Today, Vice President Cheney gave a speech at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute in response to President Obama’s speech on human rights. Cheney launched an aggressive defense of the Bush administration’s torture program by saying that it was necessary after the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
In the years after 9/11, our government also understood that the safety of the country required collecting information known only to the worst of the terrorists. And in a few cases, that information could be gained only through tough interrogations.
In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do.
Cheney also criticized critics of the Bush administration’s program, calling it “feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.” He then claimed that these critics are attacking intelligence officers for trying to “avenge the dead of 9/11” through torture:
I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about “values.” Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. … We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.
Cheney has set up a straw man. Critics are not upset at intelligence officers for trying to “avenge the dead of 9/11” by “rough[ing] up some terrorists.” People are upset at top Bush administration officials for authorizing human rights violations in order to pursue a political agenda.
As the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report made clear, interrogators at Gitmo were under “pressure” to produce evidence of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, even though they were ultimately unsuccesful. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link…there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results,” said former U.S. Army psychiatrist Maj. Charles Burney.
In his attempt to justify torture because of the constraints the Bush administration was facing after 2001, Cheney referenced 9/11 25 times. “Iraq” was mentioned just twice.
When Cheney claims that he is speaking for the “little guys,” just keep in mind how popular he really is. Matt Yglesias has put together this helpful comparison:
Steve Benen says that what was most striking about Cheney’s speech was “its lack of anything new or compelling.” He also notes that “one of the concerns that stood out for me, though, was Cheney’s frequent references to about ‘euphemisms.’ Since when does Cheney find “euphemisms” so offensive? We are, after all, talking about the leader of an administration that came up with some doozies in euphemism department.”