If I Were a Fan of Dick Cheney…

I wouldn’t be so quick to claim that yesterday’s document dump in any way vindicates Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (or, as the rest of the world calls them, Torture).  In fact, if I were a fan of Dick Cheney and read his purported claim of vindication, I’d be extremely disappointed in the language he used to make that claim:

The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel, and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House, serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this Administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.

I usually try to avoid writing much about subjects where I’m going to be offering the exact same perspective you can get elsewhere, but my initial thought upon reading the above statement was exactly the same as Spencer Ackerman, Michael Scherer, and Chris Boddener: Cheney’s statement does nothing to actually claim that torture (or Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, if you’d prefer) actually led to a significant amount of actionable intelligence.  Instead, it simply restates what no one has ever denied – that high value detainees were, in fact, highly valuable.  As others have noted, nowhere in the memos as they were released yesterday is there any evidence or even suggestion that torture/EITs led to actionable intelligence – only that detainees who were at some point subjected to such actions provided valuable actionable intelligence. 

Although it’s certainly possible that the heavily redacted portions of the two Cheney-sought memos contain such evidence, and indeed one can plausibly (though not with any kind of certainty) infer from some of the other documents that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed may have had some valuable effect, Cheney’s statement should make his supporters think twice about making such inferences. 

Indeed, if I were a Cheney supporter, I’d look at his statement and have a difficult time concluding that such inferencs are a wise idea.  Instead, I would wonder why, if those inferences were valid, Cheney’s own statement utterly fails to make them.  I’d wonder why a man who doesn’t have much of a history of mincing words would issue a prepared statement that so transparently avoids the central issue at hand and thus fails to make any claim of vindication on that central issue of whether torture/EITs actually made us safer. 

I would wonder why Cheney used the carefully chosen phrase “individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence” instead of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence…”  I would consider that former VP Cheney has a huge personal stake in this issue and is, apparently, one of the few people with direct knowledge of how detainees were interrogated and what results those interrogations produced.  I would then ask myself whether it would be appropriate to conclude that torture/EITs worked in any meaninful sense based on speculation about the redacted portions of the memos and attenuated inferences about the unredacted portions when the man at the center of it all, the man upon whom my trust that torture/EITs worked relies has so blatantly refused to make such inferences. 

Then, finally, I would find myself with little choice but to conclude that, in fact, torture/EITs did not work and that the only real justification remaining for those actions is the justification that was there all along: naked vengeance. 

But, of course, I am not a supporter of Cheney.  And so it doesn’t much matter what I would do if I were.

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5 thoughts on “If I Were a Fan of Dick Cheney…

  1. It makes no sense for anyone, out of context, to recommend torture, and it will be almost impossible to conclude that torture worked as claimed by the Bush adminsitration, but the context of 9/11 provides a little understanding of why torture was performed. All of a sudden, with the sudden explosion of planes into skyscrapers in New York, the people in power were presented with a situation unlike anything since Pearl Harbor. They had no way to know if other attacks were planned, and, if so, how many lives were at risk. In this context, and under these conditions, it’s understandable that extreme measures were taken. I believe if we have another attack, even under a Republican adminsistration, with what we’ve learned, there would be reluctance to go to such extreme measures — however, if we were almost certain that the attacks would continue and torture was the last hope to get information, after all else had failed — who among us would not give the order? You have a high level terrorist before you who you know has valuable information, and who you know was responsible for the first, say, 50,000 deaths, and you’ve tried everything short of torture, and intelligence tells you another attack is imminent — what do you do? I really don’t know what I’d do, but more than likely I’d be asking for understanding later.

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    • I can’t object in general Mike. I agree with you on principle but the problem lies specifically in what Cheney/Bush did. They not only did it during the dire emergency but they also institutionalized it and concealed it and continue to attempt to conceal it. If it were truely necessary to torture these people then the only principled way to do so would be to unambigously admit to it and make your case. None of this “it’s not really torture” nonsense or “We sortof told the opposition” kabuki or the “it must be kept secret or else our enemies will prepare against it” prattle.

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      • Exactly. Just about anyone could understand if the Administration, in the days after 9/11 authorized actions that crossed the line. Those actions would still be illegal, of course, but I doubt you could ever find a jury that would ever think of convicting. No, the problem is the institutionalization and the post-hoc justifications that utterly fail to acknowledge just how wrong these actions were – things like the refusal to acknowledge that these actions amounted to torture, the continued insistence that they were effective despite a complete dearth of evidence to that effect, etc.

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  2. I don’t know — I’m certainly no fan of Bush or Cheny, but it all smells like political opportunism from the Obama adminsitration — something to boost his lagging support — I find it difficult that others don’t see the timing suspect, and don’t doubt Obama when he says Holder is being independent. This whole things stinks as bad as Bush and Cheny — both sides are pure politcal animals, and the people caught in the middle doing their job will be hurt the most. It’s a digrace, and not objective in any way.

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    • Perhaps it is. But that’s the nature of the beast. If Obama, for either political or principled reasons, brings more sunshine onto this aspect of the War on Terror then I shall applaud regardless of his motives. In fact I almost hope that he uses it to whip the republicans up and down DC. I would -love- for it to become a part of political thought that doing what Bush and Cheney did is political suicide. Imagining some spineless president (R or D) in the future saying to his cabinet “Maybe it would help but if we do it this way the opposition is going to Bush/Cheney us into oblivion so I won’t support it.” that makes me smile.

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