Dick Cheney II
Bill Long 10/29/06
Falling into Scott Hennen's Trap
So, Hennen posed the question to Cheney that it seemed a little "silly" for people to be worrying about a little "dunking" in the water when America was facing terrorist threats. Cheney partially took the bait and said, at first, only "I do agree." Then he talked about how interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad had yielded immensely important intelligence data for the US. But notice what Cheney has now done. He hasn't really yet fully taken Hennen's bait. Hennen wanted to get Cheney to agree to say that a little dunk in the water (i.e., a code word for waterboarding, which the US has condemned as an element of torture) was not so bad. He tried to set up Cheney for the issue by asking several questions, really, to which Cheney only answered "I do agree" before tallking about Khalid. So, in fact, Hennen really didn't yet have a clear answer to his question. Cheney was still being a bit ambiguous.
Here is where you can tell that Hennen is trying to make a name for himself. Rather than letting the VP skate by with a "I do agree" to a series of questions, he has to pin Cheney down. And, he knows that he only has one more chance to ask a specific question to pin down the VP. But, Hennen has prepared Cheney for this moment by giving him a chance to tout himself and the Administration. Cheney now feels, as we all would after a virtuoso performance, that he is atop the world again.
The Coup de Grace
Then, Hennen asks the question again, this time in an unambiguous way:
"Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?"
No question about it. Hennen may be a conservative (indeed, that is probably how he got the interview with Cheney), but he is going for his own career with this question. The heck with the VP. It is Scott's potential moment of fame. There is no question that he is asking about a torture technique, because that is the context of the interview--interrogation techniques. There can be no question that anything else but waterboarding is being referred to--no one is thinking about this being a playful romp of 12 year-olds in the neighborhood pool. Thus, torture is on the table. Hennen wants to go for his own glory. Cheney has been "pumped up" by Hennen and is in familiar and comfortable surroundings (his office). He feels his power and perhaps his sense of righteousness. He knows he is right. So, he answers the question put to him by Hennen.
"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."
Oops. "Dunking" in water is a no-brainer for the VP. But then it is as if he begins to backtrack as soon as he said it. He has been had, but he quickly tries to retreat. What is the relationship, in fact, between the first and second part of the first sentence? There is no reason for him to bring up the fact that people accused him of being the "VP for torture" unless he knows that his "no-brainer" answer specifically implicates the question of torture. He knows that it does. That is why he connects it to torture and then tries to back down from what he has said. He says, as it were, 'Dunking is a no-brainer; we get good information from people by using this method; oops, I better backpedal. What I mean to say is that we don't condone torture. We obey the law (you can almost hear the tape playing). We do interrogate them robustly but we stay well within the bounds of the law.'
When Tony Snow, the fairly new Presidential Press Secretary (why did he deal with it, rather than Cheney's office?) dealt with this admission, he had to try to explain it away. In his highly impressive style he suggested that 'the VP wouldn't be so dumb as to suggest that waterboarding was OK.' So, in fact, Tony Snow makes this an issue of the VP's intelligence. But I don't think so. What is going on is that the VP got trapped by a good journalist. It happens all the time. Ask Jimmy Carter and lusting for women. Ask Henry Kissinger and admitting to Viet Nam's being a colossal mistake. Journalists know how to corner their prey and ask questions of them. That Chris Wallace failed so miserably with Bill Clinton doesn't mean that reporters don't do it; it just means that he wasn't too good at this trick of the trade.
The really sad thing in all of this is not only that the # 2 person in the Administration is now on the record, despite his hurried denials, as endorsing a form of torture that the US has long-considered off limits, but that he has completely eviscerated his own credibility with a large swath of the American people. Whereas Colin Powell, in the words of Sidney Blumenthal, is an "almost tragic" person, this answer makes Dick Cheney seem like an "almost evil" person. The sad part is that Dick Cheney wasn't always this way or perceived this way. He had all the makings of a distinguished career in public service--a career that could have been widely affirmed by those on the right as well as those in the center of the political spectrum. Maybe it was 9/11 that did it; maybe something else. But it is now the case, beyond peradventure, that Dick Cheney has lost all ability to speak for anything other than the "Darth Vader" element of the Republican Party. That, too, is part of the tragedy of 9/11.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long