Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 16, 2008
WAR: Cheney Holds His Ground

After September 11, the United States awoke to a series of unpleasant realities: an enemy was at war with us, and had been for some years; that enemy was not a traditional nation-state, but a loose confederation of non-state-actors - with safe havens and support provided by foreign states, to be sure, but united by a common political/religious ideology rather than by a geographic base; the enemy worked both within and without our borders, and depended on stealth; and our government was institutionally unprepared to deal with an enemy of that nature and methods. The Bush Administration, from that day to this, has faced a long series of hard choices in prosecuting a war unlike the major wars of the past: how to conduct surveillance on the enemy, how to detain and interrogate captured enemies, how to get boots on the ground overseas, and how to remake our intelligence and law enforcement systems to handle the information gained by doing all these things.

One of the signal failures of the Bush second term, in particular, has been an undue timidity in defending the hard and difficult choices made - choices, in many cases, that Barack Obama will have little realistic option but to ratify if he's going to be serious about defending the country. Attorney General Muskasey has been one rare exception to this trend, but the Administration's last and strongest voice on national security remains Vice President Cheney. Kudos to the VP for standing up for the Administration's security policies in a recent interview with ABC News:

On surveillance:

KARL: But you've heard leaders, the incoming Congress, saying that this policy has basically been torture and illegal wiretapping, and that they want to undo, basically, the central tenets of your anti-terrorism policy.

CHENEY: They're wrong. On the question of terrorist surveillance, this was always a policy to intercept communications between terrorists or known terrorists, or so-called "dirty numbers," and folks inside the United States to capture those international communications.

It's worked. It's been successful. It's now embodied in the FISA statute that we passed last year -- and that Barack Obama voted for, which I think was a good decision on his part. It's a very, very important capability. It is legal. It was legal from the very beginning. It is constitutional. To claim that it isn't, I think is just wrong.

The Administration was right all along on surveillance, although it's good to have clearer statutory authorization to put an end to that controversy once and for all. Obama had to grow up and accept that reality, even if he wasn't able to admit that to his supporters.

On Guantanamo and detention policy:

KARL: More than two years ago, President Bush said that he was -- wanted to close down Guantanamo Bay. Why has that not happened?

CHENEY: It's very hard to do. Guantanamo has been the repository, if you will, of hundreds of terrorists, or suspected terrorists, that we've captured since 9/11. They -- many of them, hundreds -- have been released back to their home countries. What we have left is the hard core.

Their cases are reviewed on an annual basis to see whether or not they're still a threat, whether or not they're still intelligence value in terms of continuing to hold them.

But -- and we're down now to some 200 being held at Guantanamo. But that includes the core group, the really high-value targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Now, the question: If you're going to close Guantanamo, what are you going to do with those prisoners?

One suggestion is, well, we bring them to the United States. Well, I don't know very many congressmen, for example, who are eager to have 200 al Qaeda terrorists deposited in their district....


...I don't know any other nation in the world that would do what we've done in terms of taking care of people who are avowed enemies, and many of whom still swear up and down that their only objective is to kill more Americans.

KARL: So, when do you think we'll be at a point where Guantanamo could be responsibly shut down?

CHENEY: Well, I think that that would come with the end of the war on terror.

KARL: When's that going to be?

CHENEY: Well, nobody knows. Nobody can specify that. Now, in previous wars, we've always exercised the right to capture the enemy and then hold them till the end of the conflict. That's what we did in World War II with, you know, thousands, hundreds of thousands of German prisoners. The same basic principle ought to apply here in terms of our right to capture the enemy and hold them.

As I say, the other option is to turn them over to somebody else. A lot of them, nobody wants. I mean, there's a great resistance sometimes in the home countries to taking these people back into their own territory.


I think everybody can say we wished there were no necessity for Guantanamo. But you have to be able to answer these other questions before you can do that responsibly. And that includes, what are you going to do with the prisoners held in Guantanamo? And nobody yet has solved that problem.

KARL: What's the danger in doing this too soon, you know, just make this symbolic gesture to shut the place down?

CHENEY: Well, if you release people that shouldn't have been released -- and that's happened in some cases already -- you end up with them back on the battlefield.

And we've had, as I recall now -- and these are rough numbers, I'd want to check them -- but, say, approximately 30 of these folks have been held in Guantanamo, then released, and ended up back on the battlefield again, and we've encountered them a second time around. But they've either been killed or captured in further conflicts with our forces.

On interrogation techniques:

The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful -- wouldn't do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong. Did it produce the desired results? I think it did.

I think, for example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information. There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source. So, it's been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.

And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don't know what they're talking about.

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don't.


KARL: And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?


The use of aggressive interrogation techniques should, for a variety of reasons I've discussed before, be sparing. Most of us agree that the U.S. should not conduct torture, period - but there remains fair debate about where you draw that line. Certainly, as with detainees, we need and still don't have a genuine legal framework to cover questioning of detainees who are neither soldiers of a nation nor common criminals, and who we need to question to get the time-sensitive intelligence that is the lifeblood of anti-terror policy.

But of course the Administration's critics have always been more interested in conducting a campaign of hyperbole designed to inflame the nation's critics at home and abroad than in having a serious debate on the issue. The early indications have been that the Obama Administration will try to return to the Clinton-era policy of rendition of more high-value detainees for questioning by foreign governments, while claiming to maintain total purity on the treatment of detainees. Rendition has pros and cons of its own, but it's fundamentally dishonest to use it solely because we can't admit that we need to get information out of hard-boiled terrorists.

And finally, on Iraq:

KARL: You probably saw Karl Rove last week said that if the intelligence had been correct we probably would not have gone to war.

CHENEY: I disagree with that. I think as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What we found in the after action reports, after the intelligence report was done and then various special groups went and looked at the intelligence and what its validity was. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stocks.

They also found that he had every intention of resuming production once the international sanctions were lifted. He had a long reputation and record of having started two wars. Of having brutalized and killed hundreds of thousands of people, some of them with weapons of mass destruction in his own country. He had violated 16 National Security Council resolutions. He had established a relationship as a terror sponsoring state according to the State Department. He was making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers.

This was a bad actor and the country's better off, the world's better off with Saddam gone and I think we made the right decision in spite of the fact that the original NIE was off in some of its major judgments.

There's much more in the interview, from the folly of poll-tested policy to his thoughts on Obama's national security team. This much is clear: Dick Cheney is one guy who will be leaving office with his head held high for the Bush Administration's accomplishments in 8 hard and difficult years to be managing national security.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:23 PM | War 2007-14 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)

This comment thread will be fun to watch. It is almost as if you got bored and said to yourself "I wonder what would really stir up the crazies? I know unapologetic comments from Cheney should do the trick."

Posted by: largebill at December 16, 2008 10:30 PM

Nice of him to admit he's a war criminal.
Cheney acts like he's on a rollercoaster as far as Saddam Hussein is concerned. We know he supported him in the 80s, was against him during the first Iraq War, liked him enough to do business with him in the 90s (despite the US making it illegal to do so), and led the crusade to overthrow him and occupy his country this decade. If Saddam were alive today, Dick would be calling him asking what size sweater he might like as a Christmas gift (only to sic a bottle full of moths on his closet in another 8 months or so).
Like the saying goes: if you don't like the way Cheney feels about Hussein, just wait a minute it'll change.

Posted by: Berto at December 16, 2008 11:32 PM

"Nice of him to admit he's a war criminal."

It's hard to take the rest of the post seriously after that sentence.

Posted by: MVH at December 17, 2008 7:35 AM

I thank him & his ilk for not allowing another attack on US soil for 7+ years. If you read Woodward's "Bush at War" it is very obvious that Cheney was obsessed with preventing otehr attacks and very sharp with his questions about what was at risk, what targets were vulnerable, and what would we do if X happened. I find it odd how people want us to always be noble and courteous while fighting a modern war vs. a non-state entity (this goes back to the desire for smart bombing even in WW2), forgetting the rather questionable tactics we have employed in other conflicts. Questionable interrogation tactics vs. free fire zones or the A-bomb? Are we that nit picky now? Sometimes you need a hard @ss on your side. Thanks for being the bad guy.

Posted by: son of brock landers at December 17, 2008 9:58 AM

I remember when Clinton admitted that he ordered the destruction of civilian electrical infrastructure in the hope it would put pressure on Milo. A war crime, but the lefties didn't care. Terrorizing civilians. And after lying about genocide in order to get into the war in the first place. Remember all the denunciations from the ACLU crowd? Hmm. me neither.

I do remember when they cheered wildly at the use of army tanks to kill the children at Waco. And cheered when Clinton shredded the constitution in the seizure of Elian.

Aren't lefties nice? They'll tell any lie, abuse any truth, support any travesty, commit any fraud, participate in any corruption, as long as it furthers the cause. It's the only "integrity" they understand.

Posted by: stan at December 17, 2008 10:28 AM

'They'll tell any lie, abuse any truth, support any travesty, commit any fraud, participate in any corruption, as long as it furthers the cause. It's the only "integrity" they understand.
So now Bush and Cheney are lefties?
Sorry stan, they ARE Conservatives no matter how much you with it weren't so.
BTW, Bill Clinton was a TERRIBLE President*.
Here's more bad news, stan: Clinton, Cheney, and Bush are politicians and not members of a sports team you support.
* Not as terrible as W or Reagan, but he's only human.

son of brock,
I think I deserve some kudos as well. The hasn't been a terrorist attack on US soil since I switched from regular to decaf coffee back in late September 2001. I drink decaf here so that terrorists will attack our sitting duck soldiers over there.
That's right, I've been keeping America safe from terrorists but I still get grief from clowns like MVH. Such is life for those of us (like me and Cheney) whose actions are completely tied to protecting US citizens from terrorist attacks.
I wonder if stan will allow me to paint all my nay-sayers with a broad (and made-up) brush like he does.

Posted by: Berto at December 17, 2008 12:42 PM

Mea culpa.
It's been pointed out to me that my actions (switching from regular to decaf coffee) hasn't prevented a terrorist attack on US soil since my actions didn't usurp the Constitution of the United States or directly lead to the slaughter of well over 100,000 innocent Iraqis.
It was also pointed out that both my and Cheney's actions didn't prevent the Anthrax attacks or DC sniper terrorist acts which took place on US soil after 9/11/2001.
Neither me nor Cheney deserve your kudos and I apologize for asking for them.

Posted by: Berto at December 17, 2008 1:06 PM

Berto, do you even know what a war criminal is? It seems that you think it's anyone who you dislike which I don't think is the proper definition.

Posted by: Tom at December 17, 2008 2:42 PM


Has it occurred to you that I am not a conservative republican and was against the war in Iraq (albeit for reasons vastly different from yours)? Yet, for some strange reason, "clowns" like me tend not to be persuaded by complete hyperbole, particularly when you throw the word "war criminal" around indiscriminantly.

And as for the Constitution, I'm sure you've heard or read somewhere that Bush "usurped the Constitution," so it must be true. No need to give us any legal reasoning.

And by the way, you criticize the loss of innocent lives, yet you hope that the US economy grinds to a halt and people starve so you can realize whatever utopian political scheme you have in mind. So much for your moral high ground.

But hey, as long as it makes you happy, keep posting. Just don't be surprised when people suspect you've been drinking something stronger than decaf.

Posted by: MVH at December 17, 2008 4:10 PM

Just remember, no matter what, politics is perception. Cheney is someone I can't stand, so you will realize my own perception: Not a good guy.

He insists he can shred documents, despite laws against it.
He claims he is not a part of the executive branch--pure BS no matter how he is paid.

Those are truths.

John McCain, you know, your former standard bearer, came out against the torture we do, while Cheney, you know, the guy who had other things to do when he was called on to serve, said it was fine. So really, the confusion is among Republicans here. Anyway, since politics is perception, then Cheney is a lost cause, and no amount of semantics can change it.

Did Bush and Cheney keep us safe? Of course, nobody knows, but if you ask around, I think you would be surprised how many people actually credit the NYPD.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at December 17, 2008 5:06 PM

I apologize if you feel insulted by what i posted. I may have you confused with the "Bush didn't lie" crowd that hangs here (I've already pointed out how Saddam DID NOT throw the N weapons inspectors out of Iraq).
Condoning and pushing for the torture of humans is a war crime.
Also, allow me to point out Article 4 of the US Constitution. Bush admitted he spied on American citizens without a warrant. Say what you will, but that's usurping the power of the Constitution of the United States. So is spying on political enemies, which we know his Administration has done as well.
BTW, I drink decaf because I've already woken-up top what those in power have done to this country and the people who live in it. May I buy you 10 shots of espresso?

Posted by: Berto at December 17, 2008 5:27 PM

You ask if I know the difference between a war criminal and someone who I just don't like. I hope this helps.

Madonna--Not a war criminal.
Henry Kissinger--War criminal
Neighbor who's dog shits in front of my steps-Not a war criminal.
Dick Cheney--War criminal.
Curt Schilling--Not a war criminal, just an apologist for those who are.
Judy Tenuta--Not a war criminal.
Billy Joel--Not a war criminal.
Slobodan Milosevic---War criminal.
Bill O'Reilly--Not a war criminal, just an apologist for those who are.
George Tenet--Not a war criminal that I know of, but he is a Medal of Freedom recipient for putting bad intelligence together which was used to gin up a war that killed 100s of thousands of innocent people.
Lyndie English--not a war criminal, just a bad apple (or so I'm told) for following the orders of war criminals.
George W. Bush--Hell ya he's a war criminal.

Posted by: Berto at December 17, 2008 9:00 PM


I admire how you are able to take a direct question, not answer it, and continue on your merry way.

Just listing people you think are war criminals and those that are not is NOT the same a defining what your conditions are for deciding if someone is a war criminal.

So please, can you define, in words us slow witted people can understand, just what is your criteria for someone being a war criminal?

Thank you!

Posted by: Lee at December 18, 2008 7:41 AM

That post was in response to Tom, who felt I was confusing people I didn't like (who I listed) and those who are/ were war criminals.
This one's for you.
If you are in a position of leadership and you put together a program which includes things such as the torture and abuse of prisoners, which you sign-off on and support it in action, you are a war criminal.
I hope that's clear enough for you.

Posted by: Berto at December 18, 2008 11:10 AM

A war criminal is like a Hall of Fame candidate. No real criteria, but you sort of know who they are. My best shot:

A war criminal is a murdering torturing thug for the losing side. Curtis LeMay once said that if the Japanese won the war he would be prosecuted as a war criminal, for fire bombing civilians.

Now was he? Considering the devastation Japan leveled on the Pacific nations, someone Chinese or Filipino, or Korean, would say no. As would the many American soldiers caught, killed and eaten (yes eaten). I do submit that crimes against cannibals count less. Otherwise, well, it's not an easy question. But no, I don't ever think Henry K was. What about Macnamara, who really escalated the war, knowing it was unwinnable?

No easy answers all around.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at December 18, 2008 3:25 PM

"Did Bush and Cheney keep us safe?" Do they get to take a mulligan for that WTC mishap?
Berto, thanks for the list, but I must disagree concerning Tenet- he belongs in the docket along with Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfield, and Rice.
As far as what makes who a war criminal,Benjamin Ferencz is more qualified than anyone else on this thread.

Posted by: rs at December 18, 2008 6:49 PM

OK, I disagree with Ferencz on what defines a war crime, which he said was an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. That alone just isn't enough. Was Italy guilty, or tried, or anything, when Mussolini ran things? No. Was Pol Pot a war criminal. Apparently not, because his torture and murderous rampage was confined within his own country, as was mostly Stalin and Mao. How about North Korea? What if the Nazis confined their acts to only Germany. Well they did in the 30s. Was Kristallnacht a war crime? The Sudan?

So I don't think Benjamin Ferencz is more qualified, because he was in an administrative command for one moment in history. Is he more qualified than Elie Wiesel?

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at December 19, 2008 9:32 AM

Under what name is Wiesel commenting on this thread?
Nevertheless, I don't think Wiesel's expertise lies in international law pertaining to war crimes, as does Ferencz'.

Posted by: rs at December 19, 2008 11:28 AM
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