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Cheney's Motives

I'm taking Friday off. Blogging will resume Monday morning.

I've been amazed at how little media pickup there's been of the
revalation by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the White House started pushing the use of torture not when faced with a "ticking time bomb" scenario from terrorists, but when officials in 2002 were desperately casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks.

Now comes Lawrence Wilkerson, the firebrand former chief of staff to Colin Powell, who writes on the Washington Note blog with more on that story.

And he traces it right back to former vice president Dick Cheney.

"[W]hat I have learned," Wilkerson writes, "is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

"So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee 'was compliant' (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, 'revealed' such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

"There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just 'committed suicide' in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)"

Wilkerson first came to my attention in October 2005, when he went public with his conclusion that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, inveigled the president, condoned torture and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies.

Was he wrong? Hardly. And Wilkerson, a Republican, has been a persistent and prescient critic of the Bush/Cheney regime -- and its effect on his party -- ever since.

As for Cheney, his sudden visibility is stirring up a lot of strong feelings -- and dark humor. For the last three days, my "Cartoon Watch" has been dominated by Cheney cartoons.

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "Cheney is the most visible -- and controversial -- critic of President Obama's national security policies and, to the alarm of many people in the Republican Party, the most forceful and uncompromising defender of the Bush administration's record. His running argument with the new administration has spawned a noisy side debate all its own: By leading the criticism, is Cheney doing more harm than good to the causes he has taken up and to the political well-being of his party?

"His defenders believe he has sparked a discussion of vital importance to the safety of the country, and they hold up Obama's reversal of a decision to release photos of detainee abuse as a sign that Cheney is having an effect. But there is a potential political price that his party may pay in having one of the highest officials in an administration repudiated in the last election continue to argue his case long after the voters have rendered their decision."

Despite the public's decisive rejection of the man, "Cheney remains powerful enough that most of his GOP critics are not willing to take him on in public. 'The fact that most people want to talk [without attribution] shows what a problem it continues to be,' said one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid."

Maureen Dowd wrote in her New York Times opinion column yesterday: "Cheney has replaced Sarah Palin as Rogue Diva. Just as Jeb Bush and other Republicans are trying to get kinder and gentler, Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing.

"The man who never talked is now the man who won't shut up."

Dan Eggen wrote yesterday in The Washington Post: "For the Cheneys, attacks on the Obama administration have become a family affair.

"Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president and a former State Department official, made a round of cable television appearances yesterday to defend her father's stinging assessments of President Obama, and to toss out a few barbed observations of her own."

He also notes: "The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that enjoyed a prominent role during the Bush years, announced yesterday that Cheney will deliver a May 21 speech on 'keeping America safe.'"

Time's Michael Duffy explores various possible reasons Cheney has gotten so chatty. Among them: "Cheney, who championed the idea of pre-emptive attack doctrine as vice president, knows that in politics as well the best defense is often a good offense....'He's trying to rewrite history,' says a Republican consultant who has experience in intelligence matters. 'He knows that as time goes by, he will look worse. And so he's trying to put his stroke on it.'"

Duffy notes: "Cheney's reappearance delights Democrats — 'Bring it on!' quipped a White House official Tuesday afternoon when asked about Cheney's re-emergence — and dismayed Republicans. Said one: 'We're trying to turn the page and he's climbing out of the grave to haunt us.'"

Cheney's most recent interview was with reliable sidekick Neil Cavuto of Fox News.

"I think the proposition that a new administration can come in and -- and, in effect, launch an attack on their predecessor because they disagreed with the legal advice that was given by the Justice Department or because they find that they don't like the policies that were pursued by the prior administration -- it's one thing to come in and change the policy. It's an entirely different proposition to come in and say that you're somehow going to go after the lawyers in the Justice Department or the agents who carried out that policy. I just -- I -- I think that's outrageous."

As for why he's speaking out, Cheney said "the notion that I should remain silent, while they go public, that I shouldn't say anything, while they threaten to disbar the lawyers who gave us the advice that was crucial in terms of this program, that I shouldn't say anything when they go out and release information that they believe is critical of the program and critical of our policies, but refuse to put out information that shows the results that we were able to achieve -- the bottom line is, we successfully defended the nation for seven-and-a-half years against a follow-on attack to 9/11....

"I don't think we should just roll over when the new administration says -- accuses of us committing torture, which we did not, or somehow violating the law, which we did not. I think you need to stand up and respond to that, and that's what I have done."

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 14, 2009; 1:50 PM ET
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I wrote weeks ago that the torture was not to protect the US but to provide a link between Iraq and Al queda.I was laughed at.I guess I get the last laugh.

Posted by: roncraw | May 14, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

That dick, cheney is typical of most republithugs.

Posted by: davidsawh | May 14, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

You know Cheney's scared when he goes on the attack. That defined his (vice-)presidency and it defines his (un-) retirement now. Between the photos, which will eventually come out, and the facts that torture began as a means of falsifying the Iraq-al Qaeda link, the only direction Cheney's reputation, and all of his offensive philosophy, can go is straight down.

Ideally to a dank prison cell, but that's probably asking too much.

I have a hard time as well with the don't-criminalize-policy-differences ruse. The push to prosecute for war crimes isn't about policy difference. Cutting domestic programs, altering funding, setting tax policy are matters of policy difference. Torturing captives to elicit false information as grounds for a war, crimes against humanity upon prisoners--these are felonies.

Posted by: whizbang9a | May 14, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The Bush administration protected the US after 9/11/2001 - Hirohito protected Japan after August 9, 1945. Good job, guys.

Posted by: dickdata | May 14, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Just when you thought the Repubs could not possibly marginalize themselves any further, Dick shows that even more Americans can be brought to a gag reflex when his party or politics are mentioned.

Posted by: jpk1 | May 14, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Call out the bomb squad and detonate the SOB before he sets himself off in a crowd

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 14, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

The last I heard, those who conspire to commit torture, those who enable the commission of torture, those who orchestrate (even from safe Washington DC) the administration of torture, as well as the actual physical perpetration of torture, all face the one and the same ultimate penalty.

Cheney is the criminal-king-pin in this regard, and the hangman is waiting for him in the shadows. Cheney knows this. Cheney is doing PR in able to negotiate some reduced sentence within the US justice system, such as: “Double-parking his limousine in front of the building where he was busy inside personally attending to the orchestration of torture around the globe”.

Army Specialist Lynndie England is the poster child of this mess. She received real jail time where the criminal-king-pin will skate away from the crime and crime scene after paying off some minor parking ticket.

The Bushies have totally emasculated and perverted the US (lack-of) Justice System, neutering it, and rendering it totally ineffective. The Special Spanish Courts and the International Court at the Hague were formed specifically to deal with these cases where the country in which the crimes occurred refused to take action against the criminals. The US must look up to the international courts for justice.

Posted by: MrZ2 | May 14, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Cheney's motives are transparent: He knows that when the history books are written, the Bush years will (1) be referred to as the "Cheney Administration" - due to his dominance of the Cheney marionnette - Bush, and (2) be generally recognized as one of the worst presidencies/administrations in American history. Cheney wanted all the credit for running the country (if it went well). However, since his administration is already viewed as having "scre*** the pooch" he's doing everything he can to dodge the blame that history will ultimately assign to him.

Additionally, Cheney realizes that he really does run the risk of being branded a war criminal if investigations into what really went on in the Bush (Cheney) Administration come to light. He wants to make any investigation into potential war crimes into a Dem vs. Repub "political attack" - thereby trying to rob it of its moral authority by questioning its motives.

Posted by: Buster3 | May 14, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Cheney is making all this noise about "post 9/11" to keep everyone from focusing their attention on "pre 9/11" and what the white house had been told about bin Laden... and why Mr. tough guys Bush & Cheney ignored all those warnings before the fact!!

Posted by: tbartlett2 | May 14, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, I stopped at ** REVALATION. ** You're supposed to be a professional but you haven't figured out how to use a spell-check? This was a word with hypertext for heavens sake. You must have looked at this word again and again while linking the related url.

It's now harder to consider your words when you've shown your carelessness with even highlighted ones.

Posted by: k4man123 | May 14, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

It is not enough for Cheney that he tortured. Now he wants to be applauded. So he lies about it.

How low can you sink, Dick?

Posted by: jpk1 | May 14, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

At last Cheney is doing America some good, dragging the GOP through the ditch in his dramatic attempts to justify himself, and beating the corpse of the party he helped to kill to make sure it never rises again.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 14, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Better late than never, but I really wish Powell or Wilkerson had spoken out when this was happening, when it would have made more of a difference and maybe mitigated some of the harm.

Posted by: SarahBB | May 14, 2009 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Some worthwhile commentary with some extremely interesting quotes here:

Posted by: whizbang9a | May 14, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Froomkin committed at typo - guess that means Cheney is innocent.

Posted by: AlanDownunder | May 14, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Cheney's messaging seems to hang on the hope that no one listening has ever heard of him or least has no clue as to what he'd been up to for the past 8 years or so.

Posted by: nevereven | May 15, 2009 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Oh, have a good Friday off, Dan.

Posted by: nevereven | May 15, 2009 12:20 AM | Report abuse

At the rate Obama is adopting Cheney's 'Terror tactics', we should expect torture to be legalized and bar code tattoos for all. And Dan is amazed that no one in the MSM will talk about Cheney torturing for evidence of Iraq Al Qaeda ties? Look around your newsroom, Dan, see the men in the offices? They're all Republicans.

Posted by: davidbn27 | May 15, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Calling the AEI a "conservative think tank" is like calling the Wehrmacht a "police force".

They're traitors.

It's what they do.

Posted by: WillSeattle | May 15, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Hi Dan,
Do you feel any regret about ripping off the title of my column when I wrote it for Dow Jones News Wires from 1998 to 2005?
Anyway, any standard Reuters search should tell you that you are fairly unoriginal.
Thanks much
Alex Keto

(By the way, if you have need of a new title, I'm sure we can think of a new one together.)

Posted by: alexketo | May 15, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

I heard in only one place that the Congress had given Cheney secret servive protection for life. Is it true? If so, what a horrible waste of vital manpower and money.

Posted by: grants1922 | May 16, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

To k4man123: get a life. To Alex Keto: likewise.

Posted by: Steph02115 | May 16, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

When your talking war crimes and crimes against humanity, along with crimes against the constitution and a lot of other dirty little tricks for the last 8 years and even the last 35 years I guess he would try to put up a defense. The strong arm tactics are over along with the dirty little tricks and conflicts of interest that have aided in the Cheney billions. Ken Star spent 160 million dollars out of the U.S. treasury investigating the Clinton's. And all he got we really didn't need to know. I think Cheney and Bush should get the same treatment. there should be no statue of limitation on crimes against the people by government officials. I still think that this war and the attacks of 911 were instigated by the Bush family and the greed associated with them. A total withdraw from the war areas needs to start now. There will be no gain in staying and pretending any control or order. The future of America will be the same weather we stay or end these stupid wars. Save an American soldier and bring them home. The stupidity and greed of the U.S. government since the formation of the C.I.A. has brought us to this conclusion. Stupid leaders, {meaning Bush and Cheney} and Permanent war. When our politicians are making millions off a war we're paying for there definitely a conflict of interest. The Bush and Cheney families know all about this.

Posted by: kimkimminni1 | May 16, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

torture was used only to link al queda to sadam, our attention should on cheney & bush administration not the speaker

Posted by: PortCityPisces | May 18, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

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