National Security Network

Cheney's March Madness

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Report 16 March 2009

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security counter-terrorism Dick Cheney George Bush iraq President Bush's legacy Red Cross Torture

Plays the fear card claiming Obama is making America less safe even as we hit six years in Iraq and Red Cross report says Bush Administration tortured

Yesterday Dick Cheney claimed that we have succeeded in Iraq and that the Bush administration’s torture policies were “a great success story.” But the latest sally in the previous Administration’s attempt to spin its own failed legacy bumped up against revelations of a secret 2007 report by the International Red Cross that concluded that the Bush administration’s interrogation methods “constituted torture” and amounted to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Moreover, former counter-terrorism officials continue to suggest in strong language that the torture failed to produce actionable intelligence. Cheney’s claims of success in Iraq come on the eve of the six year anniversary of the start of the war, when Cheney claimed Americans would be “greeted as liberators” and would eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and a terrorist threat that did not exist. Moving the goalposts doesn’t change the results of the war: more than 4,200 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed; the direct costs have exceeded $600 billion; Iraq became a cause célèbre for terrorism; Iranian influence expanded; and America’s image and credibility across the Muslim world was gravely damaged.

Former Vice President Cheney attempts to rewrite history and save the failed Bush administration’s legacy. Cheney is the latest former Bush administration official to aggressively push its agenda and defend Bush’s legacy. As Politico’s Mike Allen reported, “an informal network of former aides is keeping [Bush’s] views in the political bloodstream, defending his legacy in TV appearances and backgrounding reporters about his record.” As Politico reports, “Asked Sunday on CNN if he thinks President Obama ‘has made Americans less safe,’ former Vice President Dick Cheney said: ‘I do.’ Looking slimmer and relaxed, Cheney told John King on ‘State of the Union’ that Bush administration policies on detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists – some of which were immediately modified by Obama — ‘were absolutely essential’ to preventing another 9/11-style attack. ‘I think that's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.” The former Vice President was also rewriting events in Iraq. In the interview he said, “We have succeeded in creating in the heart of the Middle East a democratically governed Iraq, and that is a big deal, and it is, in fact, what we set out to do. The defeat of Al Qaida in Iraq, the writing of that democratic constitution, a series of elections that involve power sharing among all the various groups, the end of sectarian violence. I think a major defeat for the Iranians living next door to Iraq, who tried to influence events there.” [Politico, 3/15/09. CNN, 3/15/09]

In reality, military, civilian and international law experts agree – and a 2007 Red Cross report leaked this weekend confirms -- that the Bush administration did torture violating both international law and America’s constitutional values. The Washington Post writes, “The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration's treatment of al-Qaeda captives ‘constituted torture,’ a finding that strongly implied that CIA interrogation methods violated international law, according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document. The report, an account alleging physical and psychological brutality inside CIA ‘black site’ prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.’ Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.” The Red Cross report, according to Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books, says, “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” As Danner says, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn't be more significant, or indeed more welcome after years in which the President of the United States relied on the power of his office either to redefine or to obfuscate what are relatively simple words.”  [Washington Post, 3/16/09. New York Review of Books, 4/19/09.]

Counter-terrorism experts have said time and time again that torture doesn’t work. As Richard Clarke explains, “I don't know about you, but I'm sure if I were tortured, I think I would come to the same conclusion — that the way to stop the torture would be to say whatever they want.” Retired CIA agents have alleged that the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was done in vain. “As for K.S.M. himself, who was waterboarded, reportedly hung for hours on end from his wrists, beaten, and subjected to other agonies for weeks, Bush said he provided ‘many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans’... But according to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., ‘90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit.’ A former Pentagon analyst adds: ‘K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.’”  [Vanity Fair, 12/16/08. CBC, 10/27/08]

The former VP’s comments on Iraq ignore the human, financial and strategic costs of a war that should never have been fought. Cheney’s definition of “success” moves the goalposts dramatically from past promises that we would be “greeted as liberators,” that the insurgency was in its “last throes,” and that the war would be quick and relatively cheap. In the six years since President Bush declared victory, more than 4,200 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed. The financial costs of the war have been staggering, with direct costs running over $600 billion and long-term cost projections in the trillions of dollars. Sadly, these great sacrifices have failed to achieve Bush’s initial goals of ridding Iraq of WMDs it did not have, eliminating a terrorist threat that did not exist, and bringing liberal democracy to the Middle East. Instead, the invasion and subsequent chaos and violence turned Iraq into a cause célèbre for international terrorism and empowered Iran. A further legacy of the Bush administration’s disastrous war has been a steep decline in U.S. global prestige in the Muslim world and among allies the U.S. had counted as its closest supporters. In sum, the war and the ideology that informed it have compromised U.S. security, damaged U.S. broader interests, undercut our best principles, and violently altered the lives of countless Iraqis. [NSN, 1/6/09. CNN, 3/15/09]


What We’re Reading

Protests in Pakistan led by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif forced President Asif Ali Zardari to back down and reinstate an independent-minded Supreme Court judge.

Iran’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, will reportedly withdraw from the presidential race and endorse another reformist candidate, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

A suicide bombing killed at least 11, including policemen, in Afghanistan. Nine U.S. or NATO soldiers have been killed since the weekend, four in a roadside bomb attack on Sunday. U.S./NATO supplies for Afghanistan were attacked in Peshawar, Pakistan, for the second day in a row.

Troops face new and different challenges in Afghanistan. The Pentagon reviews old war doctrines to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar agreed to peace talks for Afghanistan and sent his representatives to Saudi-sponsored negotiations.

Europe hedges on accepting Guantanamo inmates as President Obama plans to meet with an EU delegation to discuss the issue.

The health care “value gap” hurts the United States in global economic competition.

Iraq equipment poses a logistical challenge to withdrawal. Local control in Iraq leads to new problems, particularly with police and soldiers. Iraqis are more optimistic about their future for the first time since 2003.

The leftist candidate, Mauricio Funes, declares victory in the El Salvador presidential election.

China tightens its control of Tibet even further as more sensitive anniversaries approach. The Tibetan government in exile signaled willingness to talk to the Chinese.

Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has signed a coalition agreement with Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beitenu party.

Two Israeli policemen were killed in the West Bank.

Northern Ireland’s police chief plays down the prominence of IRA groups in Ulster. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s annual St. Patrick’s Day trip the U.S. is overshadowed by Ireland’s deep economic crisis.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the Navy to take over seaports of Venezuelan states with high petroleum-export capabilities.

Four U.N. aid workers were kidnapped in Somalia.


Commentary of the Day

Fareed Zakaria pushes against back criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, arguing that an “imperial” foreign policy can no longer work.

Roger Cohen looks at pragmatism in Iran and how the U.S. can use that to end their nuclear program.

Iranian-American activists – and newlyweds -- Mariam Memarsadeghi and Akbar Atri say human rights in Iran must come first in U.S. Iran policy.

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai hopes President Obama will inspire a new generation of African leaders.