Thursday, December 18, 2008

"A Sweeping Defense" of Torture

In today's Washington Times Dick Cheney gave an "exclusive interview" in which he offered what the newspaper describes as "a sweeping defense of the Bush administration's war on terrorism and its use of aggressive interrogation techniques," i.e., torture.

The Vice President's comments are noteworthy not for the substance of his "defense," but rather for the sheer 1984-like torture of language, logic and law that he uses to justify the actual torture committed by the Bush Administration on 9/11 detainees.

You don't need to take my word for it: read what "Angler" himself has to say about what he and other key members of the Bush Administration did in America's name:

On one of the most controversial issues of the Bush presidency, Mr. Cheney squarely addressed the question of whether morality, and not simply pragmatism, was considered when deciding how far to go in pressuring suspected terrorists to divulge coveted intelligence.

"In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that's what we've done," he said.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people in New York, suburban Washington and Pennsylvania, Mr. Cheney said that he, the president and others "made the judgment ... that wasn't going to happen again on our watch."

"And I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I'd do exactly the same thing," Mr. Cheney said.

"Was it torture? I don't believe it was torture," the vice president said. "We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department's] office of legal counsel.

"I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it's directly responsible for the fact that we've been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for 7 1/2 years."

There are at least four things hideously wrong in Cheney's justification of torture. Two I have commented on in prior posts: (1) the misconduct of Administration lawyers in providing "cover" for practices that before were clearly understood to be torture under the law; and (2) the lie, so amply documented in the Senate bipartisan report, that the impetus to commit torture came from the CIA rather than the White House.

What's new in Cheney's latest justification is (3) the sheer chutzpah in his claim that it would have been immoral for the Administration not to have committed torture ("Newspeak" 21st Century style) and (4) his shocking and grotesque misunderstanding of the oath of office he took as Vice President.

Let's look again at what Cheney says about the "oath" he took: "the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic."

Sadly, No. The oath that Cheney swore actually says something quite different:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God. [Emphasis added]
This is not a distinction without a difference. Our entire system of Government, the glue that holds American society together through thick and thin, is the bedrock principle that ours is "A government of laws, not men."

It is perhaps a minor irony that this phrase gained currency when coined by John Adams, who was to become our first Vice President. It is an unspeakable American tragedy that our latest Vice President has not the slightest idea what the the first one meant when he used these words.

UPDATE: A Different Times' Perspective.

No one should miss the "The Torture Report" editorial in the December 17, 2008 issue of The New York Times on the Senate bipartisan committee report, and what should be done about the wrongdoing it reveals. Not only does it highlight how the top officials of the Bush Administration "ignored warnings from lawyers in every branch of the armed forces that they were breaking the law," but it also points the way to what should be done if the incoming President does not appoint a prosecutor to pursue the guilty:
Mr. Obama should consider proposals * * * to appoint an independent panel to look into these and other egregious violations of the law. Like the 9/11 commission, it would examine in depth the decisions on prisoner treatment, as well as warrantless wiretapping, that eroded the rule of law and violated Americans’ most basic rights. Unless the nation and its leaders know precisely what went wrong in the last seven years, it will be impossible to fix it and make sure those terrible mistakes are not repeated.

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