Sunday, March 15, 2009

The incredible Mr. Cheney

Among a long litany of self-serving distortions in Dick Cheney's assessments of the Bush and Obama Administrations on CNN tonight, one in particular encapsulates Cheneythought: the conflation of diverse real and imagined threats into a monolith that justifies the most extreme response. Here's how he justified the invasion of Iraq to John King:
The circumstances, though, that in terms of whether or not this was worth doing, I think it was. I think if you hark back and look at the biggest threat we faced after 9/11, it was the idea of a rogue state or a terrorist-sponsoring state with weapons of mass destruction — say, nukes, for example — and providing those to terrorist organizations. What happened in Iraq is we’ve eliminated that possibility. We got rid of one of the worst dictators in the 20th century. We got rid of his government. There is no prospect that Iraq is going to become a place where once again they produce weapons of mass destruction or support terrorists..
This account conveniently omits a few facts: that Iraq did not support the terrorists who attacked on on 9/11, it did not have weapons of mass destruction when we attacked, and there was virtually no prospect that Saddam would either develop WMD or support al Qaeda.

Justifying the war for removing a nonexistent threat provides Cheney with the added benefit of justifying the Bush Administration's massive deficit spending:

Eight months after we arrived, we had 9/11. We had 3,000 Americans killed one morning by al Qaeda terrorists here in the United States. We immediately had to go into the wartime mode. We ended up with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of that is still very active. We had major problems with respect to things like Katrina, for example. All of these things required us to spend money that we had not originally planned to spend, or weren’t originally part of the Stuff happens. And the administration has to be able to respond to that, and we did...We always said — I always said that wartime scenario is cause for an exception in terms of spending. It was appropriate in World War II, certainly, and I think it’s appropriate nowbudget. Stuff happens. And the administration has to be able to respond to that, and we did...

It's in this context that Cheney's claims that information gained from the torture regime he implemented prevented major terrorist attacks against the U.S., and that future attacks can't be prevented without torture, must be judged:

KING: But another 9/11, because of a tactic like waterboarding or a black site, can you say with certainty you stopped another attempt to do something on that level?

CHENEY: John, I’ve seen a report that was written based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs. It’s still classified. I can’t give you the details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them. The one that has been public was the potential attack coming out of Heathrow, when they were going to have several American planes with terrorists on board, with liquid explosives, and they were going to blow those planes up over the United States.

The claim that info gained through torture prevented further attacks can't be absolutely disproved, at least not without mountains of declassified evidence. But look at the way Cheney continues to misrepresent the threat posed by Saddam, and consider the source.

Update: against Cheney's insistence on the indispensability of torture stands the testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, linking to a long review by Mark Danner of the International Committee of the Red Cross's Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody):

I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.... I'm sure that the false information I was forced to invent...wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US," - Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, one of the high-value terrorists tortured by president George W. Bush, to the ICRC.

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