Monday, August 31, 2009

The strange lies of Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney's extended attack on the Obama Administration in his 8/30 interview with Chris Wallace, focused chiefly on the Justice Dept. investigation into whether some CIA interrogators violated the limits set on interrogation techniques by the depraved torture memos, is full of lies. The repeated master lie, providing the theme and structure of Cheney's attack, is easily debunked. Here are three iterations:
We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn't be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration. Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they're reversing course on that.

Instead, they're out there now threatening to disbar the lawyers who gave us the legal opinions, threatening contrary to what the president originally said. They're going to go out and investigate the CIA personnel who carried out those investigations.

But my concern is that the damage that will be done by the President of the United States going back on his word, his promise about investigations of CIA personnel who have carried those policies, is seriously going to undermine the moral, if you will, of our folks out at the agency.
Reality check: when the Obama administration released the torture memos on April 16, both Obama and Holder made it very clear that they intended to rule out prosecuting CIA personnel who relied on Justice Department guidance when carrying out interrogations -- that is, who stayed within the limits imposed by the torture memos. Obama's April 16 statement said:
In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.
Holder was more explicit about the boundaries of this forbearance:
"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
Also untrue: that "threatening to disbar" authors of the torture memos for their tortured legal reasoning that authorized the obvious abrogation of U.S. treaty obligations and violations of U.S. law constitutes going back on a promise. Obama indicated early that he would prefer not to prosecute the authors of the memos. The draft report by the Justice Dept.'s Office of Professional Responsibility, completed by May of this year, does not recommend prosecution. The still-unreleased report is, according to the Times, (May 6), "likely to ask state bar associations to consider possible disciplinary action, which could include reprimands or even disbarment, for some of the lawyers involved in writing the legal opinions."

As a corollary lie to the lie that Obama has reversed himself, Cheney added this:
We ask those people [intelligence operatives] to do some very difficult things. Sometimes, that put their own lives at risk. They do so at the direction of the president, and they do so with the -- in this case, we had specific legal authority from the Justice Department. And if they are now going to be subject to being investigated and prosecuted by the next administration, nobody's going to sign up for those kinds of missions.
Again, Holder has directed the investigation at those who exceeded the boundaries imposed by the torture memos.

Cheney also lied regarding the import of the declassified CIA memos assessing the effects of the CIA interrogation program:
But the interesting thing about these is it shows that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided the overwhelming majority of reports on Al Qaeda. That they were, as it says, pivotal in the war against Al Qaeda. That both of them were uncooperative at first, that the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically waterboarding, especially in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is what really persuaded him. He needed to cooperate.
As Wallace himself indicated in the phrasing of his question, the CIA reports do not show that "the application of enhanced interrogation what really persuaded him." Here's how Wallace put it:
While they say that the overall program got absolutely crucial information, they do not conclude whether the enhanced interrogation programs worked. They just are kind of agnostic on the issue.
Every news organization that has reported the release of these documents has noted that they provide no information as to what techniques yielded what information. And it's a flat-out lie that Abu Zubaydah was "uncooperative at first." Zubaydah's first interrogator, the FBI's Ali Soufan, has written and testified that Zubaydah gave up reams of precious information in interrogations led by Soufan before the CIA intervened and began its escalating series of abuses and torture techniques. No one has contradicted Soufan's testimony.

There were other lies and distortions and misleading innuendos - e.g., that the torture memos provided direction as to how to keep the interrogation program in compliance with U.S. international treaty obligations, when in fact they simply denied the treaties' authority over the President's "article II" authority to conduct war in any way he sees fit; that the FBI is unfit to play the lead in detainee interrogation; that the Bush Administration did not deliberate in detail over the conduct of the interrogation of key detainees; and that the Obama Administration has not stepped up pilotless drone attacks on suspected Taliban leaders )fro better or worse).

Debunking Cheney's lies and distortions is a potentially limitless exercise -- worthwhile only because his slurs sit like time bombs, ready to detonate into full-scale "stab-in-the-back" paranoia after the next major terrorist attack.


  1. I think the responsibility lies at the top of the administration that asked for torture to begin by renaming it as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, (even Ronald Regan, called the practice of torture “abhorrent”), is anyone surprised that Cheney is now crying about the investigations.

  2. I'm not so sure about what to think of this...torture is not my think, but sometimes it's required to get the answers from the Enemy.