Cheney Testifies To Truth & Reconciliation Com.
Cheney Testifies Before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
Chair: Welcome, Mr. Cheney. As you no doubt are aware, the rules of this Truth & Reconciliation Commission, as established by the President and Congress, require that you speak the whole truth here if you want to avoid criminal prosecution. Do you solemnly and willingly take the oath to do so? Please raise your right hand.
Cheney: I do so swear.
Commissioner#1: Very well. Mr. Cheney, when you were engaged in the criminal conspiracy that led to your impeachment and removal as Vice President and your later indictments, were you aware of the illegality of your actions?
Cheney: I did not think they were illegal. The Administration sought the best judicial advice we could get, and were assured that what we were doing was within the law and the Constitution.
Commissioner#1: And where did you obtain this legal advice? Did you query the country's leading conservative and liberal Constitutional and legal scholars? Did you seek out specialists on Supreme Court decisions from outside the Administration?
Cheney: We relied on our expert counsels in the White House, Department of Justice, Pentagon and the like.
Commissioner#1: In other words, you asked employees you had chosen for their jobs -- those whose employment depended on staying in your good favor and who were partisan colleagues -- to evaluate the already-decided policies of their bosses. Is that a fair assessment?
Cheney: They had total freedom to disagree with us. They didn't. We relied on their legal opinions.
Chair: Mr. Cheney, I think you are not fully appreciative of the purpose of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, so I will cut to the nub of the matter: If you want to heighten your chances of staying out of federal prison, you must at this Commission accept your responsibility for the crimes you committed against the Constitution and citizens of the United States, and talk about your role in those crimes and the coverup. If you do not wish to do so, it's best to say so now, so that we can call witnesses who do desire to cooperate and save themselves from criminal prosecution. Do you understand, sir?
Cheney: Yes, Madame Chairman, I apologize to this Commission if I've given the impression that I don't want to fully participate in these proceedings openly and honestly.
HOW U.S. WAS DECEIVED INTO WAR
Commissioner#2: Then, Mr. Cheney, please provide a chronology indicating how you and your similarly-charged defendants deceived the American people and the Congress and the United Nations in order to take this country into war with Iraq.
Cheney: Your question is like "are you still beating your wife?". We did not lie, we used the best intelligence then available to make our judgements. Some of those judgements turned out to be wrong, but at the time we thought they were correct. I resent your implication that we consciously misled our fellow citizens.
Chair: Mr. Cheney, your attempts to dance around the truth will not be permitted to continue. We possess a documented record of what you did, so do not for a moment think that you can evade your responsibility. As I did to your fellow conspirator ##Donald Rumsfeld when he was before this commission ( http://www.crisispapers.org/essays-w/grilled.htm ), I hereby issue this final warning: You tell the truth to this Commission or you will be summarily frog-marched out of this hearing room. Bailiffs, prepare to remove the witness.
Cheney: Very well, Mr. President. Under the threat of coercion, I will testify openly and fully.
Chair: No. We accept no coerced testimony. I will remind the former Vice President that you petitioned this Commission requesting that you be allowed to testify, as a means of escaping criminal prosecution. If you are feeling coerced, I would urge you to peer into a mirror for a good look at your coercer. The witness will answer the question now pertaining to the chronology of lies and deceptions that resulted in the U.S. attacking Iraq.
Cheney: (long silence) We had decided to attack Iraq long before we assumed office in January of 2001. My fellow members of The Project for The New Amer ican Century, including Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, had urged President Clinton to attack Iraq a few years before but with no luck. So, with the Soviet Union gone and there being no military power out there that could stop us -- and no political opposition worth speaking of inside the country -- we decided to make our move.
WHY IRAQ WAS THE TARGET
Commissioner#3: Why Iraq and what were your goals?
Cheney: Iraq because they had the second largest oil reserve in the world, and had no military power to speak of to oppose us. Why? Because we could. And because we needed to control Iraq as a starting point from which to totally alter the geopolitical power structure in the Middle East. We thought many other Islamic rulers in the area, especially those in Syria and Iran, might come on board our American plan once they saw the consequence of our military wrath in Iraq: 'Shock & Awe' as a lever for change in the area, so that access to all that oil and gas would be in friendly hands for many decades to come.
Commissioner#3: You admit that Saddam was weak militarily, you knew that Iraq possessed no WMD stockpiles, no nuclear program and so on?
Cheney: Yes, of course, we knew that. We weren't stupid; we weren't about to wage war on a nation with nuclear weapons and biochemical agents. But we were convinced that Saddam would seek to gain those weapons in the future, maybe within five to ten years; better to take him out now while he was defenseless. The CIA wouldn't, or couldn't, supply the proof we needed to make a case that he had WMD, even after I spent days and days at Langley leaning on them to do so. Rummy, my old PNAC buddy, set up his own intelligence operation in the Pentagon, the Office of Special Plans, stocked it with our ideological friends, and using raw intel from exiles and the like, came up with scary factoids that were stovepiped directly to Libby and me and which we used to build the case in the White House for war. In effect, we did an end-around the professional intelligence analysts. The Congress bought our arguments and gave us a blank check for war; we sent Colin Powell to the United Nations to snow the Security Council with this supposed WMD evidence and came out with an ambiguously-worded resolution that we were able to use as a cover for our coming attack. The U.N inspectors in Iraq weren't finding any of that WMD we talked of, so we simply ordered them out before they could finish their work, and before the U.N. could stop us, and began our air and ground assault.
Woman in Audience: My daughter died while on duty in Iraq -- for no good reason! You and Bush and Rumsfeld are war criminals who made sure never to serve in uniform yourselves but were quite willing to send our children to fight your wars! You are a disgrace to --
Chair: Madame, we deeply understand your grief and rage, but this is neither the time nor the place for such comments. You will have your turn later. It's imperative that witnesses appear and tell their stories before this commission without fear of attack. Please take your seat. Thank you. Commissioner?
THE MISNAMED "CAKEWALK"
Commissioner#3: You had led the country to believe the invasion would be a cakewalk, and the occupation would be a brief one until a friendly Iraq government was in place. The war lasted many, many years, with hundreds of thousands dead and maimed, and its bloody effects are still being felt even today throughout the region. What happened?
Cheney: We got to Baghdad so easily that we were convinced all our neo-con projections were panning out. We didn't need a large occupying force, we thought, because the Iraqis' interim government would gratefully do our bidding. Meanwhile, we built a goodly number of permanent military bases, which would serve as staging areas to support our geopolitical goals in the region. We didn't figure on the Sunni remnants of Saddam's military coming out of the woodwork and attacking us, along with local Al Qaida forces and their suicide bomb missions. We didn't pay enough attention to ethnic and religious machinations and the jockeying for power on the ground. We were focused on the big picture -- protecting the oilfields, building our permanent bases, using our muscle to dominate the Middle East (our cover term was 'democratizing' the region), and so on -- and neglected real-life concerns on the ground: public services, utilities, securing the abandoned ammo dumps, humanely guarding our prisoners, etc. In short, we lost the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people while Iran, in effect, won them.
Commissioner#1: Let's stop right there. You talked about losing the 'hearts and minds' of the Iraqi people at least partially because of the harsh treatment of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. care. The Administration concocted a theory that said the president, and apparently the vice president as well, could violate any domestic or international laws regarding torture of prisoners, or any other laws, when done under the cover of fighting a 'war.' How involved were you in creating the 'harsh-interrogation' attitudes toward prisoner-care at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and secret prisons elsewhere? And don't bother telling me of the lowly guards that were prosecuted for abusing prisoners. We want to know your role from inside the White House.
Cheney: Yes, sir. You have to understand the mood of the time. Al Qaida had just hit us big on 9/11. There were suspicions that they had more cells inside the United States. We needed information and we needed it fast. At our behest, the lawyers -- the ones I mentioned before at Defense and DOJ and the White House -- came up with the theories you're talking about: 'commander-in-chief during wartime,' 'the unitary executive,' the establishment of 'secret detention centers' and 'extraordinary rendition' of suspects to countries less squeamish about torture, our leaders exempt from international courts, and so on. The word was passed down the chain of command that the White House required actionable intelligence; Rumsfeld relaxed interrogation rules, but the parameters of what was permissable were left deliberately vague. Those in charge of guarding the prisoners felt they had been given carte blanche to use rough interrogation techniques: threats, beatings, 'waterboarding,' sexual humiliations, snarling dogs, etc. So, yes, I was involved in that.
SPYING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS
Commissioner#2: And how involved were you in getting the NSA and other intelligence-gathering agencies to begin spying on American citizens here at home, without court approval?
Cheney: As I suggested earlier, we needed intelligence, and we didn't feel we had the time to go through the paperwork required by the law. FISA was set up for an earlier time, and, without consulting the judges, we decided that the FISA court was ill-equipped to deal with the new data-mining technologies and new realities we faced. I suppose we could have gone to Congress for enabling legislation that would permit the legal use of our huge computer networks to mine and record data on emails and phone calls -- and to listen in and read emails -- but we considered ourselves at war, and during wartime it's often necessary to cut corners in order to get anything done speedily.
Commissioner#2: And ignoring laws of Congress for years, and violating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the one regarding lawful searches and seizures, didn't bother you? If you thought what you were doing was perfectly legal and appropriate, why not say so openly and proudly instead of carrying out secret, anti-constitutional spying operations on millions and millions of Americans?
Cheney: We figured going to Congress to get the required enabling legislation would tie us up for months, maybe years, in public and classified discussions with politicians who often disagreed with our approach, so we decided to just go ahead and do what we had to do, and to keep it top-secret. Naturally, in operations of this magnitude, there are bound to be those who carry things to extremes or who go off the reservation. Of course, a good share of what we were doing in secret started to come out anyway years later.
ANY REGRETS? REMORSE?
Commissioner#1: Looking back on your activities during the Bush-Cheney years, do you have any regrets about the actions you took that eventually resulted in your impeachment, removal from office, and criminal indictments?
Cheney: You would like me to say I'm sorry, that I know I've done wrong and ask to be forgiven for my lapses and so on. Of course, I'm sorry that, as collateral damage, our policies got some people killed or hurt or put into legal difficulties. But this is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and, as you keep reminding me, I am obliged to tell the truth. Therefore, I want you to know that if I had it to do over again, I'd choose those same policies. I think they were the correct decisions, though we erred at times on how the operations were carried out and, in particular, in how we communicated our goals and programs to the American people.
Chair: Do I understand correctly, Mr. Cheney, that you have no remorse for your actions that have been judged by your fellow citizens to be enough to warrant your removal from office and indictments on a wide variety of criminal charges?
Cheney: Yes, Madame Chairman, you do understand correctly. I am prepared to defend myself in court, if you do not grant my application for amnesty, on the basis that I fully believed my actions to be in accord with the urgent wartime exigencies of the moment and with the Constitution as we understood it. Our political enemies and ideological foes engineered our slide from power, perhaps as payback for our having impeached President Clinton, or because they are soft on terrorism or don't understand the true dangers out there on the world scene, I don't know. We were patriots who by virtue of our election to power were in the position to make the decisions that had to be made to protect and defend our country.
Chair: Is it not possible that those who opposed you were also patriots, who believed the policies you were advocating were doing great damage to the national interest of the United States and thus needed to be changed?
WE HAD ALL THE ANSWERS
Cheney: They were wrong, ill-informed, in effect doing the enemy's work. It was my job as leader of the nation to decide what was best, based on the wider knowledge we possessed.
Commissioner#3: Mr. Cheney, you just asserted that "it was my job as leader of the nation," to make those decisions. Are you suggesting that it was you who made the Administration's vital decisions and not Mr. Bush?
Cheney: Um, a mere slip of the tongue, Commissioner. I meant to say, of course, that "it was our job." The President, naturally, made all the key decisions, with special input from his closest advisors like me and Rove and Rumsfeld. He was the boss, for sure. The President of the United States.
Chair: Methinks thou dost protest too much. But let's return to something you said a moment ago. You believe your fall from power and your indictments are the result of a plot to get you? That you did nothing wrong and are not accountable for your actions to the citizenry and to the domestic and international courts?
Cheney: I recognize no international-court jurisdiction over America's elected rulers. Leaders are accountable only to their citizens. In two national elections, we have prevailed. The American people approved our policies by voting for us. Our mandate was secure and legal.
FATHER(LAND) KNOWS BEST
Commissioner#3: Without even getting into the issue of whether those election results were fraudulently obtained, I think it's important to point out that the Bush Administration did everything possible to hide its true actions and agenda from its own citizens, rather than stand proudly on them and let the citizens judge you at the polls on the basis of that knowledge.
Cheney: We had the responsibility to protect our citizens; they didn't need to know everything we were doing on their behalf, and Congress likewise. We had the facts and could see the big picture; most everyone seemed content to let us do the hard, dirty work required, without asking too many questions. They were frightened and confused, and we eased their minds by not requiring them to think too deeply about what should be done. Democratic institutions often get in the way, get bogged down with scrutinizing the legalities and all that. Electing The Leader and letting him make all those messy decisions is much faster and effective, we found.
Chair: Yes, we understand that line of reasoning. We've seen the tragic effects of such governance in several world wars during the past 70 years or so. Unfortunately for you, people want to be free. Which is why you've wound up here, sir.
Cheney: This isn't over. The liberals will ruin this country. My friends and I will be back.
Bernard Weiner, a poet and playwright, has written numerous fantasias about the Bush Administration ( http://www.crisispapers.org/weinerpubs.htm#fantasies ). A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. To comment: >> email@example.com >>.
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 5/23/06.
Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner.