No Comment — March 30, 2009, 8:56 am

Giving Cheney Just a Bit More Rope

Richard B. Cheney is the consummate con man of modern American politics. He was taken as the ultimate Washington power figure, cool and always several calculations ahead of his rivals, a brilliant businessman, a cerebral strategist. But Cheney’s reputation was put together with smoke and mirrors—or more to the point—with a combination of silence and bulldozing based on what most people in the room always assumed to be superior knowledge. In the meantime it has become clear that Cheney was a disastrously bad businessman. As the head of Halliburton he dragged the company from one catastrophe to the next, concluding a calamitous deal struck on the golf course for Dresser Industries. He then bogged the company down in a massive corrupt liquefied natural gas project in Nigeria that just cost its shareholders $579 million in civil penalties. (The Bush Justice Department rushed the deal to a conclusion before Cheney left office, concluding to the smirks of observers that Cheney had no personal exposure in a matter run by an officer he handpicked and oversaw.) But Cheney’s corporate stewardship was stellar compared with his record at the helm of the nation’s national security apparatus. Every harebrained scheme the country was dragged into over the last eight years seems to have had its start in Dick Cheney’s office. And now, the more Cheney talks, the more manifest his delusions and poor judgment become. Why, in particular, has Cheney been on a campaign to persuade Americans that torture is good for them? Andrew Sullivan gives us a diagnosis in the Sunday Times:

So what was Cheney thinking? My guess is that he fears he is in trouble. This fear has been created by Obama, but indirectly. Obama has declined to launch a prosecution of Cheney for war crimes, as many in his party (and outside it) would like. He has set up a review of detention, rendition and interrogation policies. And he has simply declassified many of the infamous torture memos kept under wraps by Bush. He has the power to do this, and much of the time it is in response to outside requests. But as the memos have emerged, the awful truth of what Cheney actually authorised becomes harder and harder to deny. And Cheney is desperately trying to maintain a grip on the narrative before it grips him by the throat.

The threat, however subtle, is real. Eric Holder, the new attorney-general, while eschewing a formal investigation, has told Republicans “prosecutorial and investigative judgments must depend on the facts, and no one is above the law”. The justice department is also sitting on an internal report into the calibre of the various torture memos drafted by Bush appointees in the Office of Legal Counsel. The report has apparently already found the memos beneath minimal legal credibility, which implies they were ordered up to make the law fit the already-made decision to torture various terror suspects. But the big impending release may well be three memos from May 2005, detailing specific torture techniques authorised by Bush and Cheney for use against terror suspects. Newsweek described the yet to be released memos thus: “One senior Obama official . . . said the memos were ‘ugly’ and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a ‘truth commission’ on torture”…

The documents detailed horrifying CIA practices that the Red Cross unequivocally called torture – shoving prisoners in tiny, air-tight coffins, waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions: all the techniques we have now come to know almost by heart. And torture is a war crime. War crimes have no statute of limitations and are among the most serious crimes of which one can be accused.

Dick Cheney needs good defense counsel. Maybe Ramsey Clark will take on his case?

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