Cheney: Still Cherry-Picking After All These Years

Jonathan Landay of McClatchy goes through the long list of lies, distortions, and convenient omissions in Cheney’s “national security” speech yesterday:

In his address to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy organization in Washington, Cheney said that the techniques the Bush administration approved, including waterboarding — simulated drowning that’s considered a form of torture — forced nakedness and sleep deprivation, were “legal” and produced information that “prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.”

He quoted the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, as saying that the information gave U.S. officials a “deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country.”

In a statement April 21, however, Blair said the information “was valuable in some instances” but that “there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.”
[…]
Cheney said that President Barack Obama’s decision to release the four top-secret Bush administration memos on the interrogation techniques was “flatly contrary” to U.S. national security, and would help al Qaida train terrorists in how to resist U.S. interrogations.

However, Blair, who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, said in his statement that he recommended the release of the memos, “strongly supported” Obama’s decision to prohibit using the controversial methods and that “we do not need these techniques to keep America safe.”

_ Cheney said that the Bush administration “moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and their sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks.”

The former vice president didn’t point out that Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Ayman al Zawahri, remain at large nearly eight years after 9-11 and that the Bush administration began diverting U.S. forces, intelligence assets, time and money to planning an invasion of Iraq before it finished the war in Afghanistan against al Qaida and the Taliban.
[,,,]
Cheney denied that there was any connection between the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and the abuse of detainee at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which he blamed on “a few sadistic guards . . . in violation of American law, military regulations and simple decency.”

However, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report in December traced the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the approval of the techniques by senior Bush administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
[…]
Cheney said that “only detainees of the highest intelligence value” were subjected to the harsh interrogation techniques, and he cited Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 attacks.

He didn’t mention Abu Zubaydah, the first senior al Qaida operative to be captured after 9-11. Former FBI special agent Ali Soufan told a Senate subcommittee last week that his interrogation of Zubaydah using traditional methods elicited crucial information, including Mohammed’s alleged role in 9-11.

The decision to use the harsh interrogation methods “was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against al Qaida,” Soufan said.
[…]
Cheney said that “the key to any strategy is accurate intelligence,” but the Bush administration ignored warnings from experts in the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Department of Energy and other agencies, and used false or exaggerated intelligence supplied by Iraqi exile groups and others to help make its case for the 2003 invasion.

Cheney made no mention of al Qaida operative Ali Mohamed al Fakheri, who’s known as Ibn Sheikh al Libi, whom the Bush administration secretly turned over to Egypt for interrogation in January 2002. While allegedly being tortured by Egyptian authorities, Libi provided false information about Iraq’s links with al Qaida, which the Bush administration used despite doubts expressed by the DIA.

A state-run Libyan newspaper said Libi committed suicide recently in a Libyan jail.

Cheney accused Obama of “the selective release” of documents on Bush administration detainee policies, charging that Obama withheld records that Cheney claimed prove that information gained from the harsh interrogation methods prevented terrorist attacks.

“I’ve formally asked that (the information) be declassified so the American people can see the intelligence we obtained,” Cheney said. “Last week, that request was formally rejected.”

However, the decision to withhold the documents was announced by the CIA, which said that it was obliged to do so by a 2003 executive order issued by former President George W. Bush prohibiting the release of materials that are the subject of lawsuits.

Cheney said that only “ruthless enemies of this country” were detained by U.S. operatives overseas and taken to secret U.S. prisons.

A 2008 McClatchy investigation, however, found that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees captured in 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan were innocent citizens or low-level fighters of little intelligence value who were turned over to American officials for money or because of personal or political rivalries.

D-Day has this to say about the “saddest” of men, “trying to save himself from universal condemnation”:

I didn’t think too much about Dick Cheney’s speech yesterday because the framing of a “showdown” between the President of the United States and the least popular human on the planet just made me laugh. But this monstrosity probably should be read and studied, because it offers a window into a diseased mind and an object lesson in specious logic.

First of all, the speech offered no broad vision of dealing with national security in the 21st century, but was simply an opening statement for Cheney’s war crimes trial, with a defense of torture and all of the other illegal practices of his regime. But because these practices are indefensible, he structured this defense with lies and distortions and paragraphs that were sometimes contradictory in the space of a few words. He mentioned 9/11 twenty-five times, and tried to re-create the atmosphere of fear and desperation, a world in which he clearly still lives, traumatized and desiring only to inflict pain. He continued with this idea that the Bush Administration kept America safe, except on 9/11, when nine months of ignored warnings and inattention produced the tragic wreck of that day. And even more people died in future actions in Iraq and Afghanistan than died on September 11, anyway. He takes credit for taking down A.Q. Khan’s network when America had nothing to do with it and A.Q. Khan now walks as a free man. He talks about moving decisively against Al Qaeda when Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large, and when they pulled out of Afghanistan to start an unnecessary war in Iraq. He flat out lied about torture and its effectiveness on numerous occasions. He decried the Obama Administration’s use of “euphemisms” when he was the one who INVENTED the term “enhanced interrogation techniques. He claims that Article II authority and the AUMF allows illegal actions. He CONTINUED – in this speech – to push a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. He kept claiming that the work at Abu Ghraib was the result of a few bad apples and not policy, which has been disproven time and again.

Spencer Ackerman has a long, very detailed, very comprehensive post-mortem of the Cheney apologia.

As always, if you have not read Froomkin’s analysis and opinion roundup of the Cheney speech (or anything else Froomkin writes about), you are missing a discerning and perceptive voice in the conversation.

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