Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Cheney’s Self-Serving Logic

Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent article at Slate about Dick Cheney’s farewell tour of interviews and the conveniently self-serving logic he is using to defend the actions of the Bush administration on a number of fronts. I think she strikes the perfect tone of incredulity:

In an ever-escalating game of chicken between the executive branch and the rest of the world, Vice President Dick Cheney wants you to understand that he has done nothing wrong over the past eight years. In fact, to hear him tell it to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday yesterday, we are all safer for his infallibility in the face of our own complacency. His liberal critics, for their part, answer Cheney’s moral certainty by continuing to vigorously debate all the reasons to let him off the hook. What other possible response can there be to all that bristling manliness? History will remember Dick Cheney as the man who managed to make President George W. Bush look like a wimp.

One hesitates to waste too much time deconstructing Cheney’s last-minute debater’s tricks. The threats and insults stopped being impressive a long time ago. But the vice president’s greatest rhetorical sleight of hand may be that he has completely inverted settled and open legal questions. As he snarks his way through his final exit interviews, he takes the position that the thorniest legal questions are the easy ones and the settled ones are still open.


She takes him on over such issues as the efficacy of torture, but I particularly like this passage about whether waterboarding is torture:

What about the legality of torture? That’s an easy one, says Cheney, again in his ABC interview. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. Again, we proceeded very cautiously. We checked. We had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.” Yet just a few moments later, when asked whether water-boarding a prisoner was appropriate, he said yes, adding that he was even involved in clearing the technique as part of the interrogation program.

Cheney says water-boarding is not torture. That question has been resolved as a legal matter for centuries and is not actually open to relitigation on ABC News. Water-boarding has been deemed torture and prosecuted as a war crime in this country. It violates, among other things, the Convention Against Torture, the War Crimes Act, and the U.S. anti-torture statute. Its illegality is neither an open question nor a close one. Yet again, the handful of people–including Dick Cheney–who maintain that torture is completely legal corresponds almost perfectly to the number of people who could be prosecuted for war crimes because it is not.

How convenient for them.