This Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation, former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney confessed to a war crime. In an interview with host Bob Schieffer, Cheney explained why he wants classified memos released. "[What the memos show] is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, two of the three who were waterboarded, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is the man who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, blew up the World Trade Center, attacked the Pentagon, tried to blow up the White House or the Capitol building," he said. "An evil, evil man that's been in our custody since March of '03. He did not cooperate fully in terms of interrogations until after waterboarding. Once we went through that process, he produced vast quantities of invaluable information about Al Qaida."
Waterboarding is torture. The idea that this is debatable should be seen as laughable. In a 2007 op-ed for the Washington Post, current judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School, and former JAG officer Evan Wallach showed that we had prosecuted waterboarding as torture in the past. We convicted Japanese soldiers for war crimes stemming from waterboarding, so it's illegal as a "weapon of war." Later, in 1983, a Texas sheriff and three deputies were convicted of waterboarding, so it's illegal as a law enforcement tool. In the Philippines, plaintiffs won $766 million in damages from the estate of former president Ferdinand Marcos over waterboarding. Clearly, waterboarding is illegal. The "it was only waterboarding" defense has never gotten anyone sprung.
And what difference does it make if it worked? If you're broke, bank robbery works really, really well. Breaking the law -- even if you claim to have a really good reason for doing so -- is breaking the law. As legal defenses go, this isn't one -- there are legal ways to get money, just as there are legal ways to get information.
And the fact of the matter is that those legal ways of getting information work. Writing for the New York Times about the "torture memos" released by the Obama administration, former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan called BS on the idea that torture is necessary.
"Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false," Soufan wrote. "The information that led to Mr. Shibh's capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May."
"Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security," he said.
As is often the case when the issue of torture and the Bush administration comes up, I find the underlying issue is cowardice. Dick Cheney is a very fearful man who skipped out on the Vietnam war and whose tenure as VP was marked by secrecy. You couldn't even pull up the Vice Presidential residence on Google Maps. Cheney's terms as vice president were spent as a man in hiding and at no time in his life will anyone ever use the word "heroic" to describe him -- not with any seriousness, anyway. Cheney is a coward.
And cowardice leads to evil. There was a time when everyone was in agreement -- torture is evil. When Ali Soufan called it "un-American, ineffective and harmful to our national security," he was right. It's un-American because it's cowardly and unjust, it's ineffective because the subject will confess to things they may or may not have done, and it's harmful to our national security for many reasons -- not the least of which is that it makes it very easy to convince people we're the bad guys. The good guys don't torture people.
To anyone out there offended that I would accuse the Bush administration generally and Dick Cheney specifically of cowardice, I don't care. You don't get to resort to torture and abuse, then claim hero status. You don't go on national TV, brag about how well your torture program worked, and expect praise. You don't get a cookie for confessing to your crime.
It's a measure of how screwed up the Bush administration has left this country that Dick can go on Face the Nation, confess to a crime to Bob Schieffer, and not really make many waves. Cowardice is apparently infectious; all it takes is one coward at the top and the rest of the country goes weak-kneed as well. I suppose the reason is that the coward thinks his cowardice is prudence and uses his position to make everyone just as frightened as he is. That's what all the fearmongering was all about -- a campaign to make everyone just as scared as all the neocons were.
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