Perhaps the most remarkable passage in his speech to AEI last week was the following:
In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations. At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America's cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men.
There are two options in trying to understand this passage: a) It reveals a profound and disturbing level of denial about his own record; or b) It is one of the Biggest of Big Lies ever told by a vice-president of the United States. Perhaps the easiest way to show this is to cite the final and definitive "Conclusion 19" of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report:
The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
There is no factual dispute as to the real origin of what Cheney calls the "disgraces" of Abu Ghraib: Dick Cheney via Don Rumsfeld. Cheney himself has boasted of the most dramatic of the torture and abuse techniques, waterboarding. He also pioneered and now defends a program in the CIA and at Gitmo that, in what it does to human beings suspected of being terrorists, is identical to the photos of Abu Ghraib. Look at the photos again.
It was obviously not meant to be photographed and displayed as happened at Abu Ghraib. Some of the sexual excesses were clearly not authorized (but at Gitmo, recall, we know that lesser sexual abuse was authorized). It was meant to be conducted by more professional personnel than at Abu Ghraib. It was not supposed to murder anyone - as happened at Abu Ghraib and many other torture sites in the Cheney war. But the methods were exactly the same. We know where they came from. Call them what you will. There they are. Cheney knew them all, pushed for them all, and yet cannot own them when they are in front of his eyes. In fact, he has to push them into a corner called "disgraces." That's a strong word for a policy you created and enforced, against much of the military and intelligence and diplomatic agencies in government.
So why does Cheney tell such a big lie? Why does he do what he specifically says he would never do - blame a few underlings for policies he devised, pushed through against the law, and still champions as "honorable"? The only salient defense of the techniques of the CIA program as kosher and the Abu Ghraib photos as horrific is that these identical techniques are okay when used by some in the CIA but not okay when used by a low-ranking grunt on the night shift following orders. This is the core contradiction. You can't scapegoat Lynndie England while championing the methods she was told to use.
If Cheney wants to defend his program of torture and abuse then he owes it to us to own it as well. You either support what we saw at Abu Ghraib as the policy of the United States or you don't. So which is it, Mr Cheney? A disgrace? Or an achievement? On that there is no middle ground, as someone might say.