They say that the criminal always returns to the seen of the crime. That’s exactly what Dick Cheney is doing as he tours the airwaves in an attempt to distort the conversation about breaking the law and to ultimately stay out of jail.
While many in the press debate about Just-Trust-Me Dick’s motives – save the former administration’s historical legacy, reclaim the voice of the GOP, or tarnish the new administration and the Democrats – I think his goal is pretty clear: to stay out of jail. The facts are crystal clear, no matter how you look at them. The Bush administration through its enhanced interrogation program (and other similar anti-terrorism measures like the Rendition program) blatantly and flagrantly violated the law and committed crimes.
That Nancy Pelosi or anyone else in Congress knew about it, that the press coddled the administration, that the American people wanted vengeance, and that the Obama administration is selling-out are irrelevant. There are no mitigating factors in torture, kidnapping and false imprisonment. There is no self-defense defense.
Ironically, by going on this Stay Out of Jail Tour and defending the administration’s actions, Dick Cheney is admitting to having engaged in the illegal acts. Notice that Cheney does not say that the administration did not break the law, but that breaking the law was good for the country.
Unfortunately, the tortuous logic that the government is above the law (and better than all of the repressive countries that it denounces for the similar conduct) as long as it claims that crimes were committed in furtherance of national security (with the knowledge of Nancy Pelosi) has shifted the debate almost exclusively to whether torture works and how much Pelosi knew about it.
These arguments should be embarrassing to Americans’ basic sense of intellectual honesty. The entire Pelosi debate is a ruse, a red-herring. In the law, the “Nancy Pelosi Knew About It” defense simply does not exist. That Mrs. Pelosi may have known and is a hypocrite shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it is not exculpatory.
Next, if Cheney and the Bush administration believed that torture actually worked and that the country was justified in the kidnapping and illegal detention of people around the world, they should have sought to change the law, not violate it. After 9/11 they were able to convince Congress to pass new laws and amend existing legislation on all sorts of anti-terrorism measures (ie, domestic surveillance). They could have also sought to repeal or modify the law on torture. They did not. Thus, in strictly legal terms, the ends does not exculpate the means.
It’s actually funny when you think about how the Republicans abhor the “judicial activist” liberal judges who create new law instead of strictly interpreting the existing law. Nevertheless, Cheney and the Republican apologists want us to believe that the executive branch should in fact have the same power to act as judicial activists, to unilaterally carve out exceptions to the laws of the land. And they want to president to be able to do so in total secrecy.
Finally, even non-legal emotional arguments in favor of torture fail miserably when applied to the totality of the previous administration’s actions. As I have previously explained,
. . . the Bush Administration cannot possibly reconcile the images of Abu Ghraib or the torture — not of the worst of the worst but of everyone else we held in custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the secret prisons around the world — with an underlying intelligence gathering purpose. How does humiliating prisoners in Iraq stop an imminent attack in the U.S.? As a matter of fact, the government knew that this argument would not fly, and therefore, put all of the blame on a few “bad seeds”. And guess what the press did? They bought and resold it. Ironically, the same press that bought that argument then is now calling for the big cheeses to be given a free pass, while the “bad seed” scapegoats rot in jail.
. . . So how should we understand Cheney’s argument that those 183 instances of waterboarding produced essential information that saved lives? Especially knowing as we do now that the interrogation technique approved by the DOJ attorneys were based on a Chinese field guide for inducing false testimony. Yes, that’s right. These techniques were not designed to produce quality intelligence – the kind that saves lives — but to manufacture confessions — the kind that produces propaganda. How did the interrogators know on the 183th dunk to stop waterboarding? At what point did they get the testimony they were waiting for?
Furthermore, we know that the Jack Bauer moment simply does not happen in real life. There are no ticking time bombs, and if we have to dunk someone 183 times to get that life-saving information, it’s probably already too late.
So while the entire discussion about whether torture is ever justified — whether it actually works and what to do in the event of a hypothetical ticking-time-bomb — may be great cocktail conversation or nice for the next legislature to consider. But it is irrelevant to the actions of the former administration. The facts, like the law, are clear. Torture was, is and continues to be illegal, and the government engaged in torture. (For example, waterboarding is, under established law, torture; why is Jesse Ventura only of the only rational voices in politics on the matter?)
In the meantime, Dick Cheney is working hard to stay out of jail. Judging by the press coverage, it’s working.