Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dick Cheney: Getting the "Requisite Opinions"

Dan Froomkin's "White House Watch" quotes a Cheney interview with Rush Limbaugh on December 16th, 2008:
Q. "But you've heard leaders, the incoming Congress saying that this policy has basically been torture and illegal wiretapping, and that they want to undo basically the central tenets of your anti-terrorist policy."

Cheney: "They're wrong. On the question of terrorist surveillance, this was always a policy to intercept communications between terrorists, or known terrorists, or so-called 'dirty numbers,' and folks inside the United States, to capture those international communications. It's worked. It's been successful. It's now embodied in the FISA statute that we passed last year, and that Barack Obama voted for, which I think was a good decision on his part. It's a very, very important capability. It is legal. It was legal from the very beginning. It is constitutional, and to claim that it isn't I think is just wrong.

"On the question of so-called 'torture,' we don't do torture, we never have. It's not something that this administration subscribes to. Again, we proceeded very cautiously; we checked, we had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross. The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful, wouldn't do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong.

"Did it produce the desired results? I think it did. I think, for example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information. There was a period of time there, three or fours years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source.

"So it's been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves. And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the Terrorist Surveillance Program, simply don't know what they're talking about."

Q. "Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?"

Cheney: "I was aware of the program certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do, and I supported it."

Q. "In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?"

Cheney: "I don't." [My emphasis]

As Froomkin notes, "There's so much wrong here, it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, waterboarding is almost universally considered torture. It's basically drowning -- and it's been a staple of torturers since the Spanish Inquisition. Second, neither Cheney nor anyone else has provided evidence that torture or illegal surveillance elicited information that saved American lives, or that it couldn't have been elicited otherwise."

What's evident among all the other outrages in Cheney's justifications is the perversion of law that makes them possible. The so-called "requisite opinions" did not erect a "bright line" that could not be crossed, but instead established torture and lawbreaking as Administration policy.

What the Nation needed was Government lawyers with the courage to stand up to a Dr. Strangelove-like lunatic and say "No." Instead, to America's enduring shame, what we got were eager torture enabelers or legal lapdogs.

UPDATE: It's hard to overlook Cheney's answer to his own rhetorical question: "Did it produce the desired results? I think it did." Yeah, right.


  1. Redhand,

    Serious question. Are you more upset with the torture itself, or the attempts by the administration to give it legal justification?

    Let's say the administration had just come right out and said something like:

    "We have these terrorists in custody, and we believe they have information critical to U.S. national security. On my authority as president, I am authorizing any and all measures necessary to extract that information, including techniques such as waterboarding. As president I will do what is necessary to protect our country, and I take full responsibility."

    Would that have been better?

  2. That's kind of a "chicken egg situation" question, isn’t it? I can't really disentangle the two, because torture is so abhorrent, and in our democracy fundamental positions established by law aren't supposed to be subverted by classified legal memos.

    If Bush had not proceeded in secret to the extent he did, I doubt he would ever have gotten away with it. Of course, I expected more from Congress, but we really have had a DWTFWW Presidency the last eight years.