Cheney’s Torture Kick

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Dick Cheney is truly insane. The vice-president is now off making impassioned pleas in defense of torture:

Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans were winding up their weekly luncheon in the Capitol when the vice president rose to speak. Staffers were quickly ordered out of the room—what Cheney had to say was for senators only. Normally taciturn, Cheney was uncharacteristically impassioned, according to two GOP senators who did not want to be on the record about a private meeting. He was very upset over the Senate’s overwhelming passage of an amendment that prohibits inhumane treatment of terrorist detainees. Cheney said the law would tie the president’s hands and end up costing “thousands of lives.” He dramatized the point, conjuring up a scenario in which a captured Qaeda operative, another Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, refuses to give his interrogators details about an imminent attack. “We have to be able to do what is necessary,” the vice president said, according to one of the senators who was present.

Andrew Sullivan has been particularly eloquent about the wrongness of torture and the wrongness of forcing our military officers to carry it out and the wrongness of our archipelago of secret CIA prisons around the world. Consider too that Elliot Abrams, the man who covered up the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador during the Reagan years and called the U.S.-backed death squads in that country a “fabulous achievement,” is now trying to dissuade Cheney from his views on torture. Once again: Cheney’s now too extreme for Elliot Abrams.

Now some people might be tempted to think that yes, Cheney’s moral compass is a bit askew, but he is vice-president, he does know a lot that we don’t know, and maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt that the executive branch really does need to “be able to do what is necessary.” Sorry, but no. Cheney doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, ever. Throughout his time in Washington he’s shown himself to be, frankly, a strategic moron with exceedingly poor judgment, as seen in this anecdote from his tenure during Bush I:

Following one White House meeting at which he’d asked for more time and more troops, Stormin’ Norman reports; Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell called to warn the Desert Storm commander that he was being loudly compared, by a top administration official, to George McClellan. “My God,” the official supposedly complained. “He’s got all the force he needs. Why won’t he just attack?” Schwarzkopf notes that the unnamed official who’d made the comment “was a civilian who knew next to nothing about military affairs, but he’d been watching the Civil War documentary on public television and was now an expert.”

And then, twenty pages later, Schwarzkopf casually drops the information that he got an inspirational gift from Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney right before the air war finally got under way. Cheney was presenting a gift to a military man, and he chose something with an appropriate theme: “(A) complete set of videotapes of Ken Burns’s PBS series, The Civil War.”

But that wasn’t the only gift that Dick Cheney had for Norman Schwarzkopf. Having figured out that the general was being too cautious with his fourth combat command in three decades of soldiering, Cheney got his staff busy and began presenting Schwarzkopf with his own ideas about how to fight the Iraqis: What if we parachute the 82nd Airborne into the far western part of Iraq, hundreds of miles from Kuwait and totally cut off from any kind of support, and seize a couple of missile sites, then line up along the highway and drive for Baghdad? Schwarzkopf charitably describes the plan as being “as bad as it could possibly be… But despite our criticism, the western excursion wouldn’t die: three times in that week alone Powell called with new variations from Cheney’s staff. The most bizarre involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait.” (Throw in a Pete Rose rookie card?) None of this Walter Mitty posturing especially surprised Schwarzkopf, who points out that he’d already known Cheney as “one of the fiercest cold warriors in Congress.

This is not a man worth trusting.

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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