Cheney Watch

By Dan Froomkin
11:00 AM ET, 06/ 2/2009

Former vice president Dick Cheney was out and about again yesterday, first taking questions at the presentation of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation Journalism Awards (Cheney was Ford's chief of staff) and then in a joint appearance with daughter, Liz, on Fox News.

So much material!

Cheney's response to a question on gay marriage garnered the most headlines. He said he's all for it, as long as it's a state-by-state decision.

From this video excerpt:

Well, I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone.
And as many of you know, one of my daughters is gay. And -- something that we've lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish.
The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. This has always been a state issue, and I think that's the way it ought to be handled today -- that is, on a state-by-state basis. Different states will make different decisions. But I don't have any problem with that. I think people ought to get a shot at that, and they do at present.

But this is not new. As I wrote at the time, Cheney said almost exactly the same thing in 2004 -- on the eve of the Republican convention, no less -- despite the fact that opposition to gay marriage was a key plank of the party's platform. For a long time, this was the only issue Cheney publicly differed with former president George W. Bush.

Cheney also repeated his tired, unsubstantiated defenses of torture, his strawman arguments and his rewriting of history. Here's another video clip.

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated his praise for waterboarding Al Qaeda terrorists on Monday, calling it a "well done" technique that gathered valuable information from unusually bad guys.
"I'm a strong believer in it," Cheney told a National Press Club audience. "I thought it was well done."...
Cheney said the controversial policy of simulating drowning grew out of a CIA request for guidance on "what can you do that's appropriate and what you can do that's not appropriate."

Mark Silva blogs for Tribune:

Asked about the relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, Cheney said this: "The prime source of information on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda was George Tenet," former CIA director. "There was a relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq that stretched back 10 years. That's not something I made up....That's something the director of the CIA was telling us....
"If I had it to do all over again, I would do exactly the same thing," he said. "I don't have much tolerance or patience for those who have the benefit of hindsight eight years later and have forgotten what happened on 9/11....Just imagine, what would happen if you had 19 men in one of our cities...armed with a nuclear weapon or (a biological weapon.)"

James Rowley and Jonathan D. Salant see news in Cheney finally disavowing intelligence he once cited to suggest that Hussein collaborated with al-Qaeda to stage the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney said today that information by the Central Intelligence Agency of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda on Sept. 11 "turned out not to be true." Still, Cheney said a longstanding relationship existed between Hussein and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Later in the day, when Cheney and daughter Liz were interviewed on Fox News by Greta Van Susteren, the most secretive vice president ever actually called for greater government transparency.

Cheney earlier this year asked the National Archives to declassify certain memos that he maintains document the "success" of torture and other extreme interrogation tactics. The request was denied on the grounds that the memos are the subject of ongoing FOIA litigation.

Cheney is absolutely right to suggest that's a ridiculous reason. But beyond that, he's just making stuff up.

Cheney: That's the claim by the agency. The fact is, the president's the ultimate authority on classification and declassification. He can declassify those things at the stroke of a pen. It's totally within his prerogative to do so, and he, in fact, had to do that when he released the legal memos earlier. I'm sure those were subject to the same kind of limitation, that they were a part of ongoing litigation. But he could with the stroke of a pen declassify what I'm asking for tonight.
Van Susteren: And the down side of him doing that, from his perspective, is what?
Cheney: I don't know. I obviously haven't talked to him about it. I think it would be valuable information to have out there as part of the ongoing debate and dialogue about interrogation techniques. I think it would add a lot. And I think sooner or later, it will come out. I don't know why they're so reluctant to produce them.

But in reality, those memos aren't going to prove anything. I've explained why at length -- see, for instance, my April 21 post, Call Cheney's Bluff. But in addition, just last week, as Ed Hornick wrote for CNN, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had seen the memos and that Cheney's claims are wrong.

The Michigan Democrat told [the Foreign Policy Association's annual dinner in New York on Wednesday] that the two CIA documents that Cheney wants released "say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques."
"I hope that the documents are declassified, so that people can judge for themselves what is fact, and what is fiction," he added.

Finally, Reid Wilson writes for the Hill:

Cheney confused the president of the United States with the world's most-wanted terrorist in a speech on Monday.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Cheney answered a question as to why his administration had not caught Osama bin Laden. But in a faux pas certain to end up on cable news networks and late-night talk shows, Cheney transposed bin Laden's name with that of the current president.
"I believe he's still out there someplace," Cheney said of bin Laden. "I'm sure the current administration will continue to search for him. He's an important figure, obviously. We would have loved to have captured on our watch. We didn't. I'm sure the Obama people feel the same way.
"The important thing is that I don't think he can have much impact in terms of managing an organization, because that link between Obama [sic] and the people under him is pretty fragile. I don't think he has the capacity to do as much harm as he did at one point, but we ought to still continue to chase him."

Wilson also notes Cheney's extraordinary understatement of the day:

Despite a newly nuclear North Korea and a regime in Iran that continues to build its nuclear processing capabilities, Cheney defended the Bush administration's record in making the world safer. He pointed to the end of a network of nuclear technology proliferation run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, but he admitted the administration wasn't perfect.
"We didn't bat 1.000, no question about it," Cheney said.
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