The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture has unleashed a furious debate over the use and effectiveness of so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT’s) in keeping our country safe. No conversation about the subject is complete without the irascible architect of the controversial program weighing. So it was no surprise to see former Vice President Dick Cheney show up for an interview with moderator Chuck Todd on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
Dick was at his combative best as he navigated the path between protector of our democracy and war criminal. He pushed back hard on any and all assertions that the program constituted torture. And he was adamant that the intelligence committee’s report was biased and its findings taken out of context.
Here are some of Dick’s most notable statements on the subject. We’ve taken the liberty of adding the “context “that Dick argued was missing from the intelligence report.
- Dick said that the EIT’s did not constitute torture because: “The program was thoroughly vetted by the Justice Department lawyers and they agreed that the program did not constitute torture. We were very careful not to cross that line.” Dick failed to mention that several of those same lawyers later recanted their findings saying that they were pressured by the White House to find a way around the law to make the program legal. Dick also failed to note that the while the US Justice Department has standing when it comes to interpreting US law it has no standing in interpreting international law. By signing the Geneva Convention/ Accords the US agreed to abide by international law. No one is disputing that the EIT’s are in violation of international law.
- On the question of why the detainees were held for years without due process during which time they were subject to EIT’s. Dick said that the detainees were not entitled to due process under US law because they were not US citizens but rather enemy combatants. This is true. And since Dick knew this to be true it calls into question his reliance on the Justice Department’s interpretation of US law. The detainees were not entitled to protection under US law and therefore the Justice Department’s findings on the legality of their treatment are irrelevant. The detainees were entitled to protection under international law; which the EIT program violated.
- On several occasions Dick asserted: “The program worked and it saved American lives.” Current CIA Director John Brennen gave a press briefing in response to the committee’s report. In written remarks he initially seemed to corroborate Cheney’s comments stating: “Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EIT’s were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.” However he later clarified by saying that it was impossible to know whether the detainees provided that information because of the EIT’s, calling the cause and effect relationship “unknown and unknowable.”
- Moderator Chuck Todd, citing several of the techniques used against detainees, asked the former Vice President if he believed they constituted torture. Cheney avoided the question by restating that the Justice Department had vetted the program and found it legal. Todd then recounted the gruesome incident where a detainee’s dinner was pureed and used as an enema solution; asking Cheney if he believed this act was torture. Dick’s response: “I’m not a doctor.”
- Dick pointed out that the EIT program has kept our country safe since the 9/11 attacks. “Have we been bombed since?” Cheney asked to make the point. Cheney failed to note that President Obama discontinued the program in January of 2009.
- Chuck Todd asked Dick about the moral concerns being expressed by some over the use of EIT’s. Cheney replied: “These terrorists murdered 3,000 innocent citizens on 9/11. Whatever we did pales in comparison.” This is an emphatic statement from the former Vice President that in his mind the end justifies the means.
The interview ended with the former Vice President stating emphatically that he had no regrets and that he would do it all over again.
Had I been interviewing Dick I would have asked a few additional questions.
I would have asked: “If this program was legal and so effective then why did you hide it from the American people? Why did you set up secret black sites to conduct these “legal” interrogations? Why did you hire off the book contractors or the security services of other nations to implement the EIT’s? Why did you lie to the American people and tell them we didn’t torture people when surely you knew that we were operating in violation of the Geneva Accords that we authored? Why didn’t you trust the American people with the truth? Aren’t they entitled to the truth?
Recent polls show that a majority of the public agrees with the former Vice President. 52% of those polled said they approved of the CIA’s use of torture to keep the country safe.
I guess I’m in the minority.
You see I believe that Dick Cheney and the Bush administration failed our country. They failed to keep us safe. Then in the aftermath of 9/11 they allowed their fear, anger, embarrassment and thirst for revenge to guide their actions. In so doing they conceded whatever moral high ground we may have held, took us to an unnecessary and unwinnable war, broke international laws and reduced us to the equivalent a third world dictatorship. They did all of this in our name. And then they covered it up by lying to us.
Dick says he’d do it all over again.