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The Fire in Cheney's Belly

By Dan Froomkin
12:20 PM ET, 05/ 7/2009

Former vice president Cheney says he's not going to shut up, no matter what some of his fellow Republicans -- and even his former boss -- think about it.

Cheney hagiographer Stephen F. Hayes once again interviewed the former veep, although he doesn't say when. He writes in the Weekly Standard: "I asked Cheney about George W. Bush's statement that he would not criticize his successor. In a comment that many took to be a shot at his former vice president, Bush said of Obama, 'He deserves my silence.'"

Said Cheney: "I worked in the trenches, and I was a loyal and supportive vice president. And when the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him. Now we're talking about after we've left office. I have strong feelings about what happened and what we did or didn't do and what's happening now. And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views. I feel it's important to do so especially when President Obama is wrong on important issues facing the nation."

Worked in the trenches? Yes, he worked on the darkside, but he was hardly a worker bee. In fact, when it comes to the darkside, there's growing evidence that he was the undisputed master.

And here's more from Cheney: "I went through the Iran-contra hearings and watched the way administration officials ran for cover and left the little guys out to dry. And I was bound and determined that wasn't going to happen this time. I think to George Tenet's credit–I don't agree with George on a lot of stuff–but I think he was of the same view and that's why we had all of these requests coming through for policy guidance and for legal opinions. And this time around I'll do my damndest to defend anybody out there–be they in the agency carrying out the orders or the lawyers who wrote the opinions. I don't know whether anybody else will, but I sure as hell will."

But, as Satyam Khanna notes on Thinkprogress.org: "Cheney's defense of the 'little guy,' especially with regard to torture, is unusual. First, the Bush officials implicated in approving torture were hardly 'little' — they were the senior-most Bush administration officials, such as David Addington, Jay Bybee, and Alberto Gonzales.

"Second, after Abu Ghraib broke in 2004, Cheney and the Bush administration systematically laid the blame for the abuses on low-level interrogators and attempted to exonerate senior officials. Cheney, for example, blamed 'folks doing something improper, inappropriate, illegal.' Paul Wolfowitz famously called it the work of 'a few bad apples.' Former press secretary Tony Snow called the abuses 'a criminal infraction for which people were charged.'

"Yet as a recent Senate Armed Services Committee report observed, 'The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own.' Indeed, the tactics were directly approved by Donald Rumsfeld in 2002."

And here's yet more from Cheney via Hayes: "This is the first time that I can recall that we've had an administration come in, take power, and then suggest using the power of the government against their predecessors, from a legal standpoint. Criminal prosecution of lawyers in the Justice Department whose opinions they disagreed with on an important issue. Criminal prosecutions. When was the last time that happened?"

Ah, but when was the last time anyone broke the law this spectacularly?

Celestine Bohlen writes in her Bloomberg opinion column about how Cheney is "shamelessly undercutting the incumbent president on sensitive issues of national security."

But, she writes: "Maybe we should be grateful. How else would we be reminded of the specious logic and mental contortions that prevailed during the Bush administration?"

What is Cheney's real motivation for being so outspoken? Harry Shearer writes for Huffingtonpost.com: "Three words: 'don't prosecute me.'

"Cheney's goal is now revealed: to stir up enough passion on the Republican side to make a decision to prosecute the Bush administration's torture syndicate a political hot potato.

"Without the former Vice President's publicity tour ginning up a 'torture debate,' public revulsion at the revelations in the declassified torture memos, and at the photographs the Pentagon is preparing to release, might have made prosecution not only politically desirable, but, to use a Tenetism, a slam dunk."

Jonathan Chait writes in the New Republic: "The best defense against holding Bush officials accountable for torture is that September 11 freaked out the entire country and that we can't judge their actions by the standards of how they look 'on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009,' as Obama's intelligence director puts it. This argument would carry more weight if Republicans had changed their thinking on torture and could be expected to follow the law the next time they won the presidency. Alas, they show little sign of intellectual progress.

"Even after the release of the torture memos, Republicans persist in denying that techniques like waterboarding or chaining a prisoner in a standing position for hours constitute torture."

And, via Huffingtonpost.com, David Letterman reminds us of how seriously we should take Cheney's pronouncements.

But as Robert A. Rankin writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "American public opinion is split almost evenly over whether a bipartisan blue-chip commission should be created to investigate how the U.S. government interrogated detainees captured during the Bush administration's war on terror.

"A new McClatchy-Ipsos poll found that 46 percent of Americans oppose creation of such a commission, while 41 percent favor it. Some 13 percent were unsure.

"The public is similarly split on whether to prosecute the government officials who authorized interrogation techniques that are found to be torture, with 48 percent saying they should not be prosecuted and 43 percent saying they should be, with 9 percent uncertain."

And CNN reports similar findings.

To me, these poll results demonstrate the genius of the Cheney strategy, which is to keep the argument limited to what happened at the black sites, which have an aura of "24" to them. The torture there was still inexcusable, but I guess forgiveable to many.

I doubt they would feel the same way if they were shown proof of a direct relationship between Bush policy and not just the torture of "high value" detainees, but also the vile abuse of garden-variety suspects at Guantanamo and Bagram, and of mostly innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib.

Meanwhile, Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "Efforts to impose professional sanctions on Bush administration lawyers who drafted memos supporting harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects face steep hurdles, experts on legal ethics said yesterday.

"Law professors and legal practitioners who have handled such cases said the difficulty of gathering witnesses and evidence could present 'nearly insurmountable challenges' for state investigators who may wish to pursue a case against the lawyers, John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee.

"Government sources indicated this week that a forthcoming Justice Department investigative report would refer both men to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action as early as this summer. The report, which summarizes the findings of a nearly five-year review, cites sloppy legal analysis, misjudgments and possible political interference in the process, the sources said."

And Murray Waas, writing for Huffingtonpost.com, has more on that report, which I wrote about yesterday.

Waas writes: "In attempting to discern the attorneys' motives, investigators have reviewed emails traded between the three men as they drafted the legal controversial legal opinions, as well as emails between the three OLC attorneys and other Bush administration attorneys, according to sources close to the case.

"Additionally, the investigators closely tracked drafts of the four legal opinions until they reached final form.

"In some instances, the drafts changed progressively over time to afford those who wanted to engage in aggressive interrogation techniques additional legal cover, according to people who have read the draft OPR report.

"One source indicated that at least two of the earlier drafts were 'equivocal' and 'nuanced' -- but noted over time they became 'more advocative' of the views of then-Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration that aggressive interrogation techniques were necessary to prevent new terror attacks."

UPDATE: Bob Schieffer tweets that Cheney will be on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

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