History Commons Groups

August 29, 2009

Andrew Sullivan Provides a Perfect Example of the ‘Cheney Behind Torture’ Narrative

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 9:08 am
Tags: ,

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post saying that a whole bunch of people seemed to think former Vice President Dick Cheney was the driving force behind the Bush administration’s torture programme. I summarised the mindset of these people like this:

Vice President Dick Cheney was both shocked by 9/11 and saw it as an opportunity to implement radical elements of his own agenda. Therefore, he got the CIA and other elements of the government to step up its already active rendition programme, add a detention and torture programme of its own and, we now find, go around the world assassinating people. He also arranged legal cover for all this by getting mid-level people at the Justice Department like John Yoo to sign off on it, under pressure from Cheney’s counsel David Addington.

Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the people I had in mind when I wrote this and, in response to the recent publication of the CIA inspector general’s report he wrote the following:

What we now know is that immediately after 9/11, Dick Cheney decided that torture was going to be his principal weapon in waging the intelligence war on al Qaeda.

He knew this was illegal but believed he was saving the country and also believed that the constitution empowers the president to assume total, dictatorial powers in war-time. So he sabotaged the usual institutional checks, told the president everything was legal and “not torture”, took the US out of the Geneva Conventions, hired freelance goons to devise torture techniques, and began torturing the prisoners as they came in. He realized all along that this was illegal by the lights of every sane legal professional, and so then directed pliable fanatics, like John Yoo, to create legal memos to grant retroactive immunity – a golden shield – for all those involved in the torture. He then used the crudest politicking to brow-beat all defenses of American honor, decency and real interrogation as abetters of the enemy.

It is pretty clear to me that Cheney was involved very heavily in the torture program, and approved of and pushed it. However, the first sentence I quoted, to the effect that Cheney decided immediately after 9/11 that torture was going to be the main weapon against terrorism, is going beyond what I think we know. As I pointed out previously, Cheney has no record I can find of supporting torture (unlike, say, his very consistent record on wanting strong executive power) and the torture was almost bound to go wrong and produce false information.

Last time in comments, Max suggested that producing false information (for example linking Iraq to al-Qaeda) was the purpose of the torture, which certainly makes more sense than Sullivan’s view, but I’m still not completely sold on it.

There must be memos and other documents about how the torture “got started” (like invitations to SERE gurus Mitchell and Jessen to work with the CIA). I want to see them and see for myself the actual trail that leads back from detainees like Abu Zubaida being tortured to specific people in the administration.

1 Comment »

  1. […] the “It was all Cheney’s fault” theory, which I have expressed scepticism about here and here: Worthington: And what’s needed is: no, the lawyers were told what to do, they agreed that they […]

    Pingback by Former Powell Chief of Staff: Cheney Is a ‘Sith Lord’ « History Commons Groups — September 11, 2009 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

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