I posted an email earlier today trying to understand the extraordinary powers that president Bush has accrued to himself since the 9/11 attacks. No president has ever had so much power over the citizenry of the United States in American history - the permanent power to name anyone an enemy, detain them indefinitely and torture them into confession anywhere in the world. My reader suggested that this extraordinary shift in America's constitutional balance - the creation of an extra-legal dictatorship within a putatively democratic society - was explicable only if you believe that the very existence of the U.S. is in peril.
I believe Cheney believes that. In the hours after 9/11, you can understand why. The question then becomes: what evidence did they have that the danger was that grave? My reader cites the following anecdote in a Graham Allison book:
"On October 11, 2001 ... at the Presidential Daily Intelligence Briefing, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, informed the president that a CIA agent code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda terrorists possessed a ten-kiloton nuclear bomb, evidently stolen from the Russian arsenal. According to Dragonfire, this nuclear weapon was now on American soil, in New York City."
Now, obviously, this was untrue. It was untrue on a cataclysmic scale in the way that Abdallah Higazy's conviction of being an al Qaeda member was untrue on a much smaller scale. The question in my mind is: how did they get that information? They'll never tell us, of course. We found out that the Higazy conviction was a result of a false confession, after threatening to have his family tortured in Egypt. But the nuclear scare was a huge untruth gained by a CIA agent a month after Bush and Cheney had secretly let loose the dogs of torture. And the one thing we know about torture is that it was never designed in the first place to get at the actual truth of anything; it was designed in the darkest days of human history to produce false confessions in order to annihilate political and religious dissidents. And that is how it always works: it gets confessions regardless of their accuracy.