By Dan Froomkin
1:35 PM ET, 05/11/2009
If torture saved American lives, was it worth it? That, with the words "enhanced interrogation" instead of torture, is the question former vice president Dick Cheney wants people considering when the subject of the Bush-era interrogation practices comes up.
Cheney is obviously betting -- with some justification -- that enough Americans would answer "yes" to that question that the debate over torture -- and the push for an official wide-scale investigation -- will never be able to gain critical mass.
As it turns out, there is not one bit of hard evidence that Bush-era torture averted a single imminent threat or saved any lives. But Cheney is not troubled by this fact, and neither are his hand-picked media interlocutors, who should be demanding that he put up or shut up.
Regardless, the real genius of Cheney's approach is that keeping the media debate to this narrow question is a victory. Because if the question were an appropriately broader one, the public would likely be much less sympathetic. Consider, for instance, if the question were about the abusive techniques widely and sometimes indiscriminately employed not just at CIA black sites but in places like the Bagram prison in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib.
Cheney's latest stop on his media tour was with Bob Schieffer of CBS News's Face the Nation, for an interview in which Cheney was largely allowed once again to make his argument that President Obama is endangering Americans without citing one iota of independently verifiable anything.
Schieffer did ask one tough question: "What do you say to those, Mr. Vice President, who say that when we employ these kinds of tactics, which are after all the tactics that the other side uses, that when we adopt their methods, that we're weakening security, not enhancing security, because it sort of makes a mockery of what we tell the rest of the world?"
Cheney is getting so cocky that he didn't even bother to reject the conflict implicit in Schieffer's question -- the one between Bush-era tactics and our standing as champions of human dignity. Cheney just snapped back: "Well, then you'd have to say that, in effect, we're prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America."
Sacrifice actionable intelligence for some abstract idea like human rights? Nonsense, says the former veep, who also expresses no regrets. "I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I'm convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives."
Moveon.org raises a very good question: Why should we believe Cheney this time?
Cheney also said he'd pick right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh as a Republican spokesman over former secretary of state Colin Powell. "I didn't know he was still a Republican," Cheney said of Powell.