Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cheney's Gambit

When Dick Cheney and the rest of the chipper Cheney clan make a media appearance, the only real question is whether they'll try out any new lies or stick with their favorites. McClatchy provides a great fact-checking of Dick Cheney's speech this past Thursday.

Talking Points Memo also does some fact-checking, and Matthew Alexander thoroughly rebuts and dissects Cheney. Dick Durbin was wise enough to cite Alexander on Meet the Press - leading Newt Gingrich to smear Alexander, a decorated officer. (As always, Gingrich and his ilk only care about the troops as props.)

In "Cheney's Desperate Defense," Dan Froomkin does a superb job zeroing in on Cheney's most crucial lie:

Former vice president Dick Cheney's snarling, duplicitous speech contrasting Bush and Obama administration counter-terrorism policies yesterday is best seen in the context of his understandably strong desire to avoid investigation or prosecution in the near future -- and ignominy in the history books.

While his speech is primarily being touted as a ferocious attack on President Obama -- and it certainly was that -- what Cheney is really doing is playing defense.

Running through his remarks were several familiar themes: That investigating what really happened during the past eight years is tantamount to prosecution, that criminalizing political behavior would be a terrible precedent, and that the Bush administration had absolutely nothing to do with the kind of abuse illustrated by the notorious photographs from Abu Ghraib prison.

That final point is really key. For five years, ever since the photos became public, Bush officials have been engaged in a concerted disinformation campaign aimed at denying that White House policy was in any way responsible for the widespread abuse of detainees.

I describe new evidence of that disinformation campaign in an article on NiemanWatchdog.org today. One of the torture memos released last month proves how baldly then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales was lying in June 2004, as he tried to distance the administration from what happened at Abu Ghraib.

The latest iteration of the campaign has been Cheney's relentless focus on debating the appropriateness and efficacy of the techniques used on "high-value" detainees at CIA secret prisons. Cheney realizes that even if he loses this argument, as far as the American public is concerned, it's a close call.

To avoid more scrutiny, it's essential that he keep distancing the administration from the kind of abuse that is universally considered indefensible.

This is exactly right, and can't be emphasized enough. The abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were authorized at the very top, they were deliberate policies, and current estimates indicate over one hundred prisoners are dead as a result. Additionally, Cheney wants cherry-picked releases to come out, not the whole picture.

Froomkin links some other very valuable pieces, including Fred Kaplan's debunking of some Cheney straw men, and Dana Milbank's tally of the fear count in Cheney's speech and a valuable observation from Joe Conason:

Beyond the distortions and the lies, there was one passage in Cheney's speech that underlined the authoritarian character of the former vice president and his hosts. Not only must we not reverse the policies of the previous administration, but according to him, we should not even debate them -- because the merest discussion of the troubling issues raised by the war on terrorism only encourages the enemy.

Froomkin also highlights an excellent piece by attorney Eric Lewis:

Former Vice President Cheney has masterfully shifted the debate about torture from the realm of law and ethics to that of pure efficacy...

The absolute prohibition on torture is not based on a consensus that it never works. Rather, it is based on the sad realization that the impulse to torture is ever-present; that human beings who are frightened or zealous or full of rage -- as human beings invariably are -- will feel a powerful need to torture and a powerful justification for acting on that need. It is useful to recall the understandable fear and anger after September 11 not to justify or excuse torture, but to understand that it is precisely at the moment of most stress that the norm against torture must be powerfully affirmed...

We do not allow torture in the ticking time bomb scenario because when the would-be torturer looks out on the landscape, he sees it littered with ticking time bombs and people who might know something about them. We do not balance the costs and benefits to see if torture works because there will always be some argument that can be made that it works or it might work or people believed at the time that it would.

I'd recommend reading all of Lewis' piece, and Froomkin's.

Moving on, Publius makes a good observation on the long game of Cheney:

It’s a pretty neat trick. The Bush/Cheney administration radicalizes a new generation of terrorists through actions like torture and unnecessary wars. Then, when the blowback comes, they’ll try to blame it on someone else – specifically, on the people trying to clean up their mess. It's like dousing a house with gasoline, and then blaming the cleanup crew when someone comes along with a match trying the burn the thing down.

The Daily Show has a great take on all this silliness, of course.

As Eric Martin observes (and Stewart and Colbert show), fact-checking public figures typically isn't too hard – but mainstream media outlets frequently avoid it, so credit goes to McClatchy. I caught Bob Schieffer's commentary on a CBS newscast, and predictably, he only spoke of the politics of whether Obama could sell his Gunatanamo plan. Schieffer didn't raise any civil liberties concerns about Obama's speech, and he completely ignored glaring lies by Cheney.

As with almost every other issue, the media's problem with the torture "debate" is that they do not fact-check, give context or call bullshit. Regardless of how crazy, dishonest or outrageous a speaker is (as long as s/he is a conservative), s/he will be granted legitimacy, and the Overton window is generally pushed to the right. This also reduces almost every issue or "debate" to a matter of mere opinion and headline-filling partisan attacks, versus an examination of facts or a discussion of the consequences of policies. Difference of opinion are one thing, but often viewers are left to decide between two different realities, generally without the context to do so - and "splitting the difference" down the middle usually will lead to an inaccurate picture (as is intended by hacks). For a variety of reasons, the media hold conservatives to a much lower standard than they do Democrats and liberals, and while plenty of congressional Dems are less than honorable, conservatives simply lie more often and about more serious matters. I wish none of this was the case, but it is. As Geoffrey Nunberg's observed, political talk shows are essentially cast as sitcoms versus being news to inform the public.

See also Emptywheel 1, Emptywheel 2 and Roy Edroso. Greg Sargent and Steve Benen take a look at the media's crazy deference to - and defense of - Dick Cheney. The busy Benen also weighs in on the possible role of the Cheney book deal, the false claim that DNI Dennis Blair endorsed torture, Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich's ridiculous number of media appearances and Liz Cheney's ridiculous number of media appearances:

There's no modern precedent for such a ridiculous arrangement. Dick Cheney launches a crusade against the White House, and major outlets look for analysis from Cheney's daughter? Who everyone already realizes agrees with everything he says about torture?

To be fair and balanced, they'll book Lynn Cheney next.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)


Anonymous said...

You might be interested in reading a recent article that discusses Cheney’s activities and how torture was used to manufacture evidence for the reality of the “war on terror.” The article, entitled Dick Cheney - Tortured Evidence can be found here.

Batocchio said...

Thanks, Anonymous - I've covered that story multiple times, but should have mentioned it again here, since any time Cheney makes his claims, it should be repeated. I don't think anyone's asked him directly yet about it. "A bipartisan Senate report and media investigations have concluded that the Bush administration, and you specifically, authorized torture to produce "evidence" of an al Qaeda-Iraq link to justify going to war. What is your response?"

Cirze said...

Thank you for hosting one of the (if not THE) best sites for sources for the upcoming, necessary Cheney outing.

Final outing I hope. Then the hearings and trials can commence as provided for by our legal system.

I'm going to publicize your site and urge others to do so as well.


Batocchio said...

Suzan, thanks for the kind words, but as a part-time blogger, I'm not the most timely coverage out there. Dan Froomkin, Scott Horton, Emptywheel, Hullabaloo and several other sites are better for breaking news and new developments - although I try to catch up on the most important stuff, especially on these issues.

Comrade Kevin said...

Sounds like Cheney's Last Stand to me.