Posts Tagged ‘Dick Cheney’

Cheney Is Preemptively Politicizing The Next Attack

Friday, May 15th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard is reporting that the CIA’s Information and Privacy Coordinator has rejected Cheney’s request to declassify documents Cheney insists prove that torture worked. As the CIA explained in what is an apparently leaked excerpt from their letter to Cheney:

In researching the information in question, we have discovered that it is currently the subject of pending FOIA litigation (Bloche v. Department of Defense, Amnesty International v. Central Intelligence Agency). Therefore, the document is excluded from Mandatory Declassification Review.

Essentially, the CIA’s response is that the form of Cheney’s request is improper – though they are not excluding it’s release by other means.  Though the Obama administration could have reached out and helped out Cheney by intervening and (technically independent of Cheney’s request) releasing the documents, they chose not to at this time. This is what is actually going on behind the blaring headlines: White House Snubs Cheny!

In requesting these documents be released, Cheney was echoing Mark Danner, a journalist for the New York Review of Books who published the leaked Red Cross memos that documented the torture conducted by the Bush administration. Danner explained why we needed to declassify any relevant documents – even if they proved torture worked:

Mr. Cheney’s politics of torture looks, Janus-like, in two directions: back to the past, toward exculpation for what was done under the administration he served, and into the future, toward blame for what might come under the administration that followed.

Put forward at a time when Republicans have lost power and popularity—and by the man who is perhaps the least popular figure in American public life—these propositions seem audacious, outrageous, even reckless; yet the political logic is insidious and, in the aftermath of a future attack, might well prove compelling…

The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the “politics of fear” is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved.

Danner argues:

This is the only way we can begin to come to a true consensus about torture. By all accounts, it is likely that the intelligence harvest that can be attributed directly to the “alternative set of procedures” is meager. But whatever information might have been gained, it must be assessed and then judged against the great costs, legal, moral, political, incurred in producing it. Torture’s harvest, whatever it may truly be, is very unlikely to have outweighed those costs.

As Dawn Johnsen, who Obama has appointed to head the office that under Bush authorized torture, wrote for Slate:

Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.

All of this demonstrates why Obama must release these memos – for only with full disclosure, with the Bush torture program subjected to the only disinfectant a democracy has – the sunlight of public opinion and inspection – only then can we come to a consensus on torture. This is the inevitable logical end of Obama’s stated positions. And there is reason to suspect this is still the plan. Those who have reviewed these documents (aside from Cheney) have said they do not prove what Cheney insists they do. As Stephen Bradbury, the compliant head of the Bush Office of Legal Counsel in 2005 who replaced the right-wing but independent Jack Goldsmith, concluded in a still classified memo (which seems to be referencing the memos in question):

[I]t is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks…

So – if these memos don’t support the Cheney position – or offer only qualified support for it – why hasn’t Obama called Cheney’s bluff and just released them? Musn’t he be hiding something?

The one thing I have learned paying attention to Obama over these past few years is that it is often easiest to figure out what he means by listening to what he says. Obama has a way of setting a goal – then compromising, pushing deadlines off, hedging, keeping his mouth shut, and moving steadily forward – all while his opponents shriek and the media analyzes every small signal for portents of what is to come – until everyone misses the story and Obama’s goal is accomplished. This is the story of how Obama beat Hillary and McCain and of how the stimulus was passed.

On the issue of torture, Obama has been clear. He has ended the practice. He wishes to move on – but he does not wish to sweep the crimes of the Bush administration under the rug. He cannot appear eager to prosecute anyone – and he doesn’t seem to be. But he realizes that in a liberal democracy such as ours, there must be accountability. What is required is a balancing act – as he tackles the essentially political task of achieving a national consensus on the issue that will survive in the aftermath of the next crisis.

For Cheney, the political logic is also clear. He believes a crisis requires a strong executive empowered to do whatever is necessary. In defending this belief in the way he is, Cheney is setting Obama up to be politically kneecapped in the immediate aftermath of the next attack. Cheney is preemptively blaming Obama for the next significant terrorist attack – and preemptively politicizing the aftermath of that attack, preparing the ground for a resurgence of the Cheney model of the executive (which is in essence an elected tyrant). This is a truly dangerous game Cheney is playing.

Obama is struggling with how to counter this. He knows it is likely that America will be attacked in his first year in office. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were tested in this way in the beginning of their presidencies. Obama must demonstrate that he is not going too far too fast in pushing back the Cheney model – lest that push be blamed for the next attack as Cheney wants it to be. Yet the Bush-Cheney policies are being legally challenged on every front – and even to delay rolling them back, Obama must defend them. What Obama needs is a gradual, thoughtful, public process.

My suspicion is that Obama will let Cheney continue to promise more openness and accountability. Cheney has already promised to testify before Congress; he is pressuring for the release of classified documents; he is making his case in the public arena. Cheney’s insistence on fighting this out in public will give Obama cover to convene a truth commission – perhaps Cheney himself may even call for one. This strategy would effectively deal with the very real threat that Cheney’s preemptive politicization of the next attack poses to the country and to the presidency.

And it means the photos just held back must be released; it means we must get to the bottom of what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it; it means we must figure out what the well-timed leaks about Jane Harman and Nancy Pelosi were meant to accomplish; it means we must know how effective torture was or was not; it means we must have a truth commission. 

 

 

[Image by the World Economic Forum licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Understanding Reactionaries

Friday, May 8th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]I tend to judge an individual’s politics on two levels. First, on a more traditional left to right spectrum (leftist to progressive to liberal to conservative to right-wing.) This left to right perspective can be further broken down – but in general, whether due to social, political, or psychological reasons, individuals in a political system can be described as belonging to a discrete place on this spectrum. The second political judgment is where they fit on what I’m calling the Political Change Spectrum – pictured below. 

Reactionary Dick Cheney to Conservative George H. W. Bush to Reformer Teddy Roosevelt to Revolutionary Che Guevera

Footnote re. spectrum.1

These are also commonly used political terms that describe a political actor’s relationship to the status quo. To break it down further – the reactionary seeks to overturn the current order and return to a previous status quo, or alternately, to use radical measures to protect the current status quo; the conservative seeks to maintain the status quo; the reformer seeks to improve the status quo without overturning it; the revolutionary seeks to overthrow the system and put in place another one.

Political actors generally do not fall exclusively on one part of this scale – and may have some reformist positions and some reactionary ones. While a politician can take a left-wing or right-wing position,

But to a surprising degree, one can predict the actions and positions of a political actor based on their overall position on this spectrum – perhaps because it captures on a fundamental level how a political actor feels about his or her society and their natural temperament.

The reason I bring this up is a question: I have noticed that reactionaries tend to take within themselves (internalize) an exaggerated view of their enemy – and presume when making their own plans – that the enemies tactics and strategies are better than their own. What ends up happening in many of these reactionary groups is that they construct themselves on a model based on their worst fears of their enemy. The John Birch Society, for example, organized in self-sufficient cells with individual members having little to no knowledge of the group outside of their cell; they based this model on their perception of how Communist cells operated. Dick Cheney saw on September 11 the efficacy of violence and destruction to bring a people to heel; he apparently shared the view Osama Bin Laden did that America was not strong enough, not resilient enough to protect it’s way of life while remaining the same America – and so he then sought to unleash the righteous might of America on, eventually, a nation that had nothing to do with September 11 and remake the presidency into a national security dictatorship.

This internalizing of the enemy’s tactics and strategy does not only occur in reactionary groups – but I think – and this is my question – that reactionary groups are defined primarily by their worst fears of their enemy – which they then internalize and model their own organization on.

Reactionaries are more susceptible to this because they have already lost – to some degree – and generally believe their enemy must have in some way won not by honest means but by some clever stratagem. The rationale is that by imitating this stratagem the reactionaries will be able to protect their way of life. But it is impossible to maintain the status quo by radical action – because such actions inevitably upset the very thing being protected.

  1. Though I’m pretty confident about the middle two figures, Cheney and Che don’t necessarily cleanly fit into the categories in the way I wanted them to. Clearly, Cheney is a reactionary – and Che was a revolutionary – both fit in that sense. But Cheney was primarily a reactionary concerned about taking radical measures to protect the status quo while the ideal person I would pick would be someone seeking to restore a past status quo. Cheney did seek to restore a past status quo regarding executive authority – constantly harking back to the pre-Watergate presidency – but he didn’t seem to have a historical model for other aspects of his agenda. I wanted to choose an American political figure – but I had some trouble thinking of an American revolutionary who was of historical value and ended up with real power. Even the original revolutionaries were not revolutionaries in terms of this chart – though their French counterparts a few years later were. []

Cheney Didn’t Panic

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan begins to explain Dick Cheney’s recent odd agreement with anti-torture journalist Mark Danner – as both call for the release of memos which demonstrate the efficacy of torture with this typically insightful observation:

The one thing you saw most plainly in the Plame affair is how obsessed Dick Cheney is with public image, the chattering classes and spinning stories that might reflect poorly on him. The act is the elder statesman, authoritatively reviewing the world scene, soberly making judgments, calmly explaining it later to those pesky people who are required to elect you every four years.

This seems obviously true now that I’ve read it – although I cannot remember this point being discussed before. Cheney demonstrated that he cared a great deal for his public image – even if he was not concerned with that other related quality which we can call popularity. Where I think Andrew goes wrong is in how he explains Cheney’s support for torture in the next sentence:

The reality is a man who lost it on 9/11, leapt immediately to apocalyptic conclusions, and then, as the dust cleared, was unable to go back on the war crimes he had authorized and so dug in ever more deeply to justify them.

I cannot know what precisely motivated Cheney in the aftermath of September 11. But my impression is not that he lost it – but that he saw it as an opportunity to do what needed to be done. Certainly Andrew would agree with this assessment as to Cheney’s motivation regarding executive power and the unitary executive and even the invasion of Iraq. Cheney wanted to do all of these things beforehand and saw September 11 as a justification for each of his preconceived policy prescriptions. Andrew is now trying to account for why Cheney authorized torture – starting with the presumption that he did not plan on doing so beforehand. I too doubt that Cheney intended to institute a policy of torture before he came into the White House. But I believe that given his beliefs, it was inevitable that he would support it, whether September 11 happened or not. Without September 11, he may never have been given the chance to support it – but he would have done so if he had been given such a chance.

There is little evidence of Cheney’s thinking about torture before September 11 – although Barton Gellman in The Angler describes Cheney’s beliefs about torture in the context of the kidnapping and torture of William Buckley by Hezbollah in Beirut in 1984:

Cheney had been thinking about the power of cruelty since at least 1984. In March of that year, the CIA’s chief of station in Beirut, William Buckley, fell into the hands of Hezbollah. “He has kidnapped and tortured,” recalled Tom Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served then as minority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. Cheney, a committee member, followed the Buckley case closely, reviewing a secretly obtained videotape of the station chief’s decline. Cheney “was quite concerned about the implications of his torture and what that could mean in terms of revelations of various intelligence operations going on in the Middle East,” Smeeton said. The presumption they shared, with foreboding, was that torture worked.

I’m sure Cheney – like many who watch action movies – believed that torture was effective. At the same time, Cheney seemed to have a romantic notion of doing the hard, unpopular thing – of living in moral gray areas – of the dark but necessary arts. This of course was evident in his infamous Meet the Press appearance on September 16, 2001. You can see this attitude in his opinion of the crimes of the Richard Nixon and Iran-Contra scandals. This romanticization of the Dark Side of power – the necessary evils done by rough men in the night to protect the rest of us made torture was inevitable. Of course, torture is not normally considered a “gray” area – so a legalistic distinction had to be made:

After September 11, Cheney and his allies pioneered a distinction that the U.S. government had not claimed before. “Torture,” narrowly defined, would remain out of bounds. But violent, cruel, or degrading methods, the terms of art in Geneva, were perfectly lawful.

But the main reason I don’t buy the idea that Cheney’s decision to torture was a product of panic was his apparent composure on September 11 – and the coherence of his response. Back to Barton Gellman in The Angler again:

If a mandarinate ruled America, the recruiting committee on September 11 would have had to find someone like Cheney. “I don’t want to get too poetic about this, but it’s almost as if his whole life had been a preparation for this moment in history,” said Jack Kemp, who used to be a future vice president himself. Scooter Libby quoted that line, too, giving credit to Winston Churchill. Cheney professed no knowledge of fate. He had some acquaintance, though, with force and counterforce. Al Qaeda having struck on his watch, Cheney made clear by word and deed that he would take a leading role in the nation’s reply. So, too, did Libby and Addington. The three of them simply knew what had to be done, a considerable advantage in the debate that would soon follow.

By my reading, the Bush administration approved torture because in the aftermath of September 11, every one panicked – except Dick Cheney – who calmly applied his governing philosophy to the crisis. Cheney himself fomented and controlled the panic with such things as the One Percent Doctrine. His romantic attitude is best demonstrated by the character of Jack Bauer:

Except apparently for the fact that Bauer is humanized by his guilt over what he has done and believes it is necessary for the system to bring him to justice.

Cheney has exhibited no such guilt for his actions – and in fact has demonstrated pride.

Cheney didn’t panic on September 11 – and I don’t think he is panicking now. He does not believe he did anything wrong – and he does believe that no matter what the press says today, history will support him in the end. This is part of his romantic self-image – of a master of the Dark Side. He knows that if torture is held to be not only evil, but an ineffective (and indeed counterproductive) tactic, his legacy will be forever blackened. He’s fighting for his legacy – part of which is the endorsement of torture. He truly believes torture works – and he seems to feel no shame about having authorized it.

Framing the Torture Debate

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]This isn’t a definitive timeline of the debate over torture in America. These are merely some highlights.

On visit our website September 11, 2001 we were attacked by militant islamists as they took advantage of the openness of our society and our technology and committed one of the most foul atrocities in history.

By buy clomid online 50mg September 12, 2001, everything had changed for those in power – and for many of us – “The sense of danger in the White House was urgent, palpable.” An associate of Condi Rice explained:

We really thought we were going to be attacked – possibly chemical, biological, even nuclear, the potential that they could blow up entire American cities…And then CIA came and said, ‘You know, this is the only way to question these people. Our experts say this is the only program that will work.’ And Justice said that the [Geneva Conventions] didn’t apply…and that the agency program did comply with the torture statute.

Others in the White House described a feeling of panic imbuing all their actions.

On September 16, 2001Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press:

I think the important thing here, Tim, is for people to understand that, you know, things have changed since last Tuesday…We…have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

On August 1, 2002, what becomes known as the Bybee torture memo, written apparently by his deputy John Yoo, re-defines torture as physical pain:

equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.

It is not known if all of the techniques justified using this legal shield have been made public – but a partial list includes:

  • Suffocation by water (waterboarding, or traditionally, the water torture);
  • Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head…
  • Beatings by use of a collar held around the detainees’ neck and used to forcefully bang the head and body against the wall…
  • Beating and kicking, including slapping, punching, kicking to the body and face…
  • Confinement in a box to severely restrict movement…
  • Prolonged nudity…this enforced nudity lasted for periods ranging from several weeks to several months…
  • Sleep deprivation…through use of forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and use of repetitive loud noises or music…
  • Exposure to cold temperature…especially via cold cells and interrogation rooms, and…use of cold water poured over the body or…held around the body by means of a plastic sheet to create an immersion bath with just the head out of water.
  • Prolonged shackling of hands and/or feet…
  • Threats of ill-treatment, to the detainee and/or his family…
  • Forced shaving of the head and beard…
  • Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food from 3 days to 1 month after arrest…

Sometime in 2002John Ashcroft exclaims during a meeting of the cabinet-level officials going over the details of how detainees are being interrogated:

History will not judge this kindly.

Donald Rumsfeld writes on 2002 memo describing interrogation techniques:

I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?

Rumsfeld presumably stood at a desk, using it for support and moved around – a very different experience than “forced standing,” a former Communist torture technique which can result in physical effects which Red Cross reports described in detainees:

After 18 to 24 hours of continuous standing, there is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the legs. This dependent edema is produced by the extravasation of fluid from the blood vessels. The ankles and feet of the prisoner swell to twice their normal circumference. The edema may rise up the legs as high as the middle of the thighs. The skin becomes tense and intensely painful. Large blisters develop, which break and exude watery serum….

Beginning in 2004, photographs from the Abu Ghraib scandal surface:

Christopher Hitchens – after publicaly calling waterboarding and the other interrogation methods used merely “extreme interrogation” and not “outright torture” – accepts a challenge to undergo it himself. He comes away a changed man:

Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict…

[I]f waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

Deroy Murdok writes in the National Review:

Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud.

 

Former CIA operative Barry Eisler:

[T]orture is also an excellent way to get the subject to confess to anything at all, which is why it was a wonderful tool for the Spanish Inquisition and for the secret police of assorted totalitarian regimes. But if the goal is to produce accurate, actionable intelligence, torture is madness… To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, torture is worse than immoral: it’s tactically stupid. It produces false confessions, which can be used to confirm mistaken suspicions and even outright policy fantasies; it instills an insatiable thirst for vengeance in most people who are subjected to it, and so creates new, dedicated enemies; it permanently brutalizes its practitioners; and it cuts us off from intelligence from the local populace because so many people will refuse to inform on someone if they fear he’ll be tortured.

On October 15, 2004, Justice John Stevens wrote:

For if this nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.

On June 14, 2005, Senator Dick Durbin gave a controversial speech in which he read from an FBI report of detainee interrogations:

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners

Malcolm Nance, a former SERE interrogator explained that Senator Dick Durbin was right:

Now, at long last, six years of denials can now be swept aside, and we can say definitively: America engaged in torture and legalized it through paperwork.

Despite all the gyrations – the ducking, dodging and hiding from the facts – there is no way to say that these people were not authorizing torture. Worse yet, they seem to have not cared a wit that these techniques came from the actual manuals of communist, fascist and totalitarian torturers.

On September 28, 2005, Captain Ian Fishback wrote a letter to Senator John McCain:

…the most important question that this generation will answer [is] Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession.I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is “America.

On November 4, 2005, Senator John McCain explained his opposition to torture:

I have said it before but it bears repeating: The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies, and we can never, never allow our enemies to take those values away.

On January 19, 2009Dick Cheney explained to the Weekly Standard

I think on the left wing of the Democratic party, there are some people who believe that we really tortured…

On January 14, 2009, Bob Woodward interviewed the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial in the Washington Post:

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

On January 22, 2009, a day after taking office, Barack Obama said:

I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

In April 2009, Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books:

[T]he political logic is insidious and, in the aftermath of a future attack, might well prove compelling…

The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the “politics of fear” is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved.

On April 20, 2009, Dick Cheney told Sean Hannity:

I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was, as well as to see this debate over the legal opinions.

In spring 2008, Eric Holder explained:

We owe the American people a reckoning.

On March 18, 2008 Dawn Johnsen, who has been appointed to head Obama’s Office of Legal Counsel which was responsible for the legal opinions cited above wrote in in Slate:

We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.

On April 19, 2009, Peggy Noonan on This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

Some things in life need to be mysterious … Sometimes you need to just keep walking.

(All emphases within quotations are my own.)

This is where we stand today – thanks to the courage of heroes within the Bush administration and the military who stood for American values in a time of crisis and against preemptive surrender of our way of life and thanks to the courage of journalists from Mark Danner to Andrew Sullivan to Glenn Greenwald to Dana Priest to Jane Mayer who exposed these secret actions.

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The Source of Authority

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

I have my opinion of this statement, but it is somewhat more subtle than most who read this blog might guess – but here’s Dick Cheney being interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

He could launch a kind of devastating attack the world’s never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in. [my emphasis]

It’s interesting that though Cheney continually refers to the powers of the Constitution throughout his remarks, grounding his justifications of various extraordinary actions in his unique interpretations of the Constitution, his final source of authority is “the nature of the world we live in.” I don’t think this is the worst possible justification – but it is a hypocritical one for someone who opposed a judiciary that saw the Constitution as changing as the nature of the world we live in changed.

Bleeping William Kristol

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

William Kristol in The New York Times (my comments in red):

[C]onsider this exchange with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday”:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself? (I wonder if Wallace really said “bleep” or if his question was bleeped.)

CHENEY: I did.

WALLACE: Any qualms, or second thoughts, or embarrassment? (Really – this is what you’re asking him if he has had second thoughts about – not torture? not his pushing of domestic wiretapping so radical it almost forced the entire top levels of law enforcement to resign in protest before Bush intervened? this?)

CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. (Laughter.) And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

No spin. No doubletalk. (I’ll grant Kristol this. This exchange seems franks, even if Cheney was known as someone who could manipulate and spin with the best of them – just ask Dick Armey who still regrets that Cheney convinced him to support the Iraq war.) A cogent defense of his action — and one that shows a well-considered sense of justice. (“I thought he merited it.”) (WTF? How does this exchange demonstrate that Cheney has a “well-considered sense of justice” – because he thought that guy deserved it? Please! Kids use that as their justification – and now Kristol is trying to make Cheney’s “I thought he deserved to be told to fuck himsel” into some koan-like mastery of justice! This is worse than spin by Kristol – it’s just plain silly.) Indeed, if justice is seeking to give each his due, one might say that Dick Cheney aspires to being a just man. And a thoughtful one, because he knows that justice is sometimes too harsh, and should be tempered by civility. (This whole conversation is about how Cheney told Patrick Leahy to “Go fuck himself” on the floor of the Senate. I can accept that Cheney might think Leahy deserved it. But to say that it proves Cheney aspires to be a just man? And a thoughtful one??!? And that justice must be tempered by civility. It’s like Kristol is talking about an entirely different incident and the facts are mere props that sometimes get in the way. Kristol’s editor shouldn’t publish this bullshit. He should tell him to – in the words of our Vice President – go fuck himself. Because Kristol deserves it.)

The Judgment of History

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Patrick Radden Keefe mentioned, in an offhand manner, one of the great questions about the transition:

Even the legal opinions governing the program are still squirreled away in a safe in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. In recent months, the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Washington district judge have ordered them turned over, and the next attorney general should do so immediately.

He was referring here to the wiretapping program specifically – but it applies to many of the legal rationales in the War on Terror. Dick Cheney and his lieutenants David Addington and Scooter Libby perfected the art of bureaucratic warfare during the first years of the Bush administration. According to Jack Goldsmith as quoted by Barton Gellman:

They were geniuses at this. They could divide up all these problems in the bureaucracy, ask different people to decide things in their lanes, control the facts they gave them, and then put the answers together to get the result they want.

In addition – as Keefe mentioned – and as Gellman reported in his book The Angler – Addington kept certain legal documents exclusively in the safe in his office. Not just copies – but the originals, with no copying permitted, and with access to the documents severely limited. (For example, even the attorneys in the National Security Agency responsible for making sure the NSA was following legal guidelines were not permitted to see the legal rationale for their wiretapping program.) As members of the incoming administration attempt to decide what is the best means to deal with the abuses of power during the Bush administration – Nuremberg-style trials? a truth commission offering clemency? the normal legal system? – you have to wonder what steps Cheney and Addington will take. There has been much discussion of whether or not George W. Bush will offer a preemptive pardon to anyone involved in the War on Terror – but less discussed is what Cheney and Addington might be able to do to entirely obfuscate attempts to find out what happened.

Based on my understanding of Cheney’s personality as described by Barton Gellman – and on his recent interview with ABC News – I think Cheney might want to just get it all out there. He virtually admitted – though not necessarily to the point of taking legal responsibility – that he authorized war crimes:

He was also asked whether he authorized the tactics used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do,” Cheney said. “And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

It seems that Cheney – at least on some issues – is now, and finally, willing to come forward and admit his role. He isn’t willing to admit fault – but seems proud of what he did, and willing to accept the judgment of history.

Still given the extreme secrecy surrounding even the legal rationale of many aspects of the War on Terror, we may never know if documents are destroyed.

“We are all Georgians!”: Fantasy as Foreign Policy

Monday, September 8th, 2008


[Photo by World Economic Forum licensed under Creative Commons.]

[digg-reddit-me]Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times reported yesterday on Cheney’s visits to former Soviet states:

Mr. Cheney, who visited Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine this week to express American support, offered no new proposals either, but he described the conflict as a new test for NATO that required a unified response.

This has been the baffling and fundamental flaw of the neoconservative approach to foreign policy. How America responded to 9/11, how America endured the occupation of Iraq, how America responded to the Iranian’s development of nuclear weapons, how America responded to Russian aggression in Georgia – each of these represented – in the words of Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other neoconservatives – a “test” of America’s and our allies’ resolve.

Yet – the neoconservatives only offer a single way for America to pass each of these tests: Escalate matters until America can plausibly threaten to use military force.

That was America’s justifiable response to 9/11. It was the Bush administration’s strategy with Saddam Hussein. It has been Cheney’s strategy for containing Iran. It is McCain’s strategy for confronting Russia. The reason neoconservatives are so eager to use military force – instead of diplomacy, containment, alliances, creating and living by systems of rules for international affairs, or economic pressure – is that they believe America’s military might can solve any problem. They are correct that our military superiority ensures that we can defeat any other military on the planet. But what they do not acknowledge is that the military is a blunt weapon and that without a draft, it can only be deployed under limited circumstances and for limited periods. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate these lessons – yet McCain, Bush, Cheney, and company do not seem to have noticed.

Thus, McCain invoked Kennedy’s defense of Berlin when Russia invaded Georgia – saying, “We are all Georgians!” Kennedy had proclaimed, “Eich bin ein Berlinier” to demonstrate our resolve to the Soviet Union – that if they tried to take Berlin, we would protect it as if it were our own home. McCain, by saying that we are all Georgians, was committing the United States to take military action against Russia. Yet, if that is his plan, he has not admitted it. If it is not his plan, then he has not been following the advice given by his hero, Teddy Roosevelt:

Speak softly, and carry a big stick.

McCain talks a good game – but if he means half of what he says, we’ll have more than one new war on our hands by the time he’s through. Either way, he’s not the president I’m hoping for.

Middle East Mayhem

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Just a typical week in the Middle East these days as the vice president of the United States tries to derail peace talks with North Korea by releasing secret documents involving the Syria-Israel skirmishes of last fall and a ship associated with the American military in the Persian Gulf fires warning shots off the bows of two Iranian ships.  “Simmering tension” one of the section headings declares (as oil prices shoot up $3).

No kidding.

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Yoo are too Clever by a Half

Friday, April 11th, 2008

[reddit-me]Dahlia Lithwick, one of my favorite writers, proves that she sees the dangerous precedent set by John Yoo and the current administration:1

The Bush administration has proven time and again that the Rule of Law is only as definitive as its most inventive lawyers.

I’ve been watching a lot of Westerns recently – El Dorado, 3:10 to Yuma (the new version), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Man From Laramie, Winchester ’73. The older of these movies that defined masculinity during the Golden Age of Gender Roles in the 1950s – “the strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano memorably described it, echoing many before him. What these movies are about – at their core and often explicitly – is how the Rule of Law came to the West. It was not always brought through the most ideal means. Often the honorable brigands and hired guns helped the sheriff establish civilization. But it came – and it was fought for – and men and women died so that the Rule of Law might be brought to their small towns, and many died for the lack of it.

Now today, right wing radio talk show hosts from Dennis Miller to Steve Malzberg talk about the Rule of Law as if it were a sissification, as if it were a feminine value, as if it made a civilization weak. They – and those in power – who dodged and pulled strings to avoid military service (another mark against their purported standard of masculinity) malign those who have stood up for the rule of law2 – from John Kerry to Max Cleeland – as cowards and traitors and “girly men”.

As I’ve argued before – it is astounding that those who advocate the preemptive surrender of American values in the face of terrorism have been able to portray those who stand for the Rule of Law as effete snobs who want to surrender to terrorists. Yet based on the standard of masculinity that many of these “conservatives” regularly invoke – the 1950s man, the cowboy – they are failures. The cowboys in these old Westerns – these brigands and thieves and hired guns and sheriffs – fought to bring the Rule of Law to the Wild West. The movies are often bittersweet, as the world in which these men thrived – a lawless and vicious yet exciting and new wasteland – is “civilized” and they are made obsolete. But these men – and they are all men in these Westerns – still fight for justice, which is held to be brought about only by the Rule of Law.

What John Yoo and the Bush administration suggest, without saying outright, is that the Rule of Law – the concept that all individuals are equal before the law – is obsolete and dangerous. They believe that the Rule of Law does not need to be upheld when government officials are trying to deal with terrorism. Therefore, telecommunication companies that broke the law should be immunized; CIA officers who have tortured individuals should not be held accountable; neither the president nor his lawyers nor his advisors nor the Secretary of the Defense should be forced to follow the law or to face consequences if they do not. The overwhelming, overriding impulse must be to take any measure necessary to prevent terrorism – even if there is only a 1% chance of an attack, it must be treated as if it were certain, and it must be prevented by any means necessary. 3 This is a prescription for tyranny. 4 But perhaps worse from the perspective of those “conservatives” who like to dress up their president as a cowboy or Air Force pilot, it is cowardly.

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  1. This particular post has actually appeared on the site several times before in the past week due to errors on my part. This is the definitive version. []
  2. And often did serve. []
  3. Though this sounds like an exaggeration, it is precisely what Vice President Dick Cheney articulated and it is what that Ron Suskind demonstrated has informed administration policy since September 11. []
  4. Let me be clear – I do not believe we are there. But I think this clearly is the danger we face. The difference between a liberal democracy and a tyranny is the Rule of Law. []
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