You know, Dick Cheney is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Kind of like syphilis.
Two months ago, the former VP (and you have no idea how it gladdens my heart to type former VP) gave a bizarre and belligerent interview with Politico. He railed against the new administration, declaring that, then, newly elected President Obama was putting the nation at grave risk of “a devastating attack” because his administration was “more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.”
And he, predictably, defended the Bush administration’s implementation of the Guantanamo Bay Prison system, the practice of extra-ordinary rendition, and “coercive” interrogation methods.
This week, like syphilis, Cheney is back.
In a live interview with CNN’s John King on Sunday, Cheney was again beating the same drum. He accused the current administration of making the nation less safe and expounded on how closing the secret prisons, outlawing rendition and torture, and complying with the Constitutional ideals of habeas corpus and our international agreements (such as the Geneva Convention and International Human Rights) will lead us to a horrifying terrorist spawned Armageddon.
Personally, my favorite part of the interview occurs early on, when King asked Cheney if there was any truth to the statement Obama inherited a disaster from Bush. Cheney responded with:
“…there's no question that what the economic circumstances that he [Obama] inherited are difficult ones. You know, we said that before we left. I don't think you can blame the Bush administration for the creation of those circumstances. It's a global financial problem. We had, in fact, tried to deal with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac problem some years before with major reforms and were blocked by Democrats on the Hill, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. So I think the notion that you can just sort of throw it off on the prior administration, that's interesting rhetoric but I don't think anybody really cares a lot about that. What they care is what is going to work and how we are going to get out of these difficulties.”
So I think the notion that you can just sort of throw it off on the prior administration…I don’t think anybody really cares about that – well, yeah, Dick, sure. Unless, of course, you’re a republican and you’ve spent eight goddamned years listening to Bush and his fanatical cronies blame Clinton for every last thing from the pimples on George’s ass to 9/11 to Iraq.
Now, I’d be just as happy to allow Dick Cheney to disappear quietly into the dusty pages of history, fading slowly away until there’s nothing left but yellowed bones surrounding a rusty clockwork heart. But the bastard just won’t die, he just doesn’t have the grace to shut up and fade away – hell, he’s writing a book, which ought to be a big seller at KKK jamborees and anti-abortion rallies. Hopefully it’ll be a pop-up with lots of pictures so the intended audience can understand it*.
I’ve written extensively about information warfare, intelligence, and why things like habeas corpus are so important. I’ve written extensively about torture and why Americans should never, ever, tolerate it or tolerate leaders who tell us that torture is a necessary evil.
And evil is the correct word here. Torture is evil. Our founders knew it, the greatest and most admired American leaders, both civilian and military knew it, and I know it – and I suspect you do as well.
And Cheney, well, he knows it too.
He knows that what he and the Bush Administration did was wrong, and evil, and shameful, and illegal, and against everything this country stands for.
He knows. Yes, he does.
Yes, I’m reading his mind, such as it is. It’s not hard - it’s what I was trained to do. And you can too, it’s right there in front of you.
Cheney uses words like “Extraordinary Rendition” instead of “extradition” or “transfer of custody” or “foreign interrogation.” The use of “rendition” hides what is really going on – the transfer of prisoners to countries like Egypt and Bulgaria so that they can be tortured to death without remorse, without the pesky press, without regards for the law or human rights or even the same basic humanity we show to Charlie Manson. The use of Extraordinary Rendition is exactly the same as using words like “Separate But Equal” to hide bigotry, racism, lynchings, denial of basic civil rights, and decades of hatred and horror. In the interviews Cheney uses words like “Detainee” instead of “Prisoner,” “Coercive Methods” instead of “Torture” or “Waterboarding” or “Beating the information out of the bastards.” But when they wrote the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act, they couldn’t use euphemisms, they had to spell it out – that’s why they made those sections classified, not to hide them from the enemy but to hide them from us. That’s why those interrogation tapes were destroyed by the CIA, and that’s why the White House email backups were “accidently” erased. And that’s why the shredders have been running overtime for the last two months. When you strip away the euphemisms you are faced with the brutal truth. Torture. That’s what we’re talking about here. Torture.
And Cheney knows it. You can see it in his choice of words, you can see it in the way he avoids answering questions directly, and you can see it in his continued attempts to justify these things by throwing up armies of terrorist strawmen.
And that’s exactly what they are, strawmen.
And the most common strawman is the terrorist weapon of mass destruction. Conservatives pull this raggedy-assed scarecrow out at every opportunity. You’ve heard it:
“We have to keep all means on the table, including torture. We have to. Because the terrorists hate us and they’ll do anything, anything, to destroy us.”
And then they drop the trump card, the one nobody wants to argue with:
“What if the terrorists had your family? What if they had an atom bomb hidden in a city with you family strapped to it and you caught one of those bastards and there was only an hour left and there was no time to evacuate and millions were gonna die? Including your family! Huh? What about that? Are you saying you wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to get that information? Huh?” Then usually at this point they go on to describe exactly how they would save the day by beating the bomb location out of the sorry bastard terrorist just in time to defuse the nuke and kill Osama Bin Ladin himself in a flurry of mano a mano fisticuffs.
I’ve heard this same scenario I don’t know how many times. I’ve heard it from Hollywood, I heard it from Palin supporters, I’ve heard it from Rush, I’ve heard it from Anne, I’ve heard it from Dick and George, and I’m hearing it on the republican side of the aisle right now.
We need to keep torture on the table. Just in case.
Let me ask you conservatives something, how many times - outside of a Bruce Willis special effects laden summer blockbuster - as this ever happened? Ever? I hunted terrorists, I fought in combat, I worked in intelligence for twenty damned years, I’ve been in interrogations. I’ve studied history, of this war, and the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that – including the classified portions. I’ve seen the reports submitted by FBI field agents to Washington warning of possible airplane hijackings and reporting some of the 911 hijackers by name – those reports were obtained by good, constitutional intelligence work, and they were ignored. I’ve seen a lot of things during my time in government service, but I’ve never seen this strawman happen. Ever. I’ve never seen it. But, hey, I don’t pretend to know everything, so, let me ask again, how many times has this happened?
What was that? I couldn’t hear your answer.
Ahh, says the Conservatives, but it could, it could!
It sounds silly, doesn’t it? Reality isn’t like a summer action thriller. Real life isn’t a Tom Clancy movie. But that’s exactly what this entire house of cards is built on – this single strawman. And for this we’ve given up our rights. For this we’ve given into fear. For this we’ve become a nation of torturers.
That’s changed now, President Obama has taken those things off the table in an attempt to return the United States to a land of honor and law. And Cheney calls him a fool, he doesn’t use euphemisms there, does he? That is precisely the gist of Cheney’s message and it comes through loud and clear – those of us who believe in the founding principles of the United States are fools. The Founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Adams, and the rest, those who framed the Virginia Plan, and those who came to the Constitutional Convention, and those who fought and died and bled to forge this nation, those people, those people were fools.
I don’t buy this crap for a minute. Oh, not that terrorists couldn’t obtain a nuclear device, smuggle it into the US, and detonate it in one of our cities. Anything is possible, given sufficient motivation, time, and resources. But if it happens - if, not when, if – it’s not going to be anything like a Bruce Willis movie.
But let’s just say that it was.
Let’s say that it was exactly like a Bruce Willis movie. Let’s say that Al Qaeda obtained an old Soviet era suitcase sized fission device from somewhere on the Russian/Afghan border – and despite being Soviet technology it actually still works. They smuggle it across the ocean and carry it in pieces across the porous US/Mexican boarder. It ends up in New York. Somehow, Bruce Willis crosses these terrifying men (actually I suppose I should have used Arnold as an example because I’m pretty sure I’m describing the plot of True Lies at this point), they kidnap his family and strap his daughter to the bomb.
Bruce catches one of the bad guys.
Now we’re screwed, right? Obama and those pansy-assed rights-loving liberals are in charge. Bruce has got to read Ahmed his rights. He can’t torture the defiant terrorist. They use harsh language, but Ahmed remains mum. Boom! Right? That’s precisely the scenario we’re talking about here, isn’t it? The founding fathers never foresaw that, did they?
And, yet utterly wrong.
Those men knew that they couldn’t foresee everything. They knew that they couldn’t make the Constitution too rigid, or the new United States would rapidly outgrow it. So they made it fairly general, except in the areas that they knew needed rigid and specific limits, habeas corpus and individual rights for example. But they weren’t stupid, they were in fact brilliant, and they could play the “what if? game too.
So, they built in safe guards.
You know what happens if the above scenario ever actually did come to pass? The colonel in charge, the detective, the chief of police, the CIA or FBI agent would beat the ever living hell out of that captive. He’d chop off fingers if that’s what it took. He’d zap that bastard with enough juice to jump start a fucking Sherman tank. He’d burn the bastard’s balls off with a zippo lighter. He’d cut that son of pig’s liver out with a spoon and eat it, if that’s what it took.
I would do whatever it took, including torture if that was the only way to save the city, if that was the only way to save my family, if that was the only way. I would. Absolutely. And I’d do it, knowing I was breaking the law, and I would expect to be tried for the crime and sent to prison.
And I’d be wrong - even if I saved the day.
And I’d go to jail - even if I was a hero.
And that is precisely what should happen.
The morality of this situation is a choice for human beings, for men, for women, for individuals. The morality of nations is something else entirely.
And that, my friends, is exactly what a presidential pardon is for.
It’s not to pardon Scooty Libby, as Cheney seems to think. It’s not to pardon a former President who committed criminal abuses of his office, now or in the past. It’s not to clean the slates of corrupt politicians and hacks and flacks and flunkies and contributors and lobbyists.
The Presidential Pardon is a safeguard for exactly this kind of situation, built into the framework of our nation as a relief valve for exactly this type of situation.
The Founding Fathers were far smarter than Cheney or Bush or the pinheads pushing this strawman give them credit for. They knew that no free nation could ever embrace evil and remain free.
Too bad Cheney can’t see that.
Too bad we can't give him a big syringe full of Penicillin and make him go away.
* For those of you with more than two brain cells, I’d recommend that if you’re going to read Cheney’s version of events, you also read Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, ISBN 978-0-385-52639-5. Highly recommended.