After weeks dominated by the subject of health care reform, one specter from the recent past has raised its head once again: The Bush administration’s politicization of our nation’s security. Not long ago, the torture debate had reached an impasse: Attorney General Holder and President Obama seemed satisfied with taking the position that CIA interrogators and contractors who tortured prisoners under the guidelines provided in the Department of Justice memos…even though the memos are LEGALLY UNSOUND and self-serving…were acting in “good faith” and would not be investigated or prosecuted. On a broader note, even though it was suspected that the Bush administration manipulated the law, the media, and the public in order to advance their political agendas and to pursue extra-legal enforcement methods…Holder and Obama seemed determined to let that sleeping dog lie as well.
Then, two documents changed everything:
1 - The Inspector General’s Report on CIA Interrogations: The report is quite clear…our interrogators used means of torture FAR outside even the egregious amount supported by the DOJ memos. They threatened to kill detainees, and put guns and even a power drill to detainees’ heads…this is illegal. They threatened to bring in detainees’ wives and children, and to rape them or kill them in front of the detainees’ eyes…also illegal. They kept them in filthy diapers for extended periods…induced hypothermia…induced blackouts by cutting off blood flow to the prisoners’ brains…struck them with knees and rifle butts…deprived them of sleep for days…oh, AND they waterboarded them, some of them repeatedly. AG Holder finally had no choice, and appointed a Special Prosecutor.
2 - Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge’s Book: Once a symbol for the domestic front of the Bush “War On Terror,” Tom Ridge’s book, “The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege,” clearly paints a picture of the manipulation of terror alerts for political purposes. He was the Secretary of Homeland Security…but wasn’t even invited to National Security Council Meetings. He was deliberately kept uninformed by the FBI. Essentially…he was told by Bush’s cabinet what they wanted him to say, what to do, and what not to do. He writes of one particular “last straw:” Attorney General Ashcroft asks Ridge to raise the Terror Alert Level and to release an tape of Bin Laden criticizing Bush. Ridge knew that there had been more than 20 tapes since 9/11…and none of them contained any threats worth releasing. Ridge also knew, that every time he raised the Alert Level, Bush received a boost in the polls…and that the political timing for a boost was very evident in this case. Ridge and his department denied the request, only to be pressured further by Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
So, the conversation begins anew, and with fresh, damning information…here’s how it’s going so far (there are some real surprises):
- Tom Ridge…seems to be having second thoughts. Having recovered fully from his momentary lapse of honesty, Ridge now tells USA Today that he was in no way squeezed to raise the Alert Level, nor is he critical of the previous administration’s decision to keep him in the dark: “I was never pressured…I’m not second-guessing my colleagues…“ You know, it’s bad enough if you say one thing on Monday and the opposite on Tuesday…but you’ll probably only get in trouble if somebody pulls up the video clips of both speeches. In this case…you wrote it in your BOOK, Ridge…which is it: is the book a lie, or what you are telling us now?
- But Ridge isn’t the only Republican to accuse the Bush White House of releasing information for political purposes: former Representative Rick Renzi’s attorneys have filed a motion, calling for the government to show why it should not be held in contempt for releasing details of a grand jury investigation into Renzi, in an attempt to save his struggling re-election campaign. Up until then, it had always been the DOJ’s policy not to comment on ongoing investigations…until Harriet Myers and Karl Rove approached them and told them to “throw cold water” on reports that Renzi was under investigation… which they did. So, by our tally…that’s hiring and firing federal attorneys using a partisan “litmus test“…releasing the identity of an undercover CIA agent…and illegally releasing grand jury details for political purposes. And the hits just keep on coming...
- Former VP Dick Cheney, now preparing for the upcoming promotion of his new book in earnest, responded as all would expect. He called enhanced interrogation “absolutely essential,” called the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate our use of torture an “outrageous political act,” and said that on a personal level it “offends the hell out of me (Cheney).” Then, Cheney…appears to contradict himself. First he says: “We had a president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn’t be an investigation. Now, they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party and they are reversing course on that.“ Of course, even casual observers realize that the investigation has more to do with the release of the Inspector General’s report than it does “pressure from Democrats,” but it is what Cheney said next that seems more worthy of our attention: “The president is the chief law enforcement officer in the administration. He is now saying, well, this isn’t anything he’s got to do with.“ Mr. Cheney…if you agree that the President is the “chief law enforcement officer” of the nation…and he is presented with clear, documented proof that acts were committed in violation with the Constitution and the laws of the land…then doesn’t HE HAVE to investigate it? Otherwise…what kind of “law enforcement officer” would he be?
- Like Daddy, Like Daughter: Of course, we’ve also come to expect that Liz Cheney will defend any and all of her father’s actions. Unfortunately for Liz, she decided to do so on a panel that included Sam Donaldson, who was quick to point out that her logic is both flawed and self-serving:
- Cheney Denial Trifecta: Cheney’s other daughter, Mary, is unlikely to comment on the subject of enhanced interrogation…but appears to share her father’s penchant for denial. I used to feel just terrible for Mary: during the presidential campaigns, Dick Cheney was often asked about his positions towards gay rights, given that his daughter, Mary, is a lesbian. I always thought it shameful that he chose not to defend his own daughter’s rights and equality. But now we find out…that despite being a lesbian, in a lesbian partnership, and with adopted children…Mary Cheney donated to former Representative Rob Portman (R-OH), a GOP Senate hopeful. Portman…is anti-gay marriage, and anti-gay adoption. Maybe Dick just figured there was no need to defend his daughter…if she won’t even defend herself…or maybe, it’s just another Cheney example of partisanship coming before what’s right.
- In responding to Cheney’s positions…Senator John McCain (R-AZ) swung for the fences. He said, “I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan. I think these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq… I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And I believe that information, according go the FBI and others, could have been gained through other members.“ Of course, then he qualified his remarks by adding, “I believe the president [Obama] was right when he said we ought to go forward and not back.“ I’ve said this before: To admit that laws/treaties were broken, but then say there is no need pursue the legal investigation/trial process, violates not only our country’s laws, but also our values.
- Summary (my paraphrasing, not actual quotes) of CIA claims that McCain knew all about the torture they were about to commit: CIA: “We told McCain and the others the six interrogation methods were were going to use.” McCain spokesperson: “Nuh uh! McCain repeatedly questioned what you were going to do and never gave his approval.” CIA: “Well…we weren’t really there for the legislators ‘approval’…just their feedback. Some liked it…some didn’t. We were cool with that.” Why is this conversation so important? Because Steven G. Bradbury, a deputy assistant attorney general, wrote his memo justifying torture, using the rationale that the methods were acceptable and legal because the ideas didn’t seem to “shock the conscience” of the legislators, and that is a legal standard related to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which covers Due Process. Perhaps the problem is that we need more legislators who have actual “consciences” to “shock.”
- Unlikely Advocate: Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a leading conservative activist…thinks the investigations into torture ARE A GOOD IDEA. Of course his reasons are a bit suspect…he wants to be able to have the Obama administration investigated down the road: “Holder is making a decision that one administration should go back and second-guess another administration. Yes, it’s political but he is also opening the door to what will happen after Holder and Obama’s legacy here. I think that someday when we have a different Justice Department, people need to go back and look at how all of this money in the stimulus package was paid. And who it went to. What about all of those secret meetings that were never transparent about who was going to get what?…The Bush administration started their administration foolishly, not seriously looking into the cash for pardons challenge that the Clinton administration had. They were wrong to decide not to do that and I think that the next Republican administration will follow Holder’s path rather than the Bush path of the past.“ While his reasoning is certainly overtly political and almost sickeningly vindictive…he may be right on one level. If ANY administration acts outside the law…shouldn’t the next administration investigate it, or should they just continue this tradition of a “courteous disregard for previous illegal activity?“ If an administration didn’t break any laws…what would they have to fear from an investigation?
- Andrew Sullivan addresses part of the reason why what should be an exceedingly clear issue (torture is both wrong and illegal, and we used torture), has instead been allowed to become very muddied waters. The MEDIA. Sullivan takes Chris Wallace to task for completely “softballing” his interview with Dick Cheney in his column, hilariously titled: “Chris Wallace, A Teenage Girl Interviewing The Jonas Brothers.“ Sullivan lists all of the weak questions asked by Wallace, and then shares his two favorite exchanges:”My two favorite moments:
CHENEY: I am going to — if I address that, I will address it in my book, Chris.
WALLACE: It is going to be a hell of a book.
CHENEY: It is going to be a great book.
And then the apology for asking the questions Cheney wanted asked:
WALLACE: Well, we want to thank you for talking with us and including in your private life putting up with an interview from the likes of me.
CHENEY: It’s all right. I enjoy your show, Chris.
WALLACE: Thank you very much, and all the best sir.“
- Check This Out: Dan Froomkin does a fairly thorough look at the litany of public deceptions utilized by Dick Cheney over the years. He includes a fascinating quote from Obsidian Wings blogger publius: “If you’ve noticed, Cheney tends to pop up in the aftermath of damning evidence. We just (re)learned, for instance, that our CIA agents murdered detainees, choked them, and threatened to rape their wives. Normally, you would think these revelations would give pause to even the most ardent Cheney supporters. But then Cheney comes along, and tries to reframe the whole story. His intended audience isn’t the nation as a whole, but conservatives. He wants to make sure that they view these stories through partisan-tinted lenses.“
I will relay more news on this subject, and the subsequent denials from the Cheney clan, as they are available.