Dick Cheney: the Torture Architect shouldn’t be allowed to stifle investigation

There is little doubt that the former US vice president Dick Cheney is a sick man –” physically and mentally. He has long histories of cardiovascular disease and periodic need for emergency health care. Last Thursday, he had back surgery at George Washington University Hospital. The surgery was to deal with lumbar spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal — the passage for the spinal cord — which in turn puts pressure on nerves, causing pain. On January 19 of this year, he claimed to have strained his back “while moving boxes” from his vice presidential residence “into his new house”. As a consequence, he was seen in a wheelchair during the 2009 United States presidential inauguration for Obama. Apparently, his recent surgery was successful.

As can be diagnosed from his remarks about the global war on terror, Cheney’s mental health is also wanting. In a recent Fox News interview he was asked about illegal harsh interrogation techniques. Chris Wallace asked, “So even in those cases where they [CIA interrogators] went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?” Cheney answered, “I am.” There was no hesitation, no pause in his answer; he was so brazen, spontaneous and okay with the answer! Can you believe such an answer emanating from the former No. 2 man in the US government –” a government that likes to present itself as the greatest advocate of human rights and democracy in our time? Even the US laws ban torture! But not according to Dick Cheney. He sounded so ancient, so out of our time and place, and more like a self-delusional, tin-pot dictator or tyrant from an antidemocratic and authoritarian state!

It is obvious that Cheney wants to redefine the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. That spontaneous and unapologetic answer –” “I am” — was simply petrifying. Through his shameless answer, Cheney made it clear that he feels no remorse for the abuses that he himself authorized and that ends justify criminal means. This is deeply disturbing given the fact that even the intelligence experts maintain that harsh interrogation techniques simply do not and did never work to provide valuable information. Victims of torture are known to provide false information to escape pain. It is doubtful that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed (KSM), the so-called mastermind of 9/11, provided any useful information after he was water-boarded. For instance, the recently declassified Justice Department memos include a 2004 report from the CIA inspector general that found no conclusive proof that any specific “imminent” threats had been thwarted by information gathered from water-boarding and other forms of torture. Cheney’s claim that torture was “absolutely essential” in saving thousands of American lives remains simply unproven. It’s true that we did not see another 9/11 since KSM was arrested. But where is the proof that another attack, hatched by KSM, was imminent or in the planning stage? There is none.

We have seen and known how terrible and terrifying dictators are. They are ruthless murderers who give a damn about public sentiment on human rights. They behave like demigods in the states that they rule, acting like the Pharaohs and Nimrod of olden times. But you won’t find a single dictator ever justifying torture publicly — not the late Botha of Apartheid South Africa, Pinochet of Chile, Ne Win of Burma, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Suharto of Indonesia, Hafez al-Asad of Syria, Mobutu of Congo, Milosovic of Serbia, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. None of the living despots either from Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to the SPDC regime of Myanmar will justify torture. They simply deny ever practicing torture. They know that it’s a crime of the highest order. [And the main reason that they still practice it is that they perceive torture as a “survival” or “existential” technique to prolong their illegal power. Notwithstanding, they are ashamed of confessing that they practice it.]

With Cheney’s approving “I am” answer, all these living/future dictators now/will have a justification –” and not just any but a moral one – to cite for torture. They could always cite that torture was moral and that it was practiced to extract information to stop any future anti-state crime, or better yet, terrorism.

And that is why it is of paramount interest that the guys like Cheney who authorized torture be prosecuted. President Obama, ill-advised by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has repeatedly expressed reluctance to having a probe into alleged Bush-era abuses and resisted an effort by congressional Democrats to establish a "truth commission," saying the nation should be "looking forward and not backwards." But, as has been pointed out by legal experts, the decision whether or not to open torture investigation rests with Eric Holder’s Department of Justice and not the White House.

Attorney General Eric Holder has the public opinion in his favor if he wants to pursue the matter full course. His assigned prosecutor must investigate torture and that investigation should start not with low level interrogators who exceeded the limits of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," including water-boarding that were authorized by Bush officials via the now-infamous torture memo authored by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, but at the top with torture architects like Cheney and Addington.

It is not surprising that Cheney is against federal investigation on torture. He said he might not cooperate with government investigator. “I’m very proud of what we did in terms of defending the nation for the past eight years, successfully,” Cheney said in a recorded interview. “And it won’t take a prosecutor to find out what I think. I’ve already expressed those views.” Cheney has accused Mr. Holder of making the investigation a “political act.” On September 18, CIA’s seven former directors (which included neocons like Woolsey) wrote a letter to the President requesting to close the investigation. Their reasons are understandable but not justifiable: they don’t want any investigation of their bad guys. Senator Liberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, a cheerleader of Bush’s war, is also against investigation. But such dissenting voices represent a very small minority in today’s America, and come from the neo-conservative hawks that had promoted war and sanctioned torture and abuse at places like the Abu Ghraib.

America has come a long way from its nasty past and under President Obama is quickly trying to rebuild its credibility around the world. Any waiver of the torture investigation would resurrect America’s hypocritical stand with a message to the world that reads, "Torture is bad, except when we are doing it." That message — America simply can’t afford to hang on its wall.

The Department of Justice and Attorney General Holder must give the prosecutor the ability to hold the torture architects responsible. Narrowly confining a torture probe to low level foot soldiers would fall short of the accountability moment required to protect our constitution from further abuse.