WASHINGTON -- Dick Cheney is, by all accounts, probably the oddest -- and the most dourly ambitious -- duck in the administration's pond of wing-flapping, sky-diving and prideful birds.
He rarely speaks, running things quietly and secretly from behind the White House's closed doors, where he maintains his own administrative staff (roughly 60 persons, almost as many as the president's). When he does speak, it is usually either a sarcastic observation or rejoinder. As to his knowledge of Iraq, many remember how, on "Meet the Press" just before the Iraq war, he told Tim Russert, "I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators."
He is an enigma to many who have known him. President George H.W. Bush almost pleaded with a friend of mine, a journalist, in Houston recently: "Please -- tell me -- what has happened to Cheney?"
There was always a brooding, Hobbesian Cheney just beneath the misleading openness he learned in his native Wyoming. But this week, the vice president took a turn into the deepest heart of human darkness. This week, unprecedented in history, an elected vice president of the United States of America proposed that Congress legally authorize the torture of foreigners by Americans.
The Washington Post titled its devastating editorial "Vice President for Torture." I would say that the deceptive man from sunny Wyoming has become the Marquis de Sade of America. Think about it -- he is insistent upon making torturers of many of our young soldiers -- your children.
In both the Afghan and the Iraq war, the U.S. has been involved -- as never before in ANY war -- with carefully conceived methods of torture -- "waterboarding" or simulated drowning, mock execution, beatings until death, the deliberate withholding of pain medication, the burning and desecration of enemy bodies, and every possible form of sexual perversion.
These acts were the direct outcome of the president's, Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's errant dismissal of the Geneva Accords, to which we are a signatory, of an international treaty against torture negotiated and ratified by the Reagan administration and, not least, of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids "cruel and unusual punishment."
Although such directions would HAVE to have come from the top, not one top-ranking general or officer has been punished. Only the privates from West Virginia and the Carolinas, who would be protected by a responsible military from debauching their service -- and themselves -- with such sick acts, are in jail.
But now the grand inquisitor Cheney, who took five deferments in the Vietnam War rather than experience it for himself, wants more. Sen. John McCain, who DOES know what war is all about, put forward an amendment to the $440 billion military spending bill banning the military and all government agencies from engaging in torture. Ninety senators voted for the new law, including 46 Republicans. So Cheney stepped in with a further amendment to the McCain amendment, which transfers torture to the CIA to use against the many foreign prisoners it is secretly holding abroad. These men have "disappeared," just like they do in the old banana republics and the gulags of the totalitarians.
"I suspect what Cheney's been saying to McCain is that we've got a few people who know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the others," political scientist Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institution mused with me. "That we've got to use any means necessary to get information from very specific people. He's looking toward short-term goals without any understanding of the long-term consequences, which gets to the underlying reason why McCain is pushing ... The rules are in place to protect US. If this becomes official policy, then the enemy says that they can do the same thing."
But anyone who has studied the use of torture knows it doesn't work. Prisoners will tell their tormentors exactly what they want to hear. Among Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, too often, torture has become the "sport" of sociopaths. (According to Cherif Bassiouni, the renowned human rights and international law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, with fully 30 percent of our army recruits being kids with criminal sentences who were allowed to work their way out in the military, we are already courting trouble.)
Bassiouni told me that he has been called in as an expert witness on some of the trials of the foreigners held at Guantanamo. "You look at them," he told me with a deep impatience, "and you see how insignificant they are! One guy was a driver in Kandahar for one of the terrorists -- for a week. In my No. 2 case, the fellow operated a video shop."
Bassiouni then told of the private contractors who operate wholly on their own. He outlined how team after team of interrogators comes in. The first team says they "got something," so the second has to "get something," too. They charge $200 per hour per person to interrogate, and more than likely, they draw out their time clock by torturing prisoners. For four men for four hours, that's $3,200 of taxpayer money paid for the ugly demeaning of everything America once stood for. With the neocons and Cheney and their dark lusts, we are eating our own principles alive.
"America has lost its capacity for being indignant," Dr. Bassiouni summed up. "Where has our capacity for indignation gone? When a nation loses its respect for the Constitution and its treaties, what is next? And leaving even that aside, the next American serviceman who is being tortured -- and we can't go to his rescue -- will show us exactly what we have done."
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