Cheney On Torture: Misinformation And Straw Men

May 21, 2009 7:42 a.m.

Here are some of the key excerpts from the part of Cheney’s speech where he addresses torture. There are some obvious problems with all of them.

Over on the left wing of the president’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called “Truth Commission.”

But that’s exactly the point of a Truth Commission. Done right, we’d find out, in a comprehensive, depoliticized context, exactly what we learned through torture, as well as other methods, and what the value of those pieces of information was. We’d also learn who was involved in the program, at each level. All this would enable us to better set policy going forward. How does this translate into a lack of desire to know what was learned from terrorists?


It is a fact that only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You’ve heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Muhammed – the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.

No one has argued that KSM is anything other than a hardened and brutal terrorist. What the murder of Daniel Pearl has to do with the issue of whether waterboarding KSM was either effective or morally justifiable is unclear.


In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations. At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America’s cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men.

This opinion flies in the face of essentially all the available evidence about how US military interrogation techniques migrated to Abu Ghraib — including the assessment of the former top commander of US ground forces in Iraq.


From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.

That seems like Cheney’s oblique effort to push back against the recent spate of evidence
that the program was used in part to find intel that would bolster the case for the war in Iraq. It’s a documented fact that al-Libbi, who was waterboarded, provided information — later shown to be false — that was cited by both President Bush and Colin Powell as evidence that Saddam Hussein was working with al Qaeda in developing chemical weapons. Libbi’s false information led us to war in Iraq.


[T]o call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims.

Again, it’s unclear who’s suggesting that people who are waterboarded are necessarily “innocent.” This is the strawiest of straw men.


Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a “recruitment tool” for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the Left, “We brought it on ourselves.”

It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so. Nor are terrorists or those who see them as victims exactly the best judges of America’s moral standards, one way or the other.

This is maybe the most harmful notion of all. That Gitmo has been a recruitment tool for terrorists is a documented fact, not an argument that we deserved to be attacked. Trying to prevent another attack requires looking at the world as it is, which means accepting that if we can take steps to remove a propaganda tool from terrorist recruiters, it makes sense to do so. This should not be difficult to understand.

More soon….

Masthead Masthead
Editor & Publisher:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Senior Newswriters:
Editor at Large:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Executive Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: