No Comment — December 17, 2008, 8:46 am

Did Cheney Confess to a Felony?

Did Cheney Confess to a Felony? It looks that way to me. In an interview conducted with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl yesterday, Vice President Cheney was probed on his role in the Bush Administration’s torture program. His answers were in part extremely disingenuous, but he did acknowledge a key role in the decision to torture one prisoner. Here’s the key passage:

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don’t.

There are some amazing whoppers in this exchange. The Bush White House has consistently strained to present the introduction of torture techniques as an initiative that started with interrogators on the front line and worked its way up. First British author Philippe Sands (The Torture Team) and then the Senate Armed Services Committee itself, in the still-unreleased Levin-McCain Report, established that this narrative was a fraud. Instead, torture was introduced as an initiative that started with Dick Cheney. In the first weeks following 9/11, Cheney pushed and needled senior figures at the CIA, suggesting that they introduce tactics involving fear, threats and physical brutality. When he was informed that CIA seniors believed their palette of techniques went as far as the law allowed, Cheney, drawing on the skills of his counsel David Addington and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, arranged to have John Yoo craft a memorandum (the infamous torture memo) to overrule the CIA and its counsel. It was not a situation in which they proposed and he accepted, but rather one in which he cajoled and pressured them to accept torture techniques, enlisting the Justice Department in the process. Those are the facts; Cheney has, of course, contrived a paper trail that provides him cover and that carefully elides his decisive role in the process from the outset. Throughout his career he has been a master manipulator who gets his results without leaving behind a clean set of fingerprints.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a useful informant for U.S. intelligence by all accounts. It is also clear that the use of torture techniques netted nothing that he had not previously supplied without those techniques being used. That is to say, torture was completely unproductive.

Among the torture techniques that Cheney directed be used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarding, which is iconic torture and which has been defined as torture by the United States since at least 1903, the first military court-martial. The United States views waterboarding conducted for intelligence purposes during wartime as a war crime, and it has prosecuted both civilian and military figures involved in the chain of approval of its use. Penalties applied have ranged up to the death penalty. The crime is chargeable under the War Crimes Act and under the Anti-Torture Statute. There is no ambiguity or disagreement among serious lawyers on this part, and Cheney’s suggestion that what he did was lawful and vetted is the delusional elevation of political hackery over law.

So Cheney confessed on television to a serious crime. It is now a crime committed in plain view. He is daring the public to take notice and do something about it. His remarks betray his disdain for the American justice system and of the new team preparing to take office in Washington. Cheney is convinced that in Washington power matters more than principle and law. That, Cheney supposes, is his legacy. And he may be right.

Update

Law professor Jonathan Turley discusses Cheney’s criminality last night on MSNBC. Turley’s analysis of the legal, political and moral issues is, I think, spot on:

Scanning the papers this morning, note, as usual, neither the Washington Post nor The New York Times offer reporting on the Cheney admissions.

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