National Security Network

Cheney on the Fringe

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Report 31 August 2009

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security CIA Dick Cheney john mccain


(The Daily will remain on an intermittent schedule until Labor Day)

Dick Cheney returned to the airwaves on Sunday to provide a full-throated defense of torture. He lashed out at the Obama administration for investigating dubious actions at the CIA emanating from White House directives and insisted that “enhanced interrogation” kept the country safe. Cheney even said he was “okay with” actions that may have violated the law during interrogations. Former Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain quickly took Cheney to task, pointing out that the prisoner abuse advocated by Cheney strengthened al Qaeda, provided poor intelligence information, undercut America’s moral authority and overall made us weaker. No senior conservative or nonpartisan national security figures have echoed Cheney’s concerns, exposing them for what they are – attempts to politicize national security by accusing the Administration of the same.  Unfortunately, while the national security community has not taken up these fringe views, many conservatives have.

Dick Cheney endorses criminal behavior that military and intelligence leaders of both parties have repudiated – placing himself far outside the range of policy options supported by Senator McCain, Secretary Gates, General Petraeus and others.  In his appearance on FOX News Sunday, former Vice-President Dick Cheney was asked, “you say you're proud of what we did. The inspector general's report which was just released from 2004 details some specific interrogations -- mock executions, one of the detainees threatened with a handgun and with an electric drill, waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times. First of all, did you know that was going on?  CHENEY: I knew about the waterboarding. Not specifically in any one particular case, but as a general policy that we had approved.”  The former vice-president even went as far as to endorse abuses that he admits went beyond the Bush administration’s already overstretched definition of what was legal: “CHENEY: ... It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.  WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you're OK with it?  CHENEY: I am.”
In contrast,

  • “The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security." [DNI Director Dennis Blair, via ABC News, 4/21/09]
  • “In fact, I have long been on record as having testified and also in helping write doctrine for interrogation techniques that are completely in line with the Geneva Convention. And as a division commander in Iraq in the early days, we put out guidance very early on to make sure that our soldiers, in fact, knew that we needed to stay within those guidelines.” [General Petraeus, 5/11/07]

 [Richard Cheney interviewed by Chris Wallace, FOX News Sunday, 8/30/09]

Former Republican presidential candidate rebukes Cheney’s position on torture, putting the former Vice President outside the mainstream of an already fringe party.  Following Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims this weekend that so-called “enhanced interrogations” kept the country safe from terrorist attacks, 2008 Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain offered a multi-pronged rebuke.

  • “Helped al Qaeda recruit.” McCain said to CBS’ Bob Schieffer, “I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan. I think that these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq who told me that. I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And so -- and I believe that information according to the FBI and others could have been gained through other methods.”  
  • “A lot of wrong information.” McCain also expressed doubts over the veracity of information gained through torture, “if you inflict enough pain on anyone, they’ll tell you anything to make the pain stop. So you not only get perhaps right information but you also get a lot of wrong information.”  [Sen. John McCain (R – AZ), 8/30/09]

Cheney’s extreme comments are not shared by current or former national security officials – suggesting that the “politicization” he decried in fact begins with him. Over the past year, bipartisan or non-partisan military and national security leaders have contradicted every plank of Cheney’s argument.  Even Republican former officials offer little or no support for these views.  In response to conservative attacks on President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay prison, including a taste-less video showing graphic images of the September 11 attacks, former White House Counter-terrorism Czar Richard Clarke said, “This video and the recent Republican attacks on Guantanamo are more desperate attempts from a demoralized party to politicize national security and the safety of the American people.”

  • Five former Secretaries of State say close Guantanamo; Cheney says keep it open.  A bipartisan panel made up of Secretaries Kissinger, Albright, Powell, Baker, and Christopher all agreed that closing Guantanamo Bay is vital for repairing the damage it has caused to America’s image. As James Baker, Secretary of State for George H.W. Bush, said: “Close Guantanamo. We were on a panel together several months ago, and we all agreed, one of the best things that could happen would be to close Guantanamo, which is a very serious blot upon our reputation.” [CNN, 9/20/08]
  • Senior interrogator says torture didn’t work; Cheney says it did.  Former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that torture, “from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable, and harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida,” – effectively rebutting conservative arguments that torture can sometimes be necessary.  [Ali Soufan, 5/13/09]
  • Human rights experts say Holder investigation too little; Cheney calls it “terrible precedent it sets, to have agents involved, CIA personnel involved, in a difficult program that's approved by the Justice Department, approved by the National Security Council, and the Bush administration, and then when a new administration comes in, it becomes political... it's clearly a political move.”

[Richard Cheney, FOX News Sunday, 8/30/09. Richard Clarke, NSN, 5/8/09]

What We’re Reading

Japanese voters have official ended the 50 year rule of the Liberal Democratic Party by ushering in the rule of the Democratic Party of Japan following their national elections.

General Stanley McChrystal is set to present the findings of his strategic review of the US mission in Afghanistan to President Obama today. The White House will also pronounce a list of metrics for success in that campaign. Reports of electoral fraud have increased significantly since the Afghan Presidential elections, with irregularities that could change the outcome of various districts or provinces across the country.

A suicide blast in the Swat Valley in Pakistan resulted in 15 people killed. The Taliban continue to hit convoys entering from Pakistan into Afghanistan. And US officials protest Pakistani modifications of missiles sold as a defensive capability into missiles with offensive capabilities.

Investigations by the Iraqi government have discovered old fighter jets controlled by the Hussein regime which was never returned to Iraq following rounds of sanctions. The Iraqi Air Force wants these plans returned.

The Burmese military junta has initiated a new offensive against armed opposition militias, resulting in a sudden rush of refugees into China.

Iranian conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed a panel to review the civil unrest following their disputed presidential election.

The government of the United Kingdom denies reports that the early release of the Lockerbie bomber had any connection to the British oil firms seeking business in Libya.

Journalists in Latin America are facing growing obstacles to their profession.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted on three counts of corruption, stemming from the investigation which forced him to resign last year.

Columbian President Alvaro Uribe has contracted the swine flu.

Commentary of the Day

Anthony Cordesman worries that micromanaging by Washington of the Afghan war effort will spell almost certain strategic defeat in the region.

Jim Hoagland explains why the faux-outreach of the Libyan government could be a preview of how the Iranian government considers engagement with the West.

Dr. Lock Johnson explains why historically the CIA has avoided consistent and aggressive oversight and investigations.

Daniel Sneider explains why the electoral change in Japan is about changing the style of politics, and not just ushering a new political party to power.