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William Rivers Pitt: Why the Caged Bird Sang

Why the Caged Bird Sang


by William Rivers Pitt,
t r u t h o u t | Columnist


It's impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there?

- Seymour Hersh

Dick Cheney has been doing a lot of talking lately. From his most recent barrage of public statements, we have gleaned that he loves Rush Limbaugh, doesn't much care for Colin Powell, believes President Obama is about to sell the Sixth Fleet to the Taliban for pennies on the dollar and thinks torture is a nifty and effective tool that saves lives and defends freedom. Really, this isn't anything we haven't heard before from our growly, snarly, face-blasting former vice president. But it does beg the question: What the hell is he up to? NPR's Ron Elving posited the question in a Wednesday article titled "What is Dick Cheney Trying to Accomplish?"

"The man whom many consider the most powerful veep in history had already been far more vocal and visible than most of his predecessors in retirement," wrote Elving. "This week in particular, the former No. 2 has been out there almost daily, doing talk shows and giving a formal address to the American Enterprise Institute on the importance of interrogation techniques widely considered to be torture. Along the way, he is also unburdening himself of opinions on everything else, from tax policy to the fate of the GOP to the choice of a commanding general in Afghanistan. Once known for his reticence and low profile, the man from Wyoming is suddenly his party's most prominent national figure and audible voice. He is having his catharsis, and having it abundantly."

As for his motives, Elving states his belief that Cheney's sudden whirlwind tour of every television, radio and newspaper in America has a three-pronged purpose: 1) He is a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, neocon, true believer, who insists on defending the use of torture because he believes it actually works; 2) He is defending the legacy of the administration he basically ran single-handedly for eight years; and 3) He is now liberated from the constraints of White House PR concerns and can speak as freely as he likes.

Mr. Cheney is not the only one who has been out in the public eye defending the practices of the former administration. His daughter, Liz Cheney, went off like an old barrel of TNT on the cable news shows, going so far as to invoke 9/11 (like father, like daughter) and accuse Obama of supporting terrorism for even considering the release of photographic evidence of the American use of torture against detainees. "I have heard from families of service members, from families of 9/11 victims," she said, "when did it become so fashionable for us to side with the terrorists?"

The Cheney clan is not known for their restraint when it comes to launching a verbal carpet-bombing campaign, but even for them, this is flame-thrower language. Ron Elving's explanation is almost certainly accurate, but only to a point. His analysis leaves off the one central and defining motive behind Cheney's thunderous defense of himself and the activities of his administration.

He was scared, I think.

He was scared the real stuff is going to come out.

He was scared of the universal damnation that will come down upon him if the truth comes out.

Finally, I believe he was scared of going to prison.

But why? The American public has been aware of our use of torture for some time now. The Obama administration has made it all too clear that they have strong reservations about prosecuting the architects of the Bush administration's torture policy, and that any meaningful actions along those lines are highly unlikely to be taken.

Why, then?

It is because Cheney knew, when he began his media assault, that the worst of the horrors inflicted upon detainees at his specific command are not yet widely known. If the real stuff comes into full public light, he feared the general outrage will be so furious and all-encompassing that the Obama administration will have no choice but to reverse itself and seek prosecutions of those Bush-era officials who specifically demanded those barbaric acts be inflicted upon prisoners.

This is not about waterboarding, as gruesome as that practice is. It is not about putting prisoners in confined spaces, or about pushing them, or slapping them, or putting bugs on them or demeaning them and their religious faith.

It is about this, from July of 2004:

After Donald Rumsfeld testified on the Hill about Abu Ghraib in May, there was talk of more photos and video in the Pentagon's custody more horrific than anything made public so far. "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse," Rumsfeld said. Since then, The Washington Post has disclosed some new details and images of abuse at the prison. But if Seymour Hersh is right, it all gets much worse. Hersh gave a speech last week to the ACLU making the charge that children were sodomized in front of women in the prison, and the Pentagon has tape of it.

Hersh: "Debating about it, ummm ... Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."

Dick Cheney wanted everyone talking about waterboarding, close confinement, and all the rest of the torture techniques outlined in the recently-released "Torture Memos." Talking about waterboarding is still safe territory for him and everyone else who served his cruel intentions in the Bush administration. They're taking some heat, sure, but the story has been out there for a while and he's not wearing prison stripes yet.

I know why this caged bird sang. He was terrified of the very real cage that could be waiting to swing open and swallow him up if the true nature of his torture directives became widely known. If the entire country comprehends the awful fact that women and boys were forcibly raped upon his specific orders, Dick Cheney's bets would all be off.

That was then, however, and this is now. Dick Cheney is breathing a little easier today, and why shouldn't he? President Obama appears to have pretty much let Cheney, along with all the other enables of torture, off the hook.

"President Obama is seeking to block the release of photographs depicting American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, an administration official said Wednesday," reports The New York Times. "The president's decision marks a sharp reversal from a decision made last month by the Pentagon, which reached a deal with the American Civil Liberties Union to release photographs showing incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons. 'Last week, the president met with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the D.O.D. photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops,' said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'And because he believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court.'"

To me, this means two things.

The pictures are really, really, really bad, just as Sy Hersh said they would be.

There will be no punishment, no justice, for acts of barbarous torture undertaken at the specific behest of men like Dick Cheney. The Obama administration has chosen the easier path, chosen to ignore the manifest harm done to this nation and the world by refusing to seek that necessary justice.

The caged bird sang to stay out of a cage. Now he's free as a bird, and ours is a badly damaged and disgraced country because of it.

*************

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

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