Saturday, May 23, 2009


Once again, Dick Cheney is using fear to smear national security policies contrary to his—in this case, Obama’s policies on terrorists and torture. If his do not repeat Bush and Cheney’s policies, he and other conservatives (aka Republicans) will remain staunch in their claims that anything less than the use of outlawed and brutal means to deal with terrorists constitutes a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. This conservative (Republican) ideological slash-and-burn strategy on any national security issue has the usual purpose: arouse and exploit the fears of Americans to stampede them into dangerous and unwise policies and practices.

The man does have his nerve. Cheney, along with Bush, has much to answer for when it comes to national security. Though they now tout the absence of terrorist attack on the United States in the 7 and a half years after 9/11, they make little of their lack of due diligence before 9/11. Neither man took warnings of Al Qaeda intentions to attack the United States seriously. They did not call the leaders of our intelligence and military services together to assess and act on these warnings, much less put those services and other agencies on alert. Whether they have since done anything actually preventing another attack is not, and likely cannot be, known.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many experts agreed that the United States was more likely than not to be attacked again by terrorists within 10 years. Some even stated that the terrorists might use weapons of mass destruction. This prediction is now almost 8 years ago. If these experts are right, an attack is due within the next two years. Since they made their prediction without knowing whether a Democrat or a Republican would be president or what his or her policies or practices would be, they did not believe that any particular policies or practices, not even Bush and Cheney’s, could or would prevent a terrorist attack. So, when Cheney says that Obama is making the country less safe, he is playing it cute and cynical by pre-emptively blaming an attack on the Democratic President (and the Democrats) although a Republican president (and the Republicans) would have made no difference and left the country equally safe or unsafe.

Cheney thinks that only Bush-Cheney policies and practices. However, if Democrat Obama (or Republican McCain) set aside any scruples about the use of torture, and supposed that it works, he could still not make the country safer by using torture because he does not have anyone to torture and thus could not acquire presumably reliable intelligence to enable us to prevent this predicted attack. Meanwhile, on Cheney’s logic, without someone to torture, the intelligence community can do very little to keep us safe (I had thought that Cheney, vis-à-vis Pelosi, respected the CIA). Even if we accept Cheney's argument in these circumstances, no president, Democrat or Republican, can make the United States safer, so it does not matter who is president.

The real point of Cheney’s attack on Obama and Cheney’s reiteration of his still unsupported claims about the effectiveness of torture is personal, not national, self-defense. As Americans learn about the conduct of national security by the Bush-Cheney administration, they will conclude that its fear and fecklessness did little or nothing to protect America above and beyond what would have protected it in any event. For all its concern about the people killed in the 9/11 attacks, the Bush-Cheney administration has shown little concern for the thousands killed in Iraq, in a war unrelated to those attacks. Worse, since terrorists have made our use of torture a recruiting tool, Bush and Cheney has probably done more to endanger or damage America and jeopardize its security than less. In the end, Cheney is trying desperately to find a national security defense against his perversion of our national values and his legacy of risks to our national security.

Friday, May 1, 2009


In a "Justice Day" (1 May) editorial, Charles Krauthammer rightly pokes Pelosi and others for raising no protests when they were informed about the possible future use of torture, but doing so now, after the fact.

But his argument about the exceptions to the prohibition on torture and the basis for those exceptions have an absurdity all their own and of a kind which I have come to expect of conservatives and Republicans.

First, by the time Krauthammer finishes carving out his two exceptions to the prohibition on torture--the ticking time bomb exception and the high-valued prisoner exception--he leaves virtually nothing outside of the exceptions, certainly nothing meriting the treaties and laws prohibiting torture.

Second, by citing the claims of those who approved of torture or who protect the organizations which did it, Krauthammer argues the effectiveness of torture as its justification. By selecting self-interested and self-protecting officials, he ignores the varied testimony of many others, some of them in the organizations and with field experience who deny its effectiveness. On this factual question, the jury is still out, and we should not rush to judgment.

But even effectiveness is an inappropriate standard. Although Krauthammer is rightly indignant in indicting Pelosi and others, he is remarkably indifferent in ignoring law. Treaties which the United States has signed and the Senate has ratified--such treaties are the law of the land--explicitly rule out the very exceptions which he carves out.

I continue to be impressed that many conservatives and Republicans like Krauthammer ignore the law when it does not suit their convenience. I have this sneaking suspicion that many of them like the idea of torturing people--I have heard not one word of angst or regret about the practice--and scraping up some fact-free, ends-justify-the-means rationalization.