationally accepted definition of "torture." But the Bush administration rarely seemed to concern itself with winning an argument based on what the law actually says.

What also bothers me about the conservative case in this regard is that I believe opinion leaders on the right -- mainly led in 2009 by Cheney and Rush Limbaugh -- present the torture debate as a false choice to the American people.

This is a zero-sum game -- a replication of the Bush Doctrine, circa 2002: You're either with us, or with the terrorists -- and Cheney, Limbaugh, Kristol, et al. have set the terms of the game for public discourse. If the new administration does not play by their rules, or wishes to roll back some of the Bush/Cheney policies, they are by definition weak on terror.

I might actually buy Cheney's argument if he could answer the following questions:

1. What "traditional" interrogation techniques were used that did not work?

2. What "enhanced" interrogation techniques were used that did in fact work?

3. What specific information was gleaned as a result of such techniques?

Unfortunately, the former vice-president and his enablers insist that questions 1 and 3 are of such vital importance to national security that the public is not entitled to answers. 

Sorry, that's not good enough.

The American people deserve to know how exactly these enhanced interrogation techniques have worked. They deserve to know why it is that the "traditional" methods have not. This is a governmental system founded on transparency, and the American people are entitled to it.

This shadowy "because I said so" justification for virtually every matter concerning national security is in no way inherently conservative or patriotic. 

How can the former vice-president expect me to buy this story without specifics?

I'm reminded of a comment from Steve Martin's character in the late-90s remake of "Sgt. Bilko: "What are we in, Russia?"

However, perhaps the most disturbing element of this debate came from an op-ed penned by Col. Lawrence Wilkinson, one of the leaders of Colin Powell's State Department during the Bush administration's first term:

Wilkinson said he learned that long before the Justice Department rendered any opinion about the legality of the interrogation methods, the administration was utilizing them in 2002 not to prevent another terrorist attack (the "ticking time bomb" scenario that Cheney so often cites), but rather to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. 

The full text of Wilkinson's remarks can be found here.

This effort was focused on one detainee in particular -- Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- who was waterboarded in Egypt, and as a result, gave up supposedly valuable information to his interrogators regarding a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Al-Libi's disturbing backstory can be found here.

If you think waterboarding is a fail-safe, fool-proof way to interrogate detainees in the interest of national security, do yourself a favor and click on that link.

If you've taken the time to do that, you'll notice that the information linking the two and provided by al-Libi during his interrogations actually turned out to be false. Al-Libi was the consensus star detainee cited by the Bush administration in the lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003. The story of al-Libi proves that, number one, the Bush administration was waterboarding detainees not to prevent another terrorist attack, but rather to establish some sort of link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Second, it proves that, as Sen. McCain has so often noted, detainees suffering through such interrogations will say anything to make the interrogators stop.

In his book, "Faith of My Fathers," McCain said that when he was being tortured in the Hanoi Hilton, and was pressed for the names of American squadron leaders, he gave his interrogators the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line.

This statement -- from a man who, unlike anyone in the Bush administration, actually endured such interrogations -- shows that such techniques can easily lead to inherently unreliable information.

The summation of my remarks is this: Dick Cheney is not entitled to be taken at his word. This is a debate of vital national importance, and those purporting to set its terms must show their cards. No leader -- Republican or Democrat -- during any time -- war or peace -- deserves such blind deference from the American people.


Beer Vendor #1 said...

Your conclusion that Condi's remark shows that "many in the administration" had a improper view of why or how EIM's were legal is farcical. Do you attribute statements by Biden to "many in the administration"? Give me a break. If Bush had said it, or if Cheney had said it (because he is the topic of your post) it would be relevant. But they didn't, so its not.

Second, why are you asking questions of Cheney? Why are you demanding that Cheney answer your big three questions when, without the authorized release of CIA interrogation memo's, Cheney cannot answer the questions you ask? I presume that it would be illegal for Cheney to release top secret information unilaterally before it was declassified. Oh wait, there's another thing: Cheney wants the American public to get the answers to the very questions you ask - he formally requested for the info to be declassified. However, unlike your mal-aimed blame would suggest, its Obama who has prevented (or at least not allow for) the release of the answers to your three big questions.

Obama deserves the silence of Cheney like he deserves the honorary degree he got a ND. (Honorary degrees are by definition unearned and undeserved) There is good reason for Bush to be silent out of respect for Obama. But there is no such reason for Cheney to remain silent while Obama weakens national security. Love him or hat him, Cheney is acting like a patriot, choosing to fight for what he believes is right and for his reputation. I would like the Commish to explain what rule precludes a ex-VP from remaining engaged in politics? If there is such a rule, I would like the commish to explain how we determine which politicians are allowed to remain involved after their tenure and which are not? i.e. VP, Cabinet members, senators, etc.?

Commish, honestly, why would you wish for a man fighting for your security to remain silent in the face of what he believes is the degredation of American security? Esspecially when BO's actions are at best, 50% partisan and 50% national security motivated. (Example: See release of selected and redacted "torture" memos, See closing of Gitmo, See rejection of EIM while reserving the power to use EIM in emergencies)

Obama doesn't deserve anyone's silence, except maybe Bush's. The only reason I can fathom for "deserving" Bush's silence is that Bush WAS president and having a former president criticize a standing president seems improper and counter productive to the future operation of the executive branch. Obama certainly doesn't deserve Cheney's silence, especially as BO weakens national security and postures about the criminality and imprudence of the measures used in the Bush administration which kept myself (and the Commish) safe.

It sounds to me like the Commish is getting blinded by the messianic light given off by The One.

Beer Vendor #2 said...

The "ticking time bomb" scenario the Commish disregards as either irrelevant or unconvincing is exactly the rubric from which we must analyze torture. Are we in a ticking time bomb situation every day? Obviously not. But the example proves what one is willing or unwilling (i.e. justified or unjustified) to do in face of the worst case scenario. The standard for EIM's must be set using the ticking bomb scenario because any other baseline for the standard would render results unpredictable and necessarily hypocritical in application.

What I want to know is this: If the Commish's fiance were being held by terrorists intending to kill her, and the commish had in his custody a terrorist who knew the location of his fiance and was refusing to talk - would the Commish waterboard the terrorist, or worse, to try and get intel? Would he waterboard the terrorist regardless of the fact that the intel receive might be innacurate? What would the Commish's fiance want him to do?

I for one know what I would do. We would have one unhappy, but gregarious, terrorist on our hands.

When the shit hits the fan some run for the exits, some stay and weather the storm.

The Commissioner said...

This is an exemplary case of what has befallen the Republican Party and made it a laughingstock to 75 percent of the country.

I take offense to bringing my fiancee into the discussion. I suppose a debate on the merits of a case isn't ever quite enough for a neoconservative. I thought about deleting your comments, and still might, simply because that really bothered me that you brought that up.

Neoconservatives hear what they want to hear. I began my remarks by noting that I WANT CHENEY TO CONVINCE ME OF HIS POSITION. I want to hear that "we tried X and it didn't work; next, we tried Y, and it did." I am intelligent, highly educated and unlike most conservatives in 2009, open-minded -- I want the Bush crew to convince me that but for waterboarding, etc., there would have been an attack on American soil. If they can prove that to me, I am willing to side with them.

In every area possible -- economic, social, civil liberties, etc. -- I demand a hell of a lot from my government before I support it stepping into any area of my life. Its job is to stay out of my way. This attitude comes not from some wishy-washy liberalism, but rather, from a realization, as Hamilton and Madison noted, that men are not angels, and it is men who run the government.

Let's be clear: No one disputes the fact that when national security is truly endangered, yes, desperate measures must be used. Even Obama understands this -- he's said as much, causing hand-wringing from the far left. If there is an imminent threat against homeland security, the book goes (mostly) out the window. This is a settled issue for 90% of the country. Let's get this out of the way, because I never made it the issue.

The real issue -- indistinguishable by the likes of Hannity, Beck, O'Reilly and, apparently, Beer Vendors #1 and 2 -- is whether, because IN SOME CASES the ticking time bomb scenario is a reality, the executive branch has a carte blanche to shield itself from all reproach by simply waiving the phrase "ticking time bomb" around as a magic wand, no matter what the factual scenario presented.

With al-Libi in 2002, there was no ticking time bomb. Bush, Gonzales, et al. approved the use of waterboarding not to prevent an attack on an American city, but rather to fish for intelligence linking al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

That's complete bullshit, especially given the fact that many neoconservatives -- led by Wolfowitz, Irving Kristol and others at the American Enterprise Institute -- were beating the war drum against Iraq long before 9/11. It's also bullshit given the fact that the justification Cheney constantly gives for waterboarding is "ticking time bomb" -- when the Bush administration waterboarded a detainee for entirely different reasons, and to disastrously inaccurate results.

This is a website for people who are extraordinarily smart, who can carefully parse issues, and who are willing to question why they believe certain things in the political arena. Perhaps this is due to the fact that all three members of this site are lawyers, and would get laughed out of a courtroom if they provided a canned answer to any question that comes their way. In our line of work, this isn't good enough.

If you are incapable of meeting us on a higher intellectual plane, please don't come back to this site.

If I wanted to hear "ticking time bomb!" and "if your [insert family member] was being held by terrorists, what would you do?" over and over, no matter what issue or sub-issue was on the table, I'd turn on Hannity's idiotic program and listen to him rant and rave to his Great American Panel. If you want to post here, you have to do better than listening to Limbaugh, flipping through 20 minutes of Hannity, O'Reilly and Beck, and recycling their garbage.