So Dick Cheney is going around the country justifying torture, (without any proof whatsoever, and anyway in terms of the law, that argument is irrelevant) saying how many hundreds of thousands of lives it saved, that the U.S. is, or at least was when he (ooops, he means Bush) was in power, really a nation with a Unitary Executive that can over-ride domestic law, the Constitution, and international law whenever the President thinks that that is justified for "reasons of national security." (Sorry Dick, but if you would only read Article II, which defines the Executive Branch, you would know that such a doctrine is not even distantly implied in it, but that's another story.) Furthermore, he charges that the bringing of any charges against folks who, for example, actually engaged in torture, even of the type not approved specifically by himself, is just pure politics.
That in itself is a funny charge to make (even if GOPers make it all the time). "Politics" is the process that all organizations from nations to PTAs use to resolve policy differences short of the use of force. Of course, Cheney seems only to understand force, but thank goodness the Obama Administration has chosen to at least look into the possibility of charging one or more persons with a crime or crimes connected with the use of torture under the previous administration. Why? Because they have adopted a different policy on torture. Starting an investigation is certainly better than picking up a suspect or two in the matter and just throwing them into Gitmo, isn't it? So let's hear it for politics and the examination of torture policy under the Cheney (oops, I mean the Bush) Presidency.
(Of course Cheney's "Unitary Executive" concept happens to be a really good argument for President Obama to use his power under that concept to just enact his version of national health care reform [one that hopefully would include a public option] without consulting Congress. Just do it, Barack. The security of the nation demands it. For at the rate the current for-profit insurance/drug industry "health care system" is running, the personal bankruptcies it causes will seem like small potatoes when it bankrupts the country. That is certainly a matter of national security, isn't it? Of course Cheney doesn't think in those terms. "National security" matters for him are those that are good for the oil/coal and arms industries and the political future of the GOP, not the future of the civil society of the nation. But that's another story.)
Anyway, so here is Cheney making these speeches, attacking the President, essentially accusing him of treason for dropping the nation's guard on "national security" as he sees it. And of course, how he sees it is the way it is, because for him and the rest of the Georgites, these matters are non-debatable. Most of the folks on our side have been interpreting Cheney's March Through the Willing Media as an offensive attack on Obama and his (equally black) Attorney General, Eric Holder, who did seem to be moving rather slowly on this one. However, it happens that Holder was a board member of the American Constitution Society, one of the most out-spoken of the national organization of lawyers against the Georgite, Cheney-led continuing campaign to destroy the Constitution and end the rule of law. I think that he, and likely Obama himself too, if not all of his advisors, was just waiting for the pressure to build to the point where they just "had to do it," the lily-livered, way-underqualified-for-the-job, Leon Panetta to the contrary notwithstanding.
I beg to differ on why Cheney is doing and going about just now. I don't think that it's about offense. I think it's about defense. On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for a break-in at the Washington, DC headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. From the outset, there were rumors that they didn't just do it on their own, or at the behest of two mid-level Nixon White House operatives, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. With guilty pleas, in January 1973, they were all convicted on various fairly low-level crimes in connection with the operation. It seemed that that would have been the end of it. But then in March 1973, one of the convicted men, James McCord, wrote a letter to the presiding judge in the case, John Sirica, claiming that he had been urged/forced to plead guilty to cover up the involvement of higher ups in the Administration. And we all know what happened then. Judge Sirica re-opened the case. The word "-gate" became attached to virtually any political scandal that has occurred since that time. And, oh yes, Nixon was eventually forced to resign.
Well, dollars to donuts, Cheney is afraid of his own James McCord. Whether in ordinary crime (such as, say, investment banking fraud) or political crimes, such as Cheney's War on the Constitution, investigations starting out focusing on underlings sometimes can get higher up in the food chain, and sometimes they can reach to the top. Cheney knows very well that a criminal investigation of actual torturers, either CIA staffers or mercenaries, can start to go up the ladder: "Hey, I (A) was just following orders, and hey, the orders came from (B)" who then says "hey, my orders came from (C)," then, whaddaya know, "hey, my orders came from (D)" (and we all know who that would be: "D" for Dick). Cheney knows this possible pattern, perhaps better than anyone, because he was around the White House when Watergate was going down. Yes, if this investigation/possible prosecution really gets going, Cheney's own James McCord could be somewhere lying in the weeds.
So here's his defense:
1. I don't care what the law or the Constitution say, I say torture was needed.
2. I, I mean the President, had the authority to order it under our Unitary Presidency doctrine.
3. So what if that doctrine doesn't appear anywhere in the Constitution. Torture was OK, especially if it was carefully defined to be "not torture," because Justice Department lawyers said that the doctrine did exist, and therefore we could do what we wanted to. (That's a particularly good one, the "lawyers" one, as if that would make everything OK. Half the men in the room when at the Wannsee Palace just south of Berlin on January 20, 1942, the "Final Solution" for the "Jewish Question," ordered by Hitler and transmitted by Heydrich was set in motion, were lawyers.)
4. It doesn't matter that the DOJ lawyers, people such as Yoo and Bybee, were acting on our orders, transmitted to them by another lawyer, Addington. They gave the official word of the DOJ.
5. Just so you know, to repeat myself, we don't admit that we broke the law and violated the Constitution. And even if we did, it was in defense of "national security," which makes everything alright.
Finally, let's say that it were to get to Cheney, and that his defense failed on its merits (actually there aren't any). Well, then he's got the "negative pre-trial publicity" argument. Tons of it has been created. The difference here is just wild. Usually negative pre-trial publicity is created by one segment of the media or another or a Congressional committee (as in the Iran-Contra case) or a stupid prosecutor. Here it is being created by Cheney himself, who in essence is saying "yes, I did it and I'm right, Right, and proud." Dick Cheney may be clever and he may be evil. But dumb he sure ain't.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano's Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.