Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dick Cheney's Big Speech

I've been a harsh critic of Dick Cheney, and am on record as wishing he would shut up and go away. But after this latest speech, my opinion is changing. I strongly endorse much of what he said. These are things that need to be said by a prominent national politician willing to stand up and say them, rather than just minor anonymous bloggers like myself. How we protect the country is more important than politics. If Cheney is the only one willing to put himself out there, then so be it.

Having said that, I have a couple significant points of disagreement with the speech. Rather than cheer the parts I liked, I'll focus on the weak spots. Although not part of the speech itself, my first thought was: why didn't we hear speeches like this when the Bush administration was in power? Where were the point-by-point detailed rebuttals of attacks then? Why did it take until 2009 for Dick Cheney to effectively defend the policies of his administration? But on to the specifics of the speech. Referring to the release of interrogation memos, Cheney said,
somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.
With little regard for national security, the Obama administration released only memos which cast the Bush administration in a bad light. Cheney rightly objects to this blatant political hatchet job, but his remedy is ill-considered. If you are going to argue that releasing classified memos damaged national security, it doesn't make sense to ask for the release of still more memos, even if those memos support your position. By doing so, Cheney puts the justification of his policies above national security -- just as Obama did.

The former vice president also said,
The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise. But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.
This is a nice soundbite, but it's fundamentally illogical. There is always a middle ground. The Bush administration position itself was a middle position between those on the right who would have taken much more aggressive measures against terrorism, and everyone to the left. The middle may shift to the left or right, but it always exists.

Finally we come to one of my strongest disagreements with Cheney over the issue of torture.
Torture was never permitted, and the methods were given careful legal review before they were approved. Interrogators had authoritative guidance on the line between toughness and torture, and they knew to stay on the right side of it.
I absolutely despise this weasel-like argument even though I understand why he made it. In my opinion, a defense of Bush administration interrogation policy should not rest on legalism or hair-splitting definitions of what is or is not torture. The rest of his speech already made the case for why extreme measures were necessary for individuals like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I know it will never happen, and I said this about Bush also. But what Cheney should have said was,
If you want to call it torture, call it torture. We ordered it because given the circumstances and our best analysis of the situation, it was necessary to extract intelligence critical to protect the United States. A terrorist like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is entitled to no rights or legal consideration, especially during wartime. I wouldn't hesitate to order waterboarding again. And if waterboarding hadn't worked, I would have considered stronger measures.

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