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Dick Cheney, Patron Saint of Torture-Free

Dick Cheney, Patron Saint of Torture-Free

by Steve Weissman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

"Hitler gave anti-Semitism a bad name," as many high-born Europeans used to say, yearning for the good old days when all right-thinking people could disparage Jews in public. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is similarly giving torture an odious reputation, all in his zeal to prove himself the rightest thinking guy in America. By the time he's finished with his mouthy defense of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," no one with any sense will want to have anything to do with them, at least not where others can see or hear.

Cheney's signature success with torture came when the CIA sent al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi to Egypt, where he "confessed" that Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda in chemical weapons. Al-Libi's statement, extracted under torture, was the smoking gun that Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell all used to sell their pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. So, don't tell Cheney that "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" do not work. They damned sure do if your goal is to get the propaganda you want to go to war.

Few in Congress or the mass media have pushed Cheney on this "great success." Fewer still have seen that that Bush and Cheney's illegal use of torture to sell their pre-emptive war in Iraq was probably their single greatest crime. Why the reluctance? Why do so many Americans refuse to see the obvious?

In large part because Congress, the corporate media, and even the general public were to some degree complicit in the crime. Whatever the CIA told Congressional leaders about waterboarding, sensory and sleep deprivation, stress positions, or sending captives to other counties for interrogation, only the mentally challenged had any excuse for not knowing from the public record at the time the rough outlines of how far Bush and Cheney had stepped beyond the law.

As early as February 2002, the Bush administration publicly announced that it would not abide by the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of enemy captives. Dick Cheney spoke openly of going to "work the dark side." Donald Rumsfeld and others talked of "taking off the gloves" with detainees like John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban and the first known victim of the administration's turn toward torture.

President Bush even used his State of the Union address in January 2003 to let everyone in on the game. "All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries," he said. "And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."

In these and dozens of similar boasts, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others proudly told the world what they were doing. And, very much like the Good Germans of an earlier time, Congress and the media went along, as did most of the American public. Even worse, almost no one questioned the validity of all the so-called intelligence that the administration's methods produced.

"We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al-Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told PBS' Jim Lehrer on September 25, 2002. "We know too that several of the [al-Qaeda] detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaeda in chemical weapons development."

"We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases," President Bush told an audience in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002.

Saddam Hussein's regime "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda," Vice President Cheney told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on January 30, 2003. "He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for use against us."

"I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda," Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story."

We now know from several sources that these selling points for invading Iraq came primarily from torturing al-Libi in Egypt. We also know from the recent report of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Bush administration pushed the torturers from the beginning to find such a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. That was one of the major purposes of the entire effort, as only those on the inside truly understood.

But, even before the invasion, anyone paying attention should have been able to see that the administration's "evidence" had to be tainted the moment Mr. Bush stepped beyond the Geneva Conventions and began "working the dark side."

Having failed to catch the crime at the time, many major media figures and members of Congress are understandably reluctant to accuse Bush and Cheney of criminal conduct and bring them to trial now. How much easier just to forget the whole sordid mess and get on with the nation's business. But, if Congress and the media do, they will fail again, as Mr. Cheney's spirited defense of torture and unlimited presidential power will come back to haunt us all in the secret memos of a new administration not so many years from now.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.

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