No Comment — September 1, 2011, 2:56 pm

Putting the Question to Dick Cheney

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has just released his memoir of the Bush years, entitled In My Time. The volume is exactly what you might expect: a full-throated defense of the Cheney shogunate. But while it leaves little doubt about who was behind many of the key national security decisions in the Bush years, it is remarkably quiet about a number of matters Cheney would perhaps rather not recollect.

I recently spoke with Dan Froomkin, senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post, for a column of his in which he proposed choice questions for reporters to ask Cheney about his book. Here are seven I’d suggest, some of which appear in Froomkin’s article:

(1) Someone appears to have gone to great lengths to falsify documents creating the impression that Niger was selling yellowcake uranium to Iraq. The documents were peddled by Italian intelligence to their American counterparts. La Repubblica‘s Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d’Avanzo traced these forgeries, which played a significant role in the bogus case for the war with Iraq, and found that Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative strategist with links to you, had been dealing with Italian intelligence at the time these papers were floated. Did you discuss the yellowcake papers with Ledeen? What did you know about the yellowcake papers? Why were you so personally alarmed when the fraud surrounding them was exposed?

(2) When the CIA’s envoy to Niger, Joe Wilson, blew the lid off the yellowcake scam in a New York Times op-ed, you scribbled a note on your copy of the Times to the effect that he was sent on a “junket.” The note suggests that you knew Wilson’s wife was CIA agent Valerie Plame, and that you viewed Wilson and Plame as hostile to the administration. Did you direct your chief of staff, Scooter Libby, to blow Plame’s cover as a covert CIA agent?

(3) As CEO of Halliburton, you installed Jack Stanley as head of the KBR unit and set him off to secure a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) contract in Nigeria. Criminal probes later showed that Halliburton paid $182 million in bribes to Nigerian officials to secure a $6 billion LNG project. How could $182 million in corrupt payments have been made without your knowledge as CEO of the company?

(4) In the final days before the arrival of the Obama team, the Bush Justice Department rushed to finalize a settlement with Halliburton under which the company paid a fine but you were not singled out for mention or punishment. What communications did you or your staff have with the DOJ figures handling the matter?

(5) You admit to having had “a beer with lunch” before you shot Harry Whittington in the face on a Saturday afternoon in 2006. Was that all the alcohol you consumed before that accident?

(6) During the tense days leading up to the Russian-Georgian War of August 2008, you were in communication with the government of Georgia. Did you suggest that the U.S. military would be available to stop any Russian invasion of Georgia if a war were to break out?

(7) In November 2001, as the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan was encircled, did you tell the Pakistanis that they were free to send in military transports to Kunduz to remove their personnel? Did you do this against the advice of CIA and DOD intelligence?

A few other essential reads regarding the Cheney memoir:

In an interview with Amy Goodman, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, states that the book was “written out of fear, fear that one day someone will ‘Pinochet’ Dick Cheney.” This, it strikes me, is indeed the very heart of the matter. Cheney wants to rally his political base to his own defense.

Writing at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick explains why Cheney really does need to be prosecuted for his role in orchestrating the Bush era’s torture programs:

[T]he real lesson of In My Time is not that Cheney “got away with it,” though I suppose he did. It’s an admonishment to rest of us that the law really matters. The reason Cheney keeps saying that torture is “legal” is because he has a clutch of worthless legal memoranda saying so. Cheney gets away with saying torture is “legal” even though it isn’t because if it were truly illegal, he and those who devised the torture regime would have faced legal consequences — somewhere, somehow. That’s the meaning of the “rule of law.” That, rather than whether America should torture people, is what we should glean from the Cheney book.

And Bart Gellman, the nation’s number one Cheney watcher, bores down deep into the book at Time magazine’s website, examining what happened on the evening Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card went to visit a seriously ailing and sedated John Ashcroft in his hospital room, only to find FBI director Robert Mueller and Acting Attorney General James Comey there to confront them. Gellman finds that Cheney was clearly wrong on some points and dubious on others. Behind the paywall in Time‘s September 12 issue, Gellman offers a still deeper fact check of the book. Most Washington politicians polish their accounts to put themselves in the best possible light. But Cheney’s work is of a different nature. It’s fundamentally an exercise in historical revisionism.

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