Cheney: The Failed Architect
More than any other person, the US vice-president is responsible for the Bush administration's torture policy
The notion that the presidency of George Bush has been a disaster for the US approaches the level of self-evident truth. It has actually become quite difficult to find anyone who isn't a personal friend of the president who will argue otherwise. But, in case you were wondering, Dick Cheney isn't sorry about any of it. In a recent interview with ABC News, the vice-president betrayed no second thoughts - and certainly no remorse - about the policies pursued by the administration that he both served and, according to some, led. Watching Cheney's brusque dismissal of concerns about his methods in the war on terror, you'd be forgiven for coming to the mistaken impression that these methods have worked. There is no evidence that they have.
Over the last eight years, Cheney's scowling visage has been the more true and honest face of the Bush administration. Unlike Bush, when discussing the national security policies of the US Cheney rarely bothered with transparently disingenuous appeals to democracy-building, dealing instead in appeals to fear and raw assertions of power.
More than any other person, Cheney is the architect of America's war on terror. Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press the Sunday after 9/11, Cheney famously stated the need for America to "work ... the dark side" in response to the al-Qaida attacks. In the subsequent years, he demonstrated that he was as good as his word.
Pressed by interviewer Jonathan Karl on concerns about the Guantánamo Bay prison, where suspects are held indefinitely as "illegal combatants", Cheney claimed that many of them "have been released back to their home countries." He then insisted: "What we have left is the hard core." But, of course, Cheney has always insisted that those held in Guantánamo were the hard core - the "worst of the worst," as former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it - while ignoring evidence that many were falsely imprisoned there, and assiduously working to quash efforts to ascertain their actual guilt or innocence.
Confronted with criticisms of the Bush administration's torture policy, Cheney simply lied, saying: "We don't do torture. We never have." Demonstrating once again his rather post-modern approach to language and meaning, later in the interview Cheney bluntly admitted that he had supported the waterboarding of al-Qaida mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Waterboarding is, of course, torture, devised by torturers as a method of torture, an inconvenient fact that Cheney dealt with by simply declaring waterboarding "not torture", and then finding a lawyer or two willing to go along.
The intelligence community, including professional interrogators, is virtually unanimous on the point that, as a means of interrogation, torture is effective at one thing - extracting false confessions. As an instrument of political rhetoric however, torture has been used by Cheney and other conservatives as a means to evoke toughness, the willingness to embrace cruelty to protect Americans. But whatever short-term political gain this tactic may have had in expanding executive branch prerogatives, the damage to America's reputation - making a mockery of our claims to uphold human rights - has been incalculable.
Given the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, the international disgraces of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and the CIA's black sites, the Bush administration's sole claim to counter-terror success is the fact that the US homeland has not been attacked again since 9/11. As to actual proof that the absence of such an attack is the result of his policies of kidnapping and torture, Cheney just says: "Trust me." But for someone with a record of dishonesty like Cheney's, ("Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction") and a history of asserting secret knowledge in response to legitimate questions and criticism, such claims are simply not sufficient. If there's one thing Dick Cheney no longer deserves, it's the benefit of the doubt.
© 2008 Guardian News and Media Limited