Posts Tagged ‘Cheney’
First, a brief reminder of how the Bush administration handled the crime of torture. Let’s call it “the few bad apples excuse.”
Yesterday, Wednesday, April 13, 2009 was a sad day for the Obama administration. The President decided to reverse his administration’s pledge to release photographs of acts of torture committed by Americans, photos that could be used as further evidence of how widespread state sanctioned torture had been under Bush. But it was not his decision to hold back the photos that was patently reprehensible. Obama argued that the release of the photographs could endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether one agrees with this assessment or not, it has to be taken seriously. What is not acceptable, and what is not worthy of this president, is to suggest that those who committed these acts were only a small number of individuals. Once again this places the onus on those who actually carried out the acts as opposed to the leaders who ordered and sanctioned them. In other words, Obama used a version of the “bad apples excuse” to support his decision, which is just what the Bush administration did when the photos of Abu Ghraib first appeared
The New York Times reported on the president’s press conference announcing his decision in an article, “Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos.” Two excerpts:
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” Mr. Obama told reporters on the South Lawn. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” (emphasis added)
The article then went on to quote a spokesman from the A.C.L.U.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the decision to fight the release of the photos was a mistake. He said officials had described them as “worse than Abu Ghraib” and said their volume, more than 2,000 images, showed that “it is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest level.”
It’s not clear what Obama’s tactics are here. He is well aware of the previous administration’s culpability. Perhaps he has decided that keeping his hands clean and letting Congress handle the torture investigation is the path of least resistance, one that will allow him to pursue more important matters. But this maneuver doesn’t require him to assert the few bad apples excuse. The question is why he decided to make this specious argument. And he made it on the very same day that he said the following during commencement at Arizona State.
“In recent years, in many ways, we’ve become enamored with our own success, lulled into complacency by our own achievements,” he said, citing the economic crisis. “We started taking shortcuts. We started living on credit, instead of building up savings. We saw businesses focus more on rebranding and repackaging than innovating and developing new ideas that improve our lives.” New York Times, May 13, 2009, “Work Is Never Done, Obama Tells Class”
Read these words and think about Obama’s actions yesterday. Read these words and think about some of the “shortcuts” that he has been taking. (See Andrew Sullivan’s article, “The Fierce Urgency Of Whenever,” on Obama’s backsliding on the treatment of gays.) Read these words and think about the Obama brand. And ask, who is Barack Obama really speaking about when he speaks about repackaging? Rhetorical flourishes are not going to provide him with cover if there is too great a disjunction between his words, his other words, and his deeds.
Yes, Obama cannot be expected to remake the U.S. in a 100 days. The question is whether there is a misguided expediency at work, one in which the shortest path is assumed to be established lines in the sand.
We cannot let this slogan become merely a slogan. As per Obama’s request, we will remind him, hound him, when his rudder may need some work.
April 26, 2009. The United States declared a public health emergency today. Although it appears that no one has died or become seriously ill in the U.S. from a new strain of the swine flu, health officials are taking no chances. All of the traditional measures to combat epidemics have been set in motion. Funds will be made available for anti-viral drugs, and time-tested and effective methods for tracking and preventing the spread of disease will be utilized. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is reassuring the public, citing its decades of experience in handling epidemics and its recent preparation for pandemics.
However, former Vice President Cheney, through a spokesman, is calling on the CDC to avoid thinking within the box in deciding on measures to halt this attack on our nation. “We can’t afford not to act with every means available to us,” said his spokesman. Inside the CDC there is mounting pressure to consult with agents from the CIA to examine how harsh interrogation techniques might be of service. With fear mounting and pressure growing, expert legal advice is being sought in order to provide the proper “legal cover” for actions that international agreements have outlawed as torture.
“Look,” said a representative from the former VP’s office, “you gotta do what you gotta do. There are swine out there who, or I should say, that are dangerous. We need to know what, where, and when.” The plan seems to be to find the pigs that are harboring the terrorist virus, and apply harsh techniques, torture if you will, in order force them to provide operational intelligence.
There has been some concern that the swine won’t talk. But everyone should know that swine are among the most intelligent animals, according to experts in covert intelligence. A spokesperson for the CDC insists that with proper guidance, waterboarding a pig is possible, and it will get the animal to talk, and talk fast. (He then handed this reporter a copy of Animal Farm.)
Questioned about violating the rights of these animals, a Cheney spokesman said, “What’s the difference? Whether it’s a human animal or an animal animal. If it attacks you, or if you believe that it might possibly attack, you go after it.” There was little response to a question directed to Cheney himself (as he was walking his dog) by one reporter, “What about all of the innocent pigs, for example, the three little ones, that were just minding their business, trying to build lives for themselves?” Cheney did say that if we could apply harsh techniques to the virus itself, we would. But since we don’t have the technical means to do so, as many of the swine as possible gotta be boarded.
Asked to comment, The White House declined, claiming that as an inanimate object it had little to say. Although a spokesman for the President did say that if the tactics were forward-looking enough, and did not constitute a threat to his domestic agenda, he might be able to get his team behind the CDC. In any case, no CDC employee will be prosecuted for actions deemed acceptable by agency lawyers.
A spokesperson for the Humane Society claimed to be too upset to return this reporter’s call.
The last two posts on UP@NIGHT have addressed the issue of torture. Today we learn, according to a New York Times article, that incompetence and ignorance led the Bush administration down the path of torture. The article is a must read. There is an excerpt below. I will say that it raises as many questions as it answers; for example. how could the moral imagination and understanding of our leaders be so impoverished that they were prepared simply to heed the words of so-called experts, without asking probing questions and paying attention to what could be called common sense? (I mean, certain actions seem like torture….it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.) Or how about, are the proposed “harsh” methods really as reliable as other methods? (Opinions from different camps were called for. But instead the advice our leaders wanted to hear, “we’ll get quick results,” was all that was needed to give the green light.)
Of course further investigation may reveal that they were not as ignorant as this article suggests. Time will tell.
By SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: April 21, 2009
WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
The New York Times reports the following comments by Cheney in reaction to Obama’s release of the Bush administration memos defending acts of torture:
As the debate escalated, Mr. Cheney weighed in, saying that if the country is to judge the methods used in the interrogations, it should have information about what was obtained from the tough tactics.
“I find it a little bit disturbing” that “they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Mr. Cheney said on Fox News. “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.” ”Pressure Grows to Investigate Interrogations,” April 20, 2009,
Leaving aside the fact that experts in the field have consistently challenged the utility of torture, leaving aside the fact that we could have gotten more information through alternative methods of interrogation, and leaving aside the fact that by torturing prisoners we increase the chances that our own soldiers will be tortured, what Cheney’s comments reveal is the poverty of the ethical imagination of the Bush administration.
Yes, there are good arguments to be made for taking into consideration consequences in judging whether acts are ethical. There is a whole philosophical tradition built around this notion, Utilitarianism. However, the idea that we can justify torture based on “the success” of the method, which presumably means the successful gathering of intelligence, is precisely what every declaration of human rights, including the Geneva Convention, repudiates. (As does every form of sophisticated Utilitarianism.)
Imagine if I said, let’s rape prisoners in order to get the information that we need. No decent human being would tolerate this as a legitimate means of gathering information. Rape is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being. It’s horrific to think that governments might write legal briefs defending rape on the grounds that it produced information that they needed. Yet, how different is torture from rape? It too is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being. If one thinks about what the act of torture does to another human being (and what it does to the torturer), it can be viewed as a form of rape, just as rape can be understood as a form of torture. Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s lawyers wrote legal opinions defending acts that time and again have been labeled torture.
So, here is my suggestion in response to Cheney. When he says, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity,” replace the last part of the sentence, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of raping human beings.” Now, tell me whether anyone who is even moderately ethical, or anyone who wants to defend the ideals for which this country stands, would be willing to utter such a sentence? But this is in fact a sentence that follows from Cheney’s crude consequentialism.
Cheney is a clever but hopelessly thoughtless man, who was part of a thoughtless administration. He still doesn’t understand how much damage he did to this country in his efforts to protect us. (And let’s not forget, his methods aren’t even good ones in terms of protecting the country.)
UPDATE, April 22: Former FBI supervisory agent discusses recent claims about the effectiveness of torture.
“My Tortured Decision” (excerpt)
By ALI SOUFAN, April 22, 2009, The New York Times
FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.
One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence….
By now I am sure that most of America has heard about the former VP’s outrageous interview with Politico, which has been generously quoted in the MSM. Besides reiterating what every sentient adult American knows, namely, that it is possible that there will be a serious terrorist strike in the U.S. in the next few years, Dr. Doom tried to set the stage for the blaming the attack on the Obama administration. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.” Politico
This nonsense is from a man whose war in Iraq and torture policies have in all likelihood created more terrorists than all of the combined recruiting techniques used by Al Qaeda. He has made us less safe and decent in oh so many ways. But just as my fury was reaching unspeakable heights, I heard about a rather amazing turn of events. The Obama Administration plans to use Dr. Doom’s “expertise” in a thoroughly new fashion. They are creating a department of soothsayers made up of individuals who claim to have powers that allow them to leap over historical realities in single bounds. Cheney will direct this group of Jeremiahs. He plans to use his gifts in reading bird entrails, especially ones that he has shot, to help educate his comrades.
Obama it seems is way ahead of us on this one. It turns out that those of us who have been hypercritical of Dick have not realized that he has been suffering for years from a rather rare syndrome that leads him to believe that he has prophetic powers. His pacemaker, which was implanted several years back, suffers from a serious defect. It produces a low frequency audio pulse to the Thermonuclear region of the Hiffocampus. (It goes softly “boom” about every 18 minutes.) This results in behavior that is hard to separate from that of sociopaths, especially in terms of their tendency to lose sight of the differences between truth and lies, right and wrong. So, yes, Cheney has been a pathological liar, but for an understandable reason. Unfortunately the pacemaker cannot be removed without creating the possibility that the patient might suffer from an overload of guilt and remorse, which could lead to suicide. And his doctor’s oath, unlike Cheney’s own as VP, requires that he do no harm.
The Obama administration’s plan to make Cheney Director of the Cassandra Complex is an elegant solution to the problem of Cheney. As you may recall, even when Cassandra was telling the truth about the future, she was fated to not be heeded. Cheney can now spend the rest of his days, along with a bevy of sociopaths, feeling good about the fact that they know the future but no one will listen to them.
Here is a model of their new building, right off the Mall in D.C. The design goes back to Bentham. (And since, needless to say, no one can really know what the future holds in store, this is a good place to store folks like this.)
In light of the VP’s recent comments on presidential authority and war (December. 21st), with a little help from an (originally color) photo of Cheney that appeared in The Onion in 2002, I offer the following images. (One caveat: I am not suggesting that Cheney is a Nazi. Dr. Strangelove is a fictional character. I am hoping that Cheney’s views become as strange to us as Dr. Strangelove in the not very distant future.)
UPDATE: Tom Brokaw likens Dick Cheney to “Dr. Strangelove” at inauguration
Today, as the severity of Senator Kennedy’s condition became more apparent, I found myself, once again, back in seventh grade. I am in a large hall, waiting in line. I am not sure what the line is for, and for some reason the line can’t seem to form properly. We seem to be waiting to go into an auditorium. Words are migrating from student to student. It is November 22nd, 1963. The President has been shot. Next to me stands a sweet looking young girl. Shoulder length dirty blond hair. Delicate features. And she says, “I hope that he dies.” This was the President who had taken us through the Cuban Missile Crisis, who spoke of civil rights, and who had two young children. And she wanted him dead. Her hatred was palpable and irrational. In retrospect, given the times, I have always wondered whether her enmity was due to the fact that he was a Catholic, and one who supported civil rights.
At 12 years old, I couldn’t fathom what I was hearing. I was struck dumb. I simply couldn’t respond. I just stared at her and turned away. Now, of course, I know that it was not her wish, but her parents’ or some relative’s wish. But over the years this fact has only intensified the shock. Everyone says that they remember where they were when they heard that Kennedy was shot. I remember. But I also recall a young girl who believed that she wanted to see him dead.
Before I became fully aware of the deep divisions in the country over civil rights, Vietnam, or “values,” I knew that if this young president could create such hostility, something was terribly wrong. And so it was. I suppose that this was my introduction to the 1960’s. Every now and again this scene reappears. Sometimes it arises for no apparent reason. Sometimes it arises at appropriate moments, like today, when we have learned that Senator Kennedy is gravely ill.
I have disagreed with the Kennedys. But I remember supporting Bobby. And of course I remember him being shot. I also remember Teddy trying so very hard, over four long decades, to do the right thing (as he saw it) for the underprivileged and marginalized. I recently cheered as The Lion of the Senate passed the torch to Obama. He was aging. Now that he had found someone he trusted to carry on the Kennedy legacy, there was an arc from 1963 to 2008, an arc that the last eight years of Bush, Rove, Cheney, et al, seemed to have made impossible. But as I have watched the returns from certain states, such as Kentucky this evening, I return to that space in 1963, and I am afraid. I fear for Senator Obama. And I fear that as a nation we will fail to do the right thing because we are still too afraid of those who are “not like us.”