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Cheney Watch

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.

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 2, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
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Next: Obama Getting 'Honest' With Israel


I've always found the idea that a former President or Vice President should hold their tongue in criticizing their successor one of those holdovers from a different era. However, seeing the spectacle of Cheney on his endless speaking and media tour has shown me the wisdom of that convention. Cheney has zero credibility with most of the country, but for the 20% or so that do still listen to what he says, he is helping to create an impassable rift between them and the current leadership of the country.

I think there is a real danger that the extreme right will resort to violence if demagogues like Cheney continue to stoke their fear. The assassination of George Tiller is perhaps only the first atrocity committed by the lunatic fringe.

Posted by: fletc3her | June 2, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Will the Obama administration just release these memos so that we can figure out for ourselves what happened.

Also I think if Sen. Levens were a Republican saying Cheney is misrepresenting things he would have some credibility, as it stands now its just a bunch of partisan finger pointing.

Also, just one thing, Dan why is Cheney making unsubstantiated claims a big deal? You make unsubstantiated claims every day. For instance the claim that normal FBI interogation would have gotten better information out of KSM is completely 100% unsubstantiated by any factual evidence whatsoever. That doesn't seem to stop you from parroting this stuff does it? So why would it stop Cheney?

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 2, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Also, just one thing, Dan why is Cheney making unsubstantiated claims a big deal? You make unsubstantiated claims every day. For instance the claim that normal FBI interogation would have gotten better information out of KSM is completely 100% unsubstantiated by any factual evidence whatsoever. That doesn't seem to stop you from parroting this stuff does it? So why would it stop Cheney?
Ah, Dave, maybe you weren't paying very close attention, or are getting your information from your favorite wing-nut talk show hosts, but those "unsubstantiated" claims that the FBI got better intelligence by using traditional methods have come from actual FBI intelligence agents, including Ali Soufan, who actually participated in the interrogation of detainees. He wrote an Op-Ed piece a few weeks ago about it, and also testified recently before a Congressional committee. Maybe you should try reading what he had to say and then get back to us.

Posted by: bienefes | June 2, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

@bienfes: "Maybe you should try reading what he had to say and then get back to us."

He'll find some immaterial detail and conflate it into reasonable doubt that Soufan's word can be trusted, just as the RNC would quickly find a different attack angle on the classified memos if Obama were to release them just to prove Cheney wrong.

There is nothing, and I really do mean nothing, that would convince the remaining Republican zealots that waterboarding didn't and doesn't work. They select facts to justify their ideology, rather than adjusting their ideology to conform to facts. It's a great recipe for feeling smart and good about yourself; not so much when making important decisions that affect others.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 2, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Why does Cheney make these statments? Because he knows that NOTHING will be done. If a special prosecutor were appointed, I'll bet that Cheney would immediately shut up. Until this matter is adjudicated in the courts and not in Congress, there can be no solution.

Posted by: sailorflat | June 2, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Ali Soufan's testimony is immaterial because he did not interview KSM, he only interviewed Zubaiayada. Or is that a nit picking detail lol.

You either did not read my my post which says KSM or you do not know what Soufan testified about. So which is it?

The fact is that Zubaiyada was an imbecile who did not need to be waterboarded. Is there any proof that the same is true of KSM. Seems logical to me that we would want to base our analysis of the techniques efficacy on both of them.

Do you think its reasonable to make an inference from a single instance (Soufan-Zubaiyada) to another case (KSM) or to generalize from the Zubaiyada case that all others are the same?

Seems like nitwit move to me.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 2, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

dcdave, you're ignoring a lot of evidence on what torture accomplishes. These techniques of the SERE training, the basis for our recent torture methods, were developed by the Chinese specifically to extract false confessions from captured pilots. That's not baseless speculation. It's historical fact.

In case you weren't paying attention, there's a growing body of evidence, mostly in the form of testimony from high-ranking military and government officials, that Cheney promoted torture as a means of forging a link between Iraq and 9/11. He's finally acknowledged that there was no link, but he got the war he wanted at the time.

Given the origins of these abusive techniques and the reasons why they were adopted, the reasonable conclusion is that torture is not an effective means of national defense. And that still leaves aside the humanitarian and public-perception issues. We're supposed to win over skeptical allies when we torture?

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 2, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

dcdave is a true believer.
See dictionary definition #2
1.confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2.belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3.belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4.belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5.a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6.the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7.the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8.Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.

Posted by: gordmetcalfe | June 3, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

lol, I think its funny that you defend one thing Cheney says and suddenly you are a Republican. Seems to me that the liberal wing of the Democratic party is becoming exactly like the right wing of the Republican party. By that I mean: Hysterical, pushing lies and misinformation, and blindly following an ideology. So don't expect me to take seriously your banal repetition of BS you heard from Froomkin or Maddow and Olberman, they are just as misinformed, and narrowminded as Limbaugh, and Huckabee, and O'Reilly. All 6 of them should be on Comedy central given the quality of their analysis.

I understand that labeling things has become a substitute for actual nuanced thought, the left labels anyone who disagrees with them a Republican tool, the Right labels anyone who disagrees with them as a radical. If labeling people makes you happy, fine you can call me whatever you want, for the most part it just proves my point.

Believing that Cheney is wrong about everything (as tidy as that would be) is just as foolish as assuming that he is right about everything. I agree that Cheney is not credible on most things. That the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda was non-existent, that invading Iraq was a mistake, that waterboarding is unethical and more importantly its bad PR. That being said there has been no evidence put forth by either side that allows us to determine the efficacy of waterboarding either way.

I think its a mistake the generalize from the Zubaiyada case to the KSM case and that it might be the case that on someone more dedicated and intelligent than Zubaiyada that Waterboarding might work better than traditional forms of interogation. The fact is that we do not know one way or another because we don't know much about the interrogation of KSM. Pointing out that the 'star' witnesses that have been trotted out, don't have anything pertinant to say in this case is fishy to me.

Really in the end its a flaw in the way Obama has approached the issue. Obama should have said we don't waterboard because it is immoral. Instead he is claiming that waterboarding does not work and so we can follow our morality and drop it. Because he framed the debate the way he has the efficacy of waterboarding is pertinent to the debate on its use.

Also just because it can be used to illicit false statements does not mean that it inevitably does illicit such statements.

I agree with Froomkin that if these memos don't back up Cheney, why not release them? Obviously the situation was less black and white than the Obama administration would like to have us all believe, or my assumption is that they would have already been released.

I would encourage you all to think critically about the statements of both the former and current administration rather than slavishly saying X wrong, Y right, or X right, Y wrong. Otherwise you are just taking things as a matter of faith that a given explanation is right because of its source.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 3, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse


I want to set aside the labeling and name calling and focus on effective interrogation.

There's this fantasy that waterboarding "works" because it causes the subject to talk. We need to remove that cancer from the national body.

Let's address the interrogation of a rare captive who has useful information. A professional is going to approach KSM, Zubaydah or Saddam in nearly the same way. Read comments by Ali Soufan, Matthew Alexander and George Piro, all US interrogators with demonstrated success.

The goal of effective interrogation is obtaining reliable intelligence. The more unreliable the methods, the greater the likelihood that the subject's value is lost forever. We can never trust what he says, even if he never stops talking.

"Also just because it can be used to illicit false statements does not mean that it inevitably does illicit such statements."

Incorrect. Waterboarding and other disorientation is DESIGNED to illicit false statements. It is NOT DESIGNED to elicit factual statements.

If you have tortured me you have lost my trust forever. Why would I ever in a million years give you want you want?

There are some excellent books about Americans who have been tortured, and how torture "worked" to get them to talk, and how they deceived their captors. I suggest "American Patriot" by Robert Coram about Col. Bud Day, who was awarded a Medal of Honor. Day was broken, but never revealed his secrets, instead deceiving his captors for over 7 years.

As to Obama's framing, we have a significant minority of the population who think that torture "works", and another significant minority who think it's always immoral. Regardless of the position Obama chooses as his lead, there will be questions from the other side. Cheney doesn't care if it's immoral. The comments I see on FreeRepublic want revenge and don't care about immorality or effectiveness.

Posted by: boscobobb | June 3, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

boscobbob, I see your point that waterboarding is most effective at getting the subject to say whatever you want to hear, and when you are in a situation where you do not have any independent evidence to verify those statements you are no better off than you were before, i.e. you have to assume the interrogatee is parroting whatever you want them to say short term to get you to stop. That does not lead to usefull information. I need to think about it more but your point is reasonable and is frankly the most well put together explanation that I have read on this blog. Certainly Mr. Froomkin has not put out such a clear explanation, making it difficult to sort through the name calling.

Personally, I think it being immoral is enough reason to stop using it.

That being said I still would like to see these memo's released, if they show waterboarding does not work then the case is really nailed down and people will have the proof they need to show it is ineffective.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 4, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

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