Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Good Question From Lauer to Cheney

Matt Lauer interviewed Dick Cheney recently and asked a good question about torture. Cheney's response is interesting. Partly an attempt to dodge, part delusion, and part an admission that hypocrisy is a key component of his thinking.

LAUER: Enhanced interrogation techniques: In your book, you state bluntly you have no regrets about being in favor of things like waterboarding – I think you say even if circumstances were the same today you'd make the same decisions....If an American citizen were to be taken into captivity in Iran, for example, and the government of Iran were to look at that person and say, 'We think you're a spy for the U.S. or you're here to carry out a covert operation. Would it be okay for the Iranian government to waterboard that American citizen?

CHENEY: Well, we probably would object to it.

LAUER: On the grounds that it's torture?

CHENEY: On the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens. And that we do everything we can to protect our citizens and to put them through a process that we think is appropriate.

LAUER: So why was it okay for us to use what most people would say was torture against terror suspects?

CHENEY: Well, remember, first of all, these were not American citizens. We weren't dealing with American citizens in the enhanced interrogation program. Secondly, it was people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, there were a handful, two or three, for example, that actually got waterboarded. Third, we had good reason to believe they had information that we could only get from them and that they knew more than anybody else.

LAUER: But if the government of Iran were capture someone and say, 'We have reason to believe that you're a spy or you're carrying out an operation that could be damaging to our country, would you object or would you say they did what they had to do to get the information they needed at the time?

CHENEY: Well, I think we would object because we wouldn't expect an American citizen to be operating that way. When you're dealing with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, for example, a man who was the self-admitted mastermind of 9/11, killed 3,000 Americans. And at a time when we had very little knowledge and understanding about Al Qaeda and what they were doing. And after we'd gone through a lot of other procedures and interrogation efforts, then at the end of that process, he was subjected to the program. It was very carefully supervised. None of the techniques used were things that we hadn't already used on our own people in training.

We object on the grounds that they are American citizens. Torturing a Saudi is one thing. Torturing an American is another. And we wouldn't expect an American in Iran to be operating as a spy. What can you say in the face of such absurdity.

Also worth reading is Greenwald's discussion of this Cheney book tour.


Miles Rind said...

The Bush–Cheney understanding of the legitimacy of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" reminds of a favorite Homeric moment:

Homer: (referring to his father) He said I was an accident. He didn't want to have me.
Marge: You didn't want to have Bart.
Homer: I know, but you're never supposed to tell the child!
Marge: You tell Bart all the time. You told him this morning.
Homer: But when I do it, it's cute!

"But when we do it, it's legitimate!"

Miles Rind said...

Here's another specimen of the same disease: "Nearly half of Muslims in the US say that they think of themselves first as Muslims rather than Americans. Now that's a problem. It's not a problem when a Christian says that. . . . When a Christan says 'I'm a Christian first and an American second,' the fact that he is a Christian first, he's got devotion and allegiance to Jesus Christ means he's going to be a better American." --Bryan Fischer speaking on American Family Radio, August 30, 2011 (source).

HispanicPundit said...

Sometimes I wonder if you are intentionally trying to not get his point.

Let me make it more clear: Cheney is basically saying that the United States ONLY waterboarded the worst of the worst. Really BAD people - objectively speaking. Not just some random "American citizen" type person.

But let me make it more clear: if an American citizen intentionally targets and kills 3,000 or so innocent citizens of country X - and it is WIDELY believed that he did so - then yes, I would be okay with country X waterboarding him.

In fact, I'd be okay with country X executing him. And I say this as someone who is generally against waterboarding.

Jon said...

HP, I have no idea why you are saying I'm trying to not get Cheney's point. Why do you think I don't get his point? What did I say here that suggests that?

I think I do get his point, but the reason I posted this is because I thought it was interesting that Cheney was just unable to answer a simple question in a remotely coherent way. So yeah, he tried to dodge and address a separate question, like the one you posed. But he should really answer clearly the one Lauer posed. Should Iran be allowed to torture someone they think is a spy?

But let's talk about your separate effort to dodge a simple question. Only torture the REALLY bad people. I have a feeling that if Iran were torturing someone they would say they are REALLY bad. And when they say it's WIDELY BELIEVED that he's really bad what that means is the Iranian government has aggressively pushed the belief that he's really bad and the Iranian people have gone along, though the rest of the world hasn't.

You, as an Iranian, would be happy if they went ahead and executed the spy suspect apparently. But that's a whole lot of faith in your government.

And let's also recall that while waterboarding supposedly was used on few (not that I'm ready to just accept such claims from war criminals like Cheney uncritically) other forms of torture were used. People were beaten to death. Others beaten unconscious. People are buried in coffins and left for extended periods. Really it's the whole gamut of torture. And by the way much of it was done at Cheney's direction because Saddam was believed to have WMD yet Cheney wasn't getting the answers he wanted. So he tortured, got the bad info he wanted to hear, and led us into a war where we now have hundreds of thousands killed if not more.

Which is why the intelligence departments strongly advise against torture. It actually doesn't work. And by the way it is the prime motivation behind the insurgency according to a lead Iraqi interrogator, and has literally lead to the death of thousands of American soldiers.

So there you go. Torturing people who's guilt is frankly rather dubious. Leads to bad information that leads to war, which kills hundreds of thousands. Leads to an insurgency that kills thousands of Americans. But the extremely short sighted Cheney thought we needed to do it. And despite all this disaster he stands by it. That's pretty bad.

But he may just be posturing. I hear he's a bit concerned about a war crimes trial. That's according to Wilkerson, Collin Powell's Chief of Staff. So he thinks he's jumping out front of it. Just be bold and watch people treat you like you are normal. That might head off a war crimes prosecution.