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Send Him Back to the Bunker!
Dick Cheney’s dishonest speech about torture, terror, and Obama.
Posted Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 6:36 PM ET
Why does anyone still listen to what Dick Cheney has to say?
This morning’s back-to-back speeches on torture and terrorism—first by President Barack Obama, then by the former vice president—could have been an opportunity to weigh competing arguments, examine their premises, and chart an agenda for a serious debate.
Obama’s speech did exactly that. He spelled out his logic, backed up his talking points with facts, and put forth a policy grounded—at least in his view—not just in lofty ideals but also in hardheaded assessments of national security. Those who disagree with his conclusions could come away at least knowing where their paths diverged—what claims they’d need to challenge in mounting their opposition.
Cheney, on the other hand, built a case on straw men, red herrings, and lies. In short, his speech was classic Dick Cheney, with all the familiar scowls and scorn intact. The Manichean worldview, which Cheney advanced and enforced while in office, was on full display. After justifying “enhanced interrogation methods,” as part of the Bush administration’s “comprehensive strategy” in the wake of 9/11—and noting that the next seven and a half years saw no follow-on attack—he said this:
So we’re left to draw one of two conclusions, and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event … and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort.
This is a blatant evasion. The debate—or one of the debates—is, in fact, over whether or not the war on terror required “tough interrogations,” as Cheney called them. Does he believe—should anyone else believe—that removing one chunk of this strategy would cause the whole edifice to topple? If these interrogations are so essential, why did President Bush stop them in 2004? And why haven’t we been attacked since?
Cheney’s evasiveness is more basic than this. He still refuses to acknowledge what nearly everyone else has: that these interrogations did amount to torture. “Torture was never permitted,” he said, even while conceding the occasional water-boarding. These methods, he noted, “were given careful legal review before they were approved”—ignoring that these legal reviews were conducted by his own aides and have since been discredited almost uniformly.
Still, he persists. To call this program “torture,” he went on, “is to libel the dedicated professionals”—the “carefully chosen” CIA personnel who conducted the interrogations—”and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims.” Of course, it does no such thing. Most of the criticisms, including President Obama’s, have been directed at the Bush administration’s top policymakers, not at those who carried out their orders. And nobody is claiming that the subjects of interrogation were “victims,” much less “innocent.” To decry torture does not imply the slightest sympathy for the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Cheney then dismissed the idea—hardly Obama’s alone—that the interrogation policies and the detention operations at Guantanamo have served as a “recruitment tool” for al-Qaida and other terrorists. This claim, he said, “excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the Left: We brought it on ourselves.”
This is nonsense on a few levels. Nobody is claiming that Osama Bin Laden and his crew would go away if we treated prisoners more nicely. However, it is indisputable that the reports of torture, the photos from Abu Ghraib, and the legal limbo at Guantanamo have galvanized al-Qaida’s recruitment campaigns. Everyone acknowledges this, hardly just “the Left.” It’s why many Republicans lamented the news stories and the photographs—because they might help the enemy.
Cheney’s next volley against Obama—for releasing the Bush administration’s legal documents that justified water-boarding and other harsh practices—was where the outright lying began. “President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation, should he deem it appropriate,” Cheney said. Yet, this authority would have little use because, thanks to the release of the documents, “the enemy now knows exactly what interrogation methods to train against.”
This argument might make sense, except that Obama has not reserved the right to use enhanced interrogation. In fact, he has explicitly, repeatedly, and unconditionally banned the practice. In his speech this morning, Obama said there was no security risk in releasing the Bush documents precisely because they no longer reflect U.S. policy.
Finally, Cheney pounded Obama for wanting to investigate and possibly prosecute, on criminal charges, those who approved and conducted the enhanced interrogations. Or, rather, he employed semantic sleight of hand—another long-standing Cheney technique—to suggest that this is what Obama wants. At first, Cheney said, “Over on the left wing of the president’s party … some are … demanding” such prosecutions. In the next sentence, he said, “It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent … than to have an incoming administration criminalizing the policy decisions of its predecessors.” (Italics added.)
By conflating “the left wing of the president’s party” with the “incoming administration,” Cheney aimed to leave the impression a) that Obama is left wing and b) that he is pushing for show trials.
This isn’t just sneaky—it’s wrong. First, as many left-wing Democrats have begun to discover, Obama is no leftist. Second, in his speech today, Obama clearly rejected the idea of prosecutions. Decrying “a return of the politicization of these issues” on both sides of the spectrum, Obama said, “I have no interest in spending our time relitigating the policies of the last eight years.”
However, in the course of inveighing against official inquiries (perhaps because, if they ever took place, he would certainly find himself in the docket), Cheney also condemned an idea that—if he is telling the truth—would serve his interests. This is the idea of convening a “Truth Commission,” and it may be the one idea that might settle the only legitimate question that Cheney raised in his speech: Does torture work? Or, to put it another way: Should a president take the option of torture irrevocably off the table? Are there circumstances under which he might want to put it back on?
Cheney’s main point, in his speech and in other recent statements, is that torture (even if he doesn’t want to call it that) works; that it squeezed important information out of the few “high-value” terrorists on whom it was inflicted; that this information saved thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of lives; that there are documents supporting this claim, and that Obama should declassify and release them.
Obama disputes this point. “As commander-in-chief,” he said in his speech this morning, “I see the intelligence … and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”
The preponderance of available evidence supports Obama’s side of the argument: that torture does not work; that, to the extent it does get someone to talk, what he says is often untrue; that some al-Qaida terrorists were water-boarded several times a day, for up to a month, and still didn’t provide the information that top Bush officials wanted them to say; and that the most useful information was gained through more creative, less violent means.
But look: We—meaning those of us who don’t have special, compartmentalized security clearances—don’t know, can’t possibly know, the full story. Were there cases in which CIA interrogators learned a lot by torturing a prisoner? Did those revelations save lives? Could the information have been acquired through other means?
The objections to torture—expressed not just by President Obama, but by many others, including Sen. John McCain and nearly every senior U.S. military officer who has spoken out on the subject—may well hold, even if it happens that torture did “work” on a few occasions.
But this debate is far from over. Today’s two speeches are more likely to intensify than settle the controversy. What’s wrong with assembling a truth commission, an independent body empowered to examine all the documents and subpoena witnesses, behind firmly closed doors? Cheney said at the start of the speech that his successors’ policies should be based on “a truthful telling of history.” Let the telling begin.
NASHVILLE – It’s do-or-die for Sen. John McCain, but he is used to that.
The guy’s been left for dead — literally, in one case, and politically in many others — more times than a pack of General Custers.
So it is ironic but appropriate that his pivotal campaign moment tonight is in a city known for country-music troubadours of last chances.
A week is a year and a month a lifetime in politics. It is an interactive universe; straight-line extrapolations are worse than useless. Still, the clock is winding down on McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin in their race to catch senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Tonight’s town hall debate at Belmont University, moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, is McCain’s last real opportunity to alter the dynamic of the race. The cliché is “game changer,” but that is what he needs. There is one more debate on Oct. 15, in New York, but that is almost certainly too late to have much impact.
Can McCain turn things around tonight and, if so, how can he do it?
The answer to the first question, given his history, has to be yes.
McCain is like that trick birthday candle: you keep blowing it out but it keeps springing back to life.
I think I know the reason why this is so. There is something about what McCain represents — a soldier willing to die for his country.
Voters are understandably reluctant to be seen as rejecting that ideal, or treating it with disrespect, especially in the eyes of a doubting world.
Obama is another reason why McCain cannot be counted out, no matter what the tracking polls and Electoral College summaries are saying. There remains something about the senator from Illinois — the big-city, Ivy League, I-know-what’s-good-for-you smoothie — that makes many swing voters reluctant to accept him, even if you edit race out of the equation, which of course, you cannot.
So McCain will have his chance, but how will he try to exploit it? He will do so by launching an all-out, frontal, personal assault on Obama — his character, his record and his life story.
McCain and his aides have essentially abandoned the idea of spending their limited time and money on building his brand: the brand of military patriotism, heroic sacrifice and honest self-criticism in the name of purifying the wrongs of the nation’s capital.
Instead of selling that honorable history, they are going to spend most of the rest of the campaign (and their comparatively limited cash) raising fears about Obama — about his past associations, his personal character, his record on campaign promises, and his willingness to use the federal government to address social problems facing the country.
McCain has now called Obama a bald-faced liar. His running mate has accused Obama of “hanging out” with terrorist radicals. McCain has said that Obama has an ill-disguised hunger to raise taxes, and a habit — even a need — to make promises he has no intention of keeping.
In Albuquerque, McCain road tested the attack rhetoric he will use here tonight. In the last debate, he barely looked at Obama. I have a feeling that McCain will be staring at his foe tonight.
But McCain had better be careful. This will be a “town hall” audience, and their questions and reactions may penalize anyone who is too harsh. McCain has to watch out for an Obama move to seek sympathy and support from the studio audience of regular folks.
We’ll know by their reaction whether McCain is making any headway or not.
But by going on the attack McCain risks allowing people to forget what it is about him that they liked so much to begin with, his non-partisan membership in the American military tradition.
One of the locals wondering aloud about that is Nashville songwriter Chuck Cannon, who wrote a big hit after 9/11 for Toby Keith called “American Soldier.” A shrewd fellow who served as president of the Nashville Songwriters Association, Cannon told me he admires McCain’s story and doubts whether the attack strategy will work.
“We respect the soldier, especially the one who nearly lost his life as a prisoner of war,” Cannon told me. “That is powerful, and what he ought to be talking about.”
Cannon remains undecided.
To my dismay, this weekend, there was an insert in my local hometown newspaper the Tallahassee Democrat. It was a DVD entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” I learned that it was paid for by a group called The Clarion Fund. When I googled The Clarion Fund I did not find a website but through other blogs found out that it is a 501 c(3) non-profit organization. Obviously, it supports John McCain. Apparently, this group has sent out 28 million DVDs to 70 newspapers in what are considered to be swing states. The Tallahassee Democrat has no shame! It would probably accept advertising from hate groups claiming that the Holocaust did not exist if there were enough bucks in it.
According to the Huffington Post the DVDs were distributed last weekend in national editions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal within selected swing states. These included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Further research indicates that this group used the same tactics airing the video on Fox News during the 2006 mid-term elections and it backfired as Democrats took back both houses of Congress. I hope that most Tallahassee Democrat readers promptly threw this piece of garbage into their recyclable bins. This DVD is highly divisive implying that Islam is bent on destroying Western civilization. The DVD shows Muslim children being encouraged to become suicide bombers and images of Nazi rallies. Of all of the newspapers targeted only one had the courage to say no to this fear mongering propaganda piece of shit. That paper is the Greensboro News-Record. Here is a list of all papers accepting the advertising.
Colorado – Boulder Daily Camera, Centennial Citizen, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post, Fort Collins Coloradoan, Greeley Tribune
Iowa – Daily Nonpareil, Des Moines Register, Iowa City Press Citizen, Quad City Times, Sioux City Journal
Indiana – South Bend Tribune
Florida – Daily Commercial, Florida Times-Union, Ft. Lauderdale El Sentinel, Ft. Myers News Press, Miami Herald, Ocala Star Banner, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Tampa Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, St. Petersburg Times, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Michigan – Detroit Free-Press, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Lansing State Journal
Missouri – Springfield News-Leader
Nevada – Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, Nevada Appeal, Reno Gazette-Journal
New Hampshire – Portsmouth Herald News, Union Leader
New Mexico – Clovis News Journal, Hobbs News-Sun, Rio Rancho Observer
Ohio – Canton Repository, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, Middletown Journal, Morning Journal, Toledo Blade, Youngstown Vindicator
North Carolina – Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer
Pennsylvania – Bucks Co. Courier Times, Erie Times-News, Morning Call, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Reading Eagle, The Patriot-News
Virginia – Sun-Gazette, Virginian-Pilot
Wisconsin – Green Bay Press-Gazette, Janesville Gazette, Journal Times, La Crosse Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
What one should remember, while there is a legitimate reason to be concerned about a handful of extremist’s groups, the majority of Islam’s 1 billion practitioner’s worship in peace and want to live in peace. Do not give credence to the politics of fear. Because if you do, you have already lost George W. Bush’s and John McCain’s war on terror!
I finally found the website. It doesn’t tell you much.
Additonal sources: Associated Content
This post is dedicated to my good friend Brokenclock!
“Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.” – Peter Ustinov
The term “Isalamo-fascist” doesn’t mean a damn thing and it is the invention of the neoconservatives to dehumanize and denigrate the Muslim Community thus denying them any political motivation and the reason for us to address their legitimate concerns. And it is used as a means of justification for pre-emptive war. It is also a term used to suggest that the war is legitimate and that we have a specific enemy.
Fascism evokes memories from World War II and the Nazi’s and Mussolini. Both of whom were identifiable threats. One must understand what Fascism is in the first place and the neo-cons in their Borg like collective don’t have a clue. Fascism is defined as a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism. That does not exist in Islam where Islamist’s reject nationalism and collaborations with large corporations. They are more concerned with control over personal behavior.
I am not saying that Muslim governments are not free from brutality and repression of its citizens. In America we treat our dogs better than the women of Saudi Arabia get treated. And shit, isn’t Saudi Arabia one of our strongest allies in the region?
As a religion major I have studied certain aspects of Islam and it is very dangerous to label all Muslims as Islamo-fascist. That’s tantamount to labeling all Christians from the same ilk of the Hagee’s and Robertson’s of this world. The Islamist militant is concerned with these things, liberating their land from foreign occupation, overthrowing un-Islamic regimes, and removing western influence from their region.
If you want to really want to identify the real neo-fascist, one needs look no further than to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We are in the first pre-emptive war of perhaps more to come; we overthrew Saddam Hussein and know we are setting up no bid contracts for western oil companies to control Iraqi oil. We have military dominance over the rest of the world. Our civil liberties have been eroded. We have fostered a hatred for all things Muslim. Right about know I would hate to be a Syrian or Iranian if McCain wins the election.
Right about now, two of the biggest Fascist’s on earth is George W. Bush and Dick Cheney!
While there is no doubt that terrorism is a shameless way to achieve political goals, we must first understand why terrorism exists in the first place. The radical fundamentalist in the Middle East is no different than the Leaders of our country. Old men are using the sons and daughters of others to carry out their political objectives. What they cannot achieve across the negotiating table, they hope to do so militarily.
Anybody with an iota of common sense realizes that the root of the problem is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And what the Arab world perceives to be that Israel is in fact America’s fifty-first state. I recently wrote a piece that America must act as an honest broker between negotiating the peace. Negotiations are a euphemism for compromise. Nobody gets everything they want but you get enough that you are happy to split the difference.
Like Americans, most Israelis and Palestinians trend toward the center. Why is it that the fringes of the parties are allowed to set the agenda? With the vast wealth of the United States being siphoned off to the oil producing states the next president should convene immediately a meeting of the prime minister of Israel and the leader of the Palestinian Authority and say this is how it’s going to be. You have a certain number of days to produce a binding agreement or all U.S. aid is terminated immediately. Watch how quickly an agreement is produced.
The next step is to withdraw our troops from Iraq. It is time for the Iraqis to stand up for themselves. After six years of training, if they cannot stand up for themselves, then they deserve whatever they get. I did basic training in six weeks, technical school in six weeks, and finally, my secondary security specialist training in less than a month.
While it won’t be easy to achieve these things we need not be our own worst enemy in achieving our goals. If we give other nations the chances and the means to work out their conflicts without favoring either side, those in the center will ensure that those on the fringes become less influential. And therefore, less threatening to American interest. When will Americans realize that our hegemony is the root of the problem?