Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the de-facto leader of the national-security team that failed to stop the most successful terrorist attack in U.S. history, is taking to the airwaves to defend the Bush Administration's subsequent torture of prisoners.
His Fox News interview rewards close scrutiny.
Early on, interviewer Bret Baier says, "The Feinstein report suggests that President Bush was not fully briefed on the program and deliberately kept in the dark by the CIA."
Dick Cheney denies this.
"Not true," he says. "Read his book. He talks about it extensively in his memoirs. He was, in fact, an integral part of he program. He had to approve it before we went forward .... We did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that." Cheney goes on to declare that "the men and women of the CIA did exactly what we wanted to have them do in terms of taking on this program."
Got that? Bush was fully briefed, and the CIA did exactly what Bush and Cheney asked. But attentive viewers would notice that Cheney subsequently contradicts himself.
Later in the interview, Baier notes a particularly depraved tactic. "At one point, this report describes interrogators pureeing food of one detainee and then serving it in his anus," he says, "something the agency called 'rectal rehydration.' I mean, is that torture?" (More to the point, did Bush and Cheney know about that? Is it "exactly" what they asked the CIA to do?) "I don't know anything about that specific instance," Cheney said. "I can't speak to that. I guess the question is, what are you prepared to do to get the truth about future attacks against the United States. Now, that was not one of the authorized or approved techniques. There were 12 of them, as I recall. They were all techniques we used in training on our own people."
So suddenly the White House wasn't fully briefed and the CIA went beyond what was authorized, using tactics that weren't "exactly what we wanted to have them do," and that Cheney implies he can't speak to and has never known about before.
Perhaps Cheney did know about "rectal rehydration," but is too ashamed or fearful of prosecution to admit it now. Explicitly defending the anal rape of prisoners is a bit much even for him. Or perhaps he really is just hearing about the tactic.
Either way, he story doesn't hold together. He can't have it both ways. Either the CIA hid depraved, unapproved tactics, or Cheney was perfectly okay with subjecting prisoners to anal rape. Perhaps Chuck Todd can ask him about this glaring discrepancy Sunday on Meet the Press. Until then, there is reason to suspect that, whatever Cheney knew, he doesn't have a moral problem with the anal rape of prisoners, a conclusion I draw from a succinct exchange later in the interview:
Bret Baier: Did the ends justify the means?
Dick Cheney: Absolutely.
That's the guy Commentary magazine honored with a roast.
There are a couple other examples from the Fox News interview of Cheney answers that cannot withstand scrutiny. Andrew Sullivan flags one of those passages:
Here’s the truly revealing part.
Cheney is told about a prisoner, Gul Rahman, who died after unimaginable brutality—beaten, kept awake for 48 hours, kept in total darkness for days, thrown into the Gestapo-pioneered cold bath treatment, and then chained to a wall and left to die of hypothermia. The factors in his death included “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining.” This is Cheney’s response: "3,000 Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did, and I have no sympathy for them. I don’t know the specific details … I haven’t read the report … I keep coming back to the basic, fundamental proposition: how nice do you want to be to the murderers of 3000 Americans?"
But Gul Rahman had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 plot.
He had engaged in no plots to kill Americans. He was a guard to the Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, part of an organization that began by fighting the Soviets in occupied Afghanistan. It had alliances with al Qaeda at the time, but subsequently engaged in peace negotiations with the Karzai government. His brother claims Rahman was even involved in rescuing Hamid Kharzai in 1994. To equate him with individuals who committed mass murder of Americans or who were actively plotting against Americans is preposterous. He was emphatically not a threat to the US. Yet we tortured him to death. And the man running the torture camp was promoted thereafter.
When Cheney tries to associate everyone tortured by the CIA with the people who perpetrated 9/11, he's using the same cheap misdirection that allowed him to respond to that attack by calling for America to wage war against Saddam Hussein.
Cheney has always been adept at dissembling.
But the more we find out about the torture program, the more he is reduced to increasingly naked expressions of his actual "argument": terrorism 9/11 9/11!!!! Take the moment in the Fox News interview when Baier brings up Senator Mark Udall's statement about former CIA Director Leon Panetta's review of CIA torture, and the fact that it reaches some of the same conclusions as the Senate report.
Here is Cheney's actual retort: "Well, I don't know where he was on 9/11, but he wasn't in the bunker." Baier seemed stunned that Cheney doesn't have any substantive rebuttal. I'm not. Many of Cheney's positions on this subject have no basis in fact.
It's nice to see a Fox News anchor help to expose that.