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Cheney: What’s So Wrong With Torture Anyway?

Our amazing reporter Holly Yeager told me that I had better check out Dick Cheney’s CPAC speech today, and she didn’t disappoint. Armed with Holly’s voice recorder — which she generously handed off to me at the Omni Hotel in Woodley Park, amidst a foyer-ful of grinning white people — I checked it out.

So Cheney starts in on the war on terror. It’s some hardcore 9/11ism. I swear, on the recording, you can practically hear the man growing, um, tumescent.

To wage a war like this you need good intelligence, and information that helps us figure out the movements of the enemy, the extent of their operations, the location of their cells, the plans they’re making, the methods they use and the targets they plan to strike. Information of this kind is the hardest to obtain. But it’s worth the effort in terms of the plots that are averted and the lives that have been saved. One of the ways we’ve prevented attacks and saved lives is by monitoring terrorist-related communications. Last year Congress passed a major revision to the FISA law — that’s the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But those revisions are set to expire next week. We’re asking Congress to make those revisions permanent. And to provide liability protection for companies that are believed to have help protect America since 9/11. [applause] Those who act in good faith to defend this country should not be punished with lawsuits or hassled by trial lawyers.

Yeah, WorldCom fought in Afghanistan, dammit! These cell phone towers don’t run! Or something. See Paul Kiel or Brian Beutler for the depth of Dick Cheney’s cynicism on the surveillance bill. And the idea that you hear members of al-Qaeda talking on the phone about "the location of their cells, the plans they’re making" or any of the stuff Cheney cited is too stupid to credit. I mean, even Little Melvin Williams, when he was a drug kingpin in Baltimore, had as his number-two rule of the game: All Phones Are Tapped. Is it even newsworthy anymore to observe that Cheney’s lying?

But Cheney really gets engorged when he starts musing on the virtues of torture.

Just as we monitor the communications of enemies at large, we’ve gotten information out of the ones we’ve captured. The military has interrogated terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay and, in addition, a small number of terrorists, high-value targets, held overseas have gone through an interrogation program run by the CIA. [a smattering of applause] These include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. He and others were questioned at a time when another attack on this country was believed to be imminent. It’s a good thing we had them in custody. And it’s a good thing we found out what they [inaudible due to applause].

The procedures of the CIA program are designed to be safe, and they are in full compliance with the nation’s laws and treaty obligations. They’ve been carefully reviewed by the Department of Justice and very carefully monitored. The program is run by highly-trained professionals who understand their obligations under the law. And the program has uncovered a wealth of information and has foiled attacks against the United States and other nations and has saved thousands of lives.

The United States is a country that takes human rights seriously. We do not torture. It’s against our laws and against our values. And we expect all those who serve America to conduct themselves accordingly, and we enforce those rules. Some years ago, when abuses were conducted at Abu Ghraib prison, abuses that had nothing to do with the CIA program, abuses that came to light were investigated and those responsible were busted. America is a fair and a decent country. [applause] President Bush has made it clear, both publicly and privately, that our duty to uphold the laws and standards of this nation make no exceptions for wartime. As he put it, we are in a fight for our principles and our first responsibility is to live by them. The war on terror, after all, is more than a contest of arms and more than a test of will. It’s also a war of ideas.

So we don’t torture, except for the three people Mike Hayden admitted we’ve waterboarded, but it’s all perfectly legal, since the Justice Department, stacked with cronies and psychopaths, said it’s legal, and there is no difference between law and Bush-administration prerogative. Long live the Great Egyptian Dream! Similarly, the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah — the only one conducted even nine months after 9/11, despite Cheney’s implication that a follow-on attack was forestalled by the torture — wasn’t as valuable as the guy’s captured laptop, according to the FBI. Since Cheney lies so much, and so casually, we should assume that every word his foul breath spews about torture saving lives is a lie as well. Somewhere in hell, Saddam Hussein is laughing at what Cheney and Bush have forced America to become.

*Bonus fun fact! Bush, in foreign policy, has approached the nation’s foreign-policy problems with "realism, fair-mindedness and decency," Cheney said. There’s an important lesson in here about not getting high on your own supply.

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