Cheney: Debate Makes America Look Weak

In his speech on national security before the American Enterprise Institute today, Former Vice-President Dick Cheney made the rather surprising argument that debate over the treatment of detainees makes American look weak.

And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for – our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

I didn’t realize that devotion to American ideals such as free speech and democratic governance is something that makes America weak. Quite the contrary, it’s what makes America strong. Now, if Cheney wants to argue that it makes us “look weak”, what’s his solution–that we avoid debate?

I’m also more than a little surprised at his okay of the “just following orders” defense of the legal memos that supposedly “justified” torture.

And at the CIA, operatives are left to wonder if they can depend on the White House or Congress to back them up when the going gets tough. Why should any agency employee take on a difficult assignment when, even though they act lawfully and in good faith, years down the road the press and Congress will treat everything they do with suspicion, outright hostility, and second-guessing? Some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs. They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy.

I’ll give Cheney points on rightly pointing out the cravenness of Congressional “oversight,” but if he implies that American officials should get a pass on breaking the law just because a lawyer said it was okay and without further contemplation, that’s absurd. Now, we all know that a criminal investigation of American officials for violation of statues against torture will never happen, as President Obama holds politics as a higher value than accountability in this matter. But if criminal investigations did happen, there’s no question that the legal memos guiding CIA agents and others would be considered a mitigating factor in the determination of guilt, but they certainly wouldn’t be dispositive. Does Cheney really mean to suggest that it’s okay to break the law if you can get a lawyer to say that it’s okay to? Really?

Read Cheney’s whole speech–it’s a breathtakingly brazen defense of undermining democracy and the rule of law in the name of “fighting terrorism.” I will give him this, though: he does correctly call President Obama out for speaking out of both sides of his mouth on these issues. I am deeply disappointed that Obama is caving to political pressure on this matter, but I’m really not surprised. If there’s one thing that American history teaches us, it’s that if your rich and/or powerful enough, it’s okay to break the law–you’ll almost never be held accountable unless there’s sex involved.

Link via Chris Bodenner.  AP Photo by Luis M. Alvarez.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Steve Plunk says:

    There’s a difference between citizen’s right to free speech and the government discussing these things in the open. A little bit of caution makes a lot of sense in this case. Cheney’s point is one of government indecisiveness.

    We could also expect our congressional oversight to take place more in congress than in front of TV cameras. It’s pretty obvious this “oversight” is more political than genuine.

    Fact is Cheney didn’t pick this fight, Democrats in congress and the present administration did. Since when did defending one’s self become brazen? Obama didn’t cave to pressure he played the bully looking for a scuffle and now that he has one he’s losing. Cheney’s righting of the constant distortions of the record are needed and welcome by common sense Americans. Undermining democracy? That’s nonsense.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Pfui. That we feel that we can debate the subject is an illustration of just how strong we actually are.

  3. G.A.Phillips says:

    Countering political propaganda for security reasons is hardly a debate.

    It was a great speech in sum of whats going on, to bad it seems a few years to late, well almost, and not given by Bush.

  4. fredw says:

    There is a simple way to stop debating torture DICK …

    shut up!

  5. Winston Smith says:

    GA,

    You bellyfeel Cheney’s blackwhite duckspeak. Doubleplus goodthink! Want a job with Minitrue?

  6. M. Bouffant says:

    Since when did defending one’s self become brazen?

    Well, when “defending oneself” involves attacking a nation that had nothing to do w/ attacking you, & then you torture people in an attempt to back up the lies you told to make that invasion & occupation possible, “brazen” is really a weak word.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    “Well, when “defending oneself” involves attacking a nation that had nothing to do w/ attacking you, & then you torture people in an attempt to back up the lies you told to make that invasion & occupation possible, “brazen” is really a weak word.”

    Let’s start with the fact Iraq was in violation of how many UN mandates? And who’s congress approved of the invasion?

    Next let’s admit the interrogations yielded valuable information that likely saved lives. How about admitting only three terrorists were given the enhanced interrogations. None of this was to back up anything but were done to prevent further acts of terror.

    So essentially Cheney is reasonably defending himself and the Bush administration against propaganda being foisted upon the American public.

  8. Boyd says:

    …but if he implies that American officials should get a pass on breaking the law just because a lawyer said it was okay and without further contemplation, that’s absurd.

    Alex, your hand-waving misdirection can’t go without being called out.

    I’ve been tortured according to you and others of your ilk. I and many of my colleagues who have been “tortured” feel very strongly that these techniques are a far cry from torture. I’ll accept that many folks disagree with us. I don’t discount you out of hand.

    But for you to dismiss us and our experiences and opinions out of hand? That’s outrageous. You don’t render us the respect we deserve. The respect we’ve earned.

    And then you talk about torture as though we were gassing prisoners, ripping out fingernails, electrocuting testicles and so forth? We’ve never gotten anywhere close to that. And you know it.

    The supposed “torture” that you and others are wringing your hands over is pretty clearly, to many of us who have experienced it, not against the law. Our opinions were supported by DoJ lawyers. And you want to claim the interrogators knowingly broke the law by using these procedures? Ludicrous.

    So, there’s a legitimate debate over whether what we did was actual torture. For you to imply that our interrogators are the equivalents of Nazis “just following orders” reveals that you’ll stoop to contemptible levels to mislead others to adopt your position.

    Your claims are disgusting.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    Boyd,

    ‘ve been tortured according to you and others of your ilk. I and many of my colleagues who have been “tortured” feel very strongly that these techniques are a far cry from torture. I’ll accept that many folks disagree with us. I don’t discount you out of hand.

    I’m assuming that you were in the Navy? And that you underwent SERE training? I admit that I haven’t gone through that, but I understand that the purpose of such training is to teach you how to resist torture? I know plenty of Navy Vets who consider what happened at Gitmo and elsewhere to be torture (the loudest of which right now is probably Jesse Ventura). I hope that you can appreciate the psychological difference between training and being captured against your will, blindfolded for days, and undergoing the same techniques over and over again with no hope of release.

    And then you talk about torture as though we were gassing prisoners, ripping out fingernails, electrocuting testicles and so forth? We’ve never gotten anywhere close to that. And you know it.

    The law doesn’t say that torture is gassing, ripping out fingernails, etc. It says that torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” That’s the LAW.

    Our opinions were supported by DoJ lawyers.

    Have you read the memos? They are not considered legal opinion. They omitted key points of law, both statutory and judicial.

    And you want to claim the interrogators knowingly broke the law by using these procedures?

    Yes, I do. If I got an opinion from my lawyer, which said that in his considered opinion, driving with a BAC of 0.1 was lawful, I would still be guilty of a DUI when my BAC is 0.09 in a 0.08 state.

    So, there’s a legitimate debate over whether what we did was actual torture.

    Only if you ignore the plain meaning of statues and centuries of case law.

    For you to imply that our interrogators are the equivalents of Nazis “just following orders” reveals that you’ll stoop to contemptible levels to mislead others to adopt your position.

    I never equivocated CIA interrogators to Nazis. “Just following orders” is a broad defense in these kinds of cases, and just as contemptible.

    Your claims are disgusting.

    No, violating America’s sacred tradition of the humane treatment of prisoners, a tradition which stems back to George Washington himself, is disgusting. There are things that Americans should not do. Period. This is one of them. Dick Cheney took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. And he spit on that oath.

  10. Boyd says:

    Okeydoke. You’re entitled to your opinion, even if it is twisted, manipulated and disgusting.

    As I said, my purpose was to call you on it. I knew I wouldn’t change your mind.

  11. Drew says:

    Alex invoking Jesse Ventura.

    Anyone need to hear more?

  12. You’re entitled to your opinion, even if it is twisted, manipulated and disgusting.

    You know, I could understand, although I would disagree, if you thought Alex was misguided or simply wrong. Why is the fact that he is trying to stand up for American principles, and the law, “twisted, manipulated and disgusting”? Even if you disagree with his interpretation thereof, what is twisted about wanting to defend human rights?

    And no: undergoing anti-torture training is not being tortured. There is a rather substantial difference between a fixed point, known experience under controlled conditions and being taken and held subjected to mistreatment that for all one knows will never end.

    What I find especially remarkable about these SERE training based defenses of these techniques is that the reason the training exists is because people we considered to be the bad guys might do such techniques to our soldiers (see here). Yet, somehow what was once the domain of Nazis and communists dictatorships is supposedly just fine for us.

    Now that is twisted and disgusting and I don’t understand the defense thereof.

  13. floyd says:

    It’s not debate that makes us look weak, it’s the perverse parade of spineless foppish twits who have ascended to positions of power, purposely presiding over and promoting an unprecedented era of decadence.
    You can’t negotiate with a liar , nor debate a fool.

    Positively pertinent prognostication…..

    http://www.birdsnest.com/walrus.htm

  14. anjin-san says:

    Let’s start with the fact Iraq was in violation of how many UN mandates?

    Lets start with the fact that has nothing to do with why we went to war. Rather it was the fairy tale about WMD.

    Next let’s admit the interrogations yielded valuable information that likely saved live

    Sure, lets believe the same people who fed us the BS about WMD.

  15. Boyd says:

    I have to wonder why we waste so much money on SERE training when all we have to do is talk to you folks. Then we’d understand everything there is to know about SERE without having to actually experience it.

    [/sarcasm]

    You guys are really amazing. Your arrogance is astounding.

  16. anjin-san says:

    And then you talk about torture as though we were gassing prisoners, ripping out fingernails, electrocuting testicles and so forth? We’ve never gotten anywhere close to that. And you know it.

    Sure thing. Now let’s go tell this to the Japanese the WE convicted of war crimes for waterboarding…

  17. anjin-san says:

    We’ve never gotten anywhere close to that. And you know it.

    That is really a stirring defense of America. “We’re not half as bad as those nazis”…

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    You bellyfeel Cheney’s blackwhite duckspeak. Doubleplus goodthink! Want a job with Minitrue?

    What in the great green blue purple liberal flaming
    hell are talking about?

  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    crap I forgot to put in you, Oh well. I put in you next time, lol.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Next let’s admit the interrogations yielded valuable information that likely saved lives.

    Umm, where’s the proof of this?

    Your arrogance is astounding.

    Actually, real arrogance is someone claiming that waterboarding is not torture simply because he supposedly went through it himself…

  21. Winston Smith says:

    GA,

    You oldthinker? Doubleplus ungood. CheneySoc goodthink requires Newspeak. Oldspeak doubleplus ungood. Oldthink doubleplus ungood.

  22. Brian Knapp says:

    What in the great green blue purple liberal flaming
    hell are talking about?

    1984, I think.

  23. Boyd says:

    Actually, real arrogance is someone claiming that waterboarding is not torture simply because he supposedly went through it himself…

    My claim is that I have useful input based on my “supposed” experience. If believing that actual experience with something provides useful insight is arrogant, then yes, guilty as charged.

  24. My claim is that I have useful input based on my “supposed” experience. If believing that actual experience with something provides useful insight is arrogant, then yes, guilty as charged.

    I am hardly calling your experience “supposed”–I have no doubt that you went through training. I simply contend that training isn’t the same thing as being an actual prisoner. This is a blatantly true statement.

    Are you going to deny the reason that the training exists in the first place is to teach our soldiers to resist what our enemies might do to them? Are you going to tell me that you would think it is okay if North Korea waterboarded US soldiers? Or subjected them to other “enhanced interrogation techniques”? Or are these things okay only if the US does them?

    Arrogance, indeed.

  25. I have to wonder why we waste so much money on SERE training when all we have to do is talk to you folks. Then we’d understand everything there is to know about SERE without having to actually experience it.

    [/sarcasm]

    This is nonsensical. No one is trying to determine the quality, necessity or efficacy of SERE training. The only reason it is raised is because the argument is made that somehow because US soldiers go through anti-torture training that, therefore, torturing prisoners is a-okay.

    First, as has been noted a number of times, going through training is not the same as being a prisoner and it is ludicrous to suggest that it is.

    Second, one doesn’t have to experience an act to have the ability to assess it.

  26. Eric Florack says:

    Anyone need to hear more?

    No.

    Between this post and saint Andrew the Incontinent having yet another of his attacks, it’s like watching a ping pong match.

    The fact of the matter is that the very rays and that the left is having such a problem with all of this, is that the “torture” meme was one of the major talking points of Obama’s election campaign, and Cheney succeeded in destroying it in a fifteen minute speech. it was amazing to me how easily this was accomplished.

    (Personally, I rather wish he’d done that prior to the election. I understand, however, why he did not. Still, I think it would’ve done this country a mass of service. )

    It’s interesting to note, that as Don Surber points out, Dick Cheney used facts while president Obama wrapped himself in the flag. Interesting, given that that was the big charge against GWB bush. Perhaps that’s yet another one of George Bush’s anti- terrorism policies that Obama has adopted. He has adopted just about everything else he decried, including I should note military tribunals.

    I suppose that the bee what happens when liberals finally come face to face with reality. It’s apparent that some liberals haven’t done so yet.

    For all of the claims from Obama about how “America has lost its way” I think it’s the left that has lost its way. Code Pink, calling American troops murderers and liars, calling the CIA a group of liars, opposing the war on terror at every step, not just incidental to interrogation. At the end of the day, it’s the left that has lost its way… and go on politics over country. Thing is, most Americans are seeing that now, some of them, unfortunately for the first time. And they’re beginning to react accordingly.

    THe “Torture” meme was the last moral high ground for the Democrat party, and it just got washed away. No wonder they are apoplectic.

  27. Boyd says:

    First, as has been noted a number of times, going through training is not the same as being a prisoner and it is ludicrous to suggest that it is.

    Strawman much? Is that what I said? No, not at all. Since you apparently forgot, here you go:

    I’ve been tortured according to you [Alex] and others of your ilk. I and many of my colleagues who have been “tortured” feel very strongly that these techniques are a far cry from torture. I’ll accept that many folks disagree with us. I don’t discount you out of hand.

    But for you to dismiss us and our experiences and opinions out of hand? That’s outrageous. You don’t render us the respect we deserve. The respect we’ve earned.

    I wish those of you who are so sure of yourselves on what’s torture and what’s not would actually, y’know, read what your opponents write.

    Second, one doesn’t have to experience an act to have the ability to assess it.

    This is where the arrogance kicks in, Doc. You can sit in your ivory tower (do they have ivory towers down there in Alabama?) and think and analyze and read about interrogation techniques, and you have useful input on the definition of torture.

    But those of us who actually experienced those interrogation techniques? No, we’re arrogant for thinking that we have useful input.

    Sheesh.

    And academics wonder why people who actually go out and do stuff have little respect for them and their big brains.

  28. anjin-san says:

    THe “Torture” meme was the last moral high ground for the Democrat party, and it just got washed away

    Ummmm ok. But most of us remember your track record when it came to analysis of the last election. Your accuracy record was about…. zero.

    So keep talking. The worse you say Obama and the Democrats are doing, the better they are probably doing in reality.

    Yea, we still remember your prediction of impending civil war at the Democratic convention. Now that was a classic 🙂

  29. Eric Florack says:

    You know Anin, you keep hitting on that meme, and it’s getting a little tiresome… particularly in this context… that you fail to mention that it was I, back on January the 22nd, that predicted Obama would retain the vast majority of Bush Anti-Terror policy… even those which he was so vocal about during the campaign.

    And Gee, Anjin, gues what?

    Need the link?

  30. sam says:

    @Bithead Eric:

    THe “Torture” meme was the last moral high ground for the Democrat party, and it just got washed away. No wonder they are apoplectic.

    I’ll just re-ask a question I asked earlier: How many times do you think we would have to waterboard Bit-Eric to get him to confess that waterboarding is torture?

  31. G.A.Phillips says:

    1984, I think.

    ok , lol. Im sure it’s means something to some one.

  32. sam says:

    1984, I think.

    ok , lol. Im sure it’s means something to some one

    Only if you’re educated.

  33. Eric Florack says:

    I’ll just re-ask a question I asked earlier: How many times do you think we would have to waterboard Bit-Eric to get him to confess that waterboarding is torture?

    I wouldn’t hold my breath, were I you.

    More importantly, under the conditions waterboarding was used, why s that of any concern to you at all?

  34. Eric Florack says:

    Only if you’re educated.

    SWell, it kinda depends by whom.

  35. Boyd,

    You do deserve respect for your service and for your training. That does not, however. make you right about the overall issue. And I did read what you wrote–and you said that you were tortured. No, no you weren’t–you went through training. Hence, the statements made above. Not a strawman at all. You are comparing two different circumstances and treating them as though they are identical.

    And you you speak of arrogance and the ivory tower, yet your argument boils down to the notion that you know better than the rest of us. However, you don’t actually make much of an argument, you simply assert that because you have had a specific experience that the rest us ought to just shut up about the situation.

    I actually do think that someone who has been through this training has useful input, but that doesn’t make you right. And the notion that one has to experience everything in order to have an informed opinion about it is bunk.

    I would note, btw, that others who have had your experience do not share your view. The link I provided had quotes from a former Navy trainer.

    You have yet, for example, to deal with the fact that the reason the training exists in the first place was to protect you from the enemy. You have not dealt with the moral implications that we borrowed the techniques from Nazis and communists dictatorships. These are not small matters that go away just because you went through training.

  36. Boyd says:

    Doc, you can claim all you want that you’re responding to my arguments, but you consistently attack a strawman. I did not say what you say I said. I did not make the arguments you say I made.

    You seem to want to argue something other than the points I posted. Fine. But you’ll have to find someone else to do it. Maybe then it won’t be a strawman.

  37. anjin-san says:

    you keep hitting on that meme, and it’s getting a little tiresome

    I am sure it is, at least to you. If you don’t want to be reminded of how many stupid things you have said, make an effort to say less of them…

  38. anjin-san says:

    I just hope that Bithead is around to post on the “Election Night results” thread. It’s very unlikely that McCain even makes it to 200 EVs.

    Heh. Personally, I’m waiting for the reports of rioting in Grant park.

    Posted by Bithead | November 2, 2008 | 01:34 pm |

    (chuckel)

  39. anjin-san says:

    Not so much, James. I’ve been saying for months now that Obama never gain the real support of the party faithful, in full, and so would never win the GE. Beginning to look like I called it.

    Obama will get blanked in the general. Not that Clinton would do any better; shed not make it without black voter support which because of Obama, wouldn’t happen.

    The patterns are all there for a landslide for McCain; This is 1968 all over again.

    Consider; Back in 68, we had a very notably liberal Republican in Nixon. We had a Democrat party nomination fight between two fairly closely matched Democrat candidates whose Democrat supporters each would never vote for the other candidate. We wave every left-wing crazy on the planet who could hitch a ride, in Chicago, protesting the war. The party leadership ended up having to take a hand to get the nomination process done, which alienated around half the party. The resulting breakup of the Democrats in 68 was of legendary proportions.

    What happened then shows all the signs of happening this year in Denver. In OBama and Clinton we have two candidates whose political and family roots are deep in liberal Chicago politics. We have a very notably liberal Republican in McCain. We have a Democrat party nomination fight between two fairly closely matched Democrat candidates whose Democrat supporters each would never vote for the other candidate. We have rumors of every left-wing crazy on the planet who can hitch a ride, in Denver for the convention, to protest the war. This Clinton Obama thing will be close enough that the party leadership will be forced to take a hand in the decision.. and there are already signs that any choice they make won’t be popular. Is there any conclusion but that the resulting breakup of the Democrats in 08 was will be of legendary proportions?

    Posted by Bithead | July 5, 2008 | 11:44 am | Permalink

    Only a fool would start talking about how it “looks like they called it” in July

    Posted by anjin-san | July 6, 2008 | 12:10 am

    Sorry skippy, I had your number then, & I still have it…

  40. Eric Florack says:

    Sorry skippy, I had your number then, & I still have it…

    Obviously, you do not.

    I dare to suggest that Mr. Bush is going to be vindicated over the next four years by President Obama himself. Vindicated not in rhetoric, since left-wing rhetoric is always and forever vitriolic against any successful Republican. No, Bush will be vindicated thanks to the policies sure to be adopted by Mr. Obama and the Democrat-run Senate, House, and State Dept.

    I make this assessment based on the proposition that President Obama is a pragmatist at heart. He goes with what works to keep himself in power. One cannot, after all, be such an astute manager of his own spectacle without being in large part a pragmatist.

    If we accept the lessons of history, in this case the Clinton administration, Democrats have learned how to change political reality. They have learned how to alter the perception they are on the run from an unruly mob, into one that suggests what is really going on is that there is a parade — one that they are leading. Finding in their pragmatism something that works and that someone else has offered, and then getting out in front of it as if it was their plan to begin with. This has been their big talent for the last 20 years or so.

    Indeed, it is Obama who apparently is doing the most in terms of recognizing (the far left’s bleeding anti-Bush vitriol notwithstanding) that Mr. Bush didn’t do that bad of a job after all.

    –January 21, 2009 – by Eric Florack

  41. anjin-san says:

    So your “vindication” is that there is some continuity in policy? Well, any port in a storm I guess.

    Buy since according to you, Obama cannot possibly be President today, why are we having this converstion?

  42. anjin-san says:

    Obviously, you do not.

    Its a bit like a guy who is batting .157 going around and telling everyone he is the second coming of Ted Williams.