Editorial Column: 8 Years on the Dark Side

The Boston Globe

December 20, 2008 – Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that he directly approved waterboarding to torture terror suspects. “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared,” Cheney told “ABC News.” Asked if he believes the simulating of drowning is an appropriate technique, he said, “I do.”

Last week, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded that the 2003 Abu Ghraib detainee abuse was not just the result of a few rogue soldiers. It said: “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”

Those items help cement this White House as among the most cancerous in American history. Cheney told us after 9/11 that the administration would protect us by working on “the dark side . . . in the shadows in the intelligence world.” Cheney, Rumsfeld, and President Bush turned the dark side into a blind eye, the shadows into a shroud, and obliterated intelligent discourse on terrorism with raw fear. That was only the warm-up for twisting intelligence to invade Iraq for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

For eight years the administration never feared trampling truth and justice, even as Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2004 about Abu Ghraib, “Anyone who recommended that kind of behavior that I have seen depicted in those photos needs to be brought to justice.” At the moment, the administration faces no serious repercussions for decisions that resulted in many times more deaths in Iraq than here on Sept. 11, 2001. Rumsfeld went from disgrace to a visiting fellowship at the Hoover Institution. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz went from miscalculating the need for hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq as “wildly off the mark” to counting the planet’s dollars at the World Bank – until corruption ended his presidency there.

Bush is sure to regale us about compassionate conservatism in his sugar-coated presidential library and Cheney will mumble from some undisclosed bunker about being the great liberator. All they currently face is the judgment of history.

It was something of a consolation for history that President-elect Barack Obama named Eric Shinseki to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki was the general who made the Iraq troop estimate that Wolfowitz criticized.

And at least we have some facts to go with the fiction. The Senate report released jointly by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona said Rumsfeld’s authorization of techniques “was a direct cause of detainee abuse.” It also said that Bush’s presidential order saying the Geneva Convention for humane treatment of prisoners of war did not apply to al Qaeda “impacted the treatment of detainees.”

Cheney and the report give us fresh clarity on their obfuscations. For instance, two years ago, Cheney was asked on a conservative radio talk show, “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Cheney responded, “Well it’s a no-brainer for me.” The White House immediately trotted out the late White House spokesman Tony Snow and vice-presidential spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride to convince the press that Cheney was not referring to waterboarding.

McBride said, “The vice president does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not have been used in questioning.” Snow was challenged by reporters that it defied common sense to deny that a “dunk in water” was waterboarding. Snow still asserted, “he wasn’t referring to waterboarding. He was referring to using a program of questioning, not talking about waterboarding.” Pummeled by the press over this parsing, an exasperated Snow said, “I’m telling you what the vice president’s view is, which is it wasn’t about waterboarding. Period.”

The not-so-funny thing is that Cheney’s “no-brainer” remark was an honest window into his brain. True to the eight years of this administration, even the truth must be covered with a lie.

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