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.