If Warner Brothers is ever interested in a remake of The Man Who Came to Dinner, the Monty Woolley role of the irascible, housebound, curmudgeonly critic could be perfectly filled by Dick Cheney. His continuing media appearances have become an irritant like a rash that just won't heal. As much as I'd like to forget about the former administration, "Richard the Chicken-hearted" refuses to go away. Every day, there's another Cheney sighting and another microphone for him to sow his discord. And now that he's linked arms with Rush Limbaugh, his white noise concerning "enhanced interrogation techniques" has an even larger outlet.
It has to be a tough gig defending torture under any circumstances, but Cheney tries to justify his special methods because "they worked." So does armed robbery, but the criminals are usually brought to justice after they confess. Separate reports have surfaced saying the vice president personally suggested "harsh techniques" to be used on certain captives in Iraq and not because of some 24, ticking dirty-bomb fantasy.
Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, recently wrote that Cheney's suggested "enhanced" methods were used in April 2002, before the president's legal council had ruled on the matter. Wilkerson alleged that they were used entirely for the purpose of "discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda." Wilkerson says that the reason the country has been free of a terrorist attack since 9/11 "is due almost entirely to the nation's having deployed over 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan" and not as the result of Cheney's interrogation methods. So why does Cheney continue to parrot that the country is more vulnerable under Obama's non-torturing directives?
There is certainly no downside to Cheney predicting another terrorist attack on American soil. Most Middle East analysts agree with him. So if or when an attack is attempted, Cheney can say "I told you so" and be seen as a visionary. If another sneak attack should never come, he can say that he erred on the side of national security. Either way, Cheney can't lose, and he believes history will absolve him of his crimes in the name of "vigilance." Of course, if you go around the law and, say, attack a sovereign nation without provocation, then you're a "vigilante."
The fog of the talk-show war that Cheney is churning out is for one purpose only: If he can get everyone to focus on the use of harsh questioning of perceived terrorists in defense of the country, attention is diverted from the larger issue of the initial decision to invade Iraq and the contrived sales pitch that preceded it. Interrogating bad guys is an argument that Cheney can win. But busting him for torture is like arresting a man for speeding when he's been caught in a stolen car. Sending the armed forces into combat under false pretences is the real crime. The torture of prisoners was used to justify it.
There's a fierce storm a'comin'. It's going to be more furious than Katrina, worse than the Clinton impeachment, and uglier than Watergate. In fact, you'll have to go back to the Grant administration and the trials of Jefferson Davis and the hierarchy of the Confederacy to find a parallel. But it is as inevitable as justice itself, and the people will demand it.
We've always known there would be a reckoning someday for all the destruction and death resulting from this misbegotten war — a war spawned by the political philosophy encapsulated in the "Statement of Principles" of the Project for the New American Century. Among the signers of that document, three years before Bush was appointed president by the Supreme Court, were Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, and Dick Cheney. Their imperialist desires were spelled out in advance. Now, Cheney, by necessity, has had to emerge from his undisclosed location to defend what has become indefensible: starting a war.
It's scary to think that if Karl Rove had achieved his goal of a "permanent Republican majority," through voter fraud and gerrymandering, this gang would have gotten away clean. All this clamor over harsh interrogations being spewed by Cheney is the sound of a drowning man who realizes he's going under but is treading water just as fast as he can to delay the inevitable. Sort of like someone being waterboarded.
Randy Haspel writes the blog Born Again Hippies, where a version of this column first appeared.