Monday, December 19, 2005

Vice President Cheney on Nightline

Tonight's Nightline featured a one-on-one interview by ABC's Terry Moran of Vice President Dick Cheney at the al Asad air base in al Anbar governate in western Iraq. (Al Anbar governate is one of the three Sunni-dominated provinces that voted overwhelmingly against the Iraqi constitution.) The Vice President's dissembling was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Indeed, I disagree with ABC's characterization of the veep's answers as "frank and direct." Here are a few highlights.

ABC/Terry Moran: This is your first trip to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. What surprised you today? What do you know about Iraq today that you didn't know yesterday?

Vice President Cheney: Well, I think, like most people who've looked at it, I've been tremendously impressed with what happened in the election this past week. I really think that's maybe a seminal event in the history of Iraq, that it's such an important part of the process of building a democracy, a viable Iraq, an Iraq that can stand on its own. ... There is strong support, even in the Sunni areas, for participation in the political process.

Moran: But you know, we've had elections before in this country now, twice before. There was that moment of hope after the January elections ... and those hopes have been dashed again and again.

Cheney: I disagree with the notion that the hopes have been dashed. I don't think that's true.

Moran: The violence has continued.

Cheney: Well, the violence has continued, but I think the key in terms of looking at the elections is that they've made every single milestone that's been set, every single one. From the time we turned over sovereignty in June '04 to the first elections in January, then writing the constitution, getting the constitution ratified, and now national elections under that new constitution. They've had three elections this year. Each one's gotten better and stronger and more effective. I do think it's serving to undermine the legitimacy of the insurgency. I think it will make it increasingly difficult for the insurgents to be effective.

Moran: You talk about undermining the legitimacy of the resistance. Before the war, you said that Americans would be greeted as liberators here, and yet your own trip here today was taken in such secrecy that not even the prime minister of this country knew you were coming, and your movements around are in incredible secrecy and security. Do you ever think about how and why you got it wrong?

Cheney: I don't think I got it wrong. I think the vast majority of the Iraqi people are grateful for what the United States did. I think they believe overwhelmingly that they're better off today than they were when Saddam Hussein ruled. I think the vast majority of them think of us as liberators, and I think your own polls show that, Terry. If you look at the poll that was done just recently by ABC, it shows a great deal of optimism and hope on the part of the Iraqi people that their lives are better and are going to get better in the future, so I really believe that the notion that somehow the Iraqi people opposed what we did when we came in and toppled Saddam Hussein or that a majority of them are against it, is just dead wrong. It's not true. I think a majority of them supported it.

Moran: There's still a great debate in our country about how we got into this war, and many Americans — most, according to some polls — believe that you and the President misled the country into this war by deliberately exaggerating the threat from Saddam Hussein and deliberately suppressing the doubt and uncertainty that we now know existed in the intelligence community about his weapons of mass destruction programs. You said in 2002, "There is no doubt," but there was. Did you know it?

Cheney: No, but Terry, go back and look at the studies — the analysis that was done by the Robb-Silverman Commission or by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Everybody believed in advance that he did in fact have weapons of mass destruction. It turns out that the intelligence was wrong. The director of the CIA, when asked by the President of the United States in the Oval Office, how good is the intelligence on WMD's, said it's a slam-dunk case. That was the view of the intelligence community. There might've been people some place down in the bowels of the organization who didn't agree with it, but that was never communicated —

Moran: You never heard any doubt about these programs?

Cheney: No, everybody — it was a very solid, slam-dunk case, is the way it was presented. But beyond that, to some extent that's a bit of a side issue, because what we did was exactly the right thing to do. As the President said the other day, if we had the decision to make over again, knowing what we know now, would we have done it? The answer is, absolutely. We did exactly the right thing. The world is far safer with Saddam out of business, and Iraq will be a democracy, a government capable of defending its own interests, taking care of itself, will help fundamentally transform this part of the world, because of what we've accomplished here, what the troops are doing here, and what the Iraqis themselves are doing.
I included a link to the poll that Cheney mentioned, and the spin he put on it is entirely unsupported by the facts. Cheney claimed that the vast majority of Iraqis view us as liberators, but in fact a majority believe that the U.S.-led invasion was a mistake, and support for the U.S. position has eroded significantly since the previous ABC poll in February 2004. 65% of Iraqis oppose the U.S. presence, and fewer than 20% believe that U.S. reconstruction efforts have been effective. An anemic 54% majority of Shi'ites in Iraq believe that the country is better off now than it was under Saddam, and only 7% of Sunnis share that view. How, exactly, is that "the vast majority" viewing us as liberators?
Moran: The President has now acknowledged authorizing, and reauthorizing more than 30 times, a program to spy on Americans without any warrant from any court. This is a huge change —

Cheney: I think that's a slight distortion of what the President said. What the President said is that we will use all of our power and authority, in the decision we made after 9/11, to do everything we can to defend the country. That's our obligation; we take an oath of office to do that —

Moran: That's not in dispute.

Cheney: — and that, when we have a situation where we have communications between someone inside the United States and an acknowledged al Qaeda or terrorist source outside the United States, that that's something we need to know, and he has authorized us to look at that. And it is in fact consistent with the Constitution. It's been reviewed — it's reviewed every 45 days by the President himself, by the Attorney General of the United States, by the President's counsel, by the director of the CIA, it's been briefed to the Congress over a dozen times, and in fact it is a program that is, by every effort we've been able to make, consistent with the statutes and with the law. It's the kind of capability that, if we'd had before 9/11, might've led us to be able to prevent 9/11. We had two 9/11 terrorists in San Diego, prior to the attack, in contact with al Qaeda sources outside the United States. We didn't know it. ...

Moran: Mr. Vice President, this is a program that surveils people inside the United States —

Cheney: — who are in touch with al Qaeda terrorists outside the United States.

Moran: Don't you have to have a court give permission for that? In any other circumstances, to eavesdrop on communications within America.

Cheney: Terry, these are communications that involve acknowledged or known terrorists, "dirty numbers" if you will, and in fact, it is consistent with the President's Constitutional authority as commander-in-chief, it's consistent with the resolution that was passed by the Congress after 9/11, and it has been reviewed repeatedly by the Justice Department every single time it's been renewed, to make certain that it is in fact managed in a manner that's fully consistent with the Constitution and with our statutes.

Moran: But that's all the Executive Branch. The Constitution calls for a court, a co-equal branch of government, as a check on the power of the executive, to give a say-so before an American, or someone in America, is surveiled or searched or spied upon.

Cheney: This has been done, Terry, in a manner that is completely consistent with our obligations and requirements, I can assure you. That's one of the reasons we hold it and watch it so carefully. That's why it has to go to the President every 30 to 45 days to make absolutely certain that we are in compliance with all of those safeguards with respect to individual liberty, and that it is managed in a very conservative fashion, and it is signed up to by the Attorney General of the United States, and reviewed by the office of legal counsel in the Justice Department, so we spend a lot of time making certain that this is in fact safeguarded, and, as I say, we've briefed Congress on it — just a few members, the leadership — on over a dozen occasions.
The Fourth Amendment says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I have the right to be secure in my communications (papers and effects, more or less) against unreasonable searches. No search warrant may be issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation. The arbiter — the "judge," if you will — of "probable cause" for issuing a warrant is a judge, not a bureaucrat in the NSA.

The President's executive order allowing eavesdropping on Americans without a court order is flatly unconstitutional, and the issuance of that order is a "high crime" against the United States of America. In other words, President Bush should be impeached for issuing this executive order, even if no other grounds for impeachment existed.
Moran: The President has said that we do not torture, and Senator McCain proposed a measure, in part to vindicate those values, that would ban the cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody anywhere in the world. Why did you fight so hard against that?

Cheney: Well, we ultimately reached a compromise between the President and Senator McCain. It was arrived at just last week. The position I took was one that was the position the administration had taken when we signaled to the Congress that we were prepared to veto any bill that went farther than we thought it should in terms of trying to restrict the prerogatives of the President and the Executive Branch.

Moran: How so, when it comes to cruel and inhuman treatment? What is the President's prerogative when it comes to cruel treatment of prisoners?

Cheney: There is a definition that is based on prior Supreme Court decisions, and it has to do with the Fourth, Thirteenth — three specific Amendments to the Constitution [that would be the 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments] — and the rule is whether or not it is something that "shocks the conscience." You can get into a debate about what "shocks the conscience" and what is "cruel and inhumane"; to some extent, I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder, but I believe, and I think it's important to remember that we are in a war against a group of individuals, a terrorist organization, that did in fact slaughter 3,000 innocent Americans on 9/11, that it's important for us to have effective interrogation of these people when we capture them.

Moran: Should American interrogators be staging mock executions, waterboarding prisoners? Is that cruel —

Cheney: I'm not going to get into specifics. You're getting into questions about sources and methods and I don't talk about that, Terry.

Moran: As Vice President of the United States, you can't tell the American people whether or not we would interrogate —

Cheney: I can say that we are in fact consistent with the commitments of the United States that we don't engage in torture, and we don't.

Moran: Are you troubled at all that more than 100 people in U.S. custody have died, 26 of them now being investigated as criminal homicides? People beaten to death, suffocated to death, died of hypothermia in U.S. custody?

Cheney: I won't accept your numbers, Terry. I guess one of the things that I'm concerned about is that, as we get farther and farther away from 9/11, and there have been no further attacks against the United States, there seems to be less and less concern about doing what's necessary in order to defend the country. I think, for example, the PATRIOT Act, a vital piece of legislation, it was in fact passed in the aftermath of 9/11, it extended our ability to operate with respect to the counter-terrorist effort. We need to maintain the capability of this government to be able to defend the nation, and that means we have to take extraordinary measures, but we do do it in a manner that's consistent with the Constitution and consistent with our statutes. When we needed statutory authority, as we did for the PATRIOT Act, we went and got it, and now Congress, the Democrats, are trying to filibuster it.

Moran: Does the United States maintain secret prisons around the world?

Cheney: I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters.

Moran: Secret prisons?

Cheney: I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters.

Moran: Does the International Red Cross have access to everyone in U.S. custody, as we are obliged?

Cheney: Terry, with all due respect, I won't discuss intelligence matters. I shouldn't.

Moran: I'd like to put this personally. You're a grandfather, I'm a father. When we look at those girls and we think that the country we're about to pass on to them is a country where the Vice President can't say whether or not we have secret prisons around the world, whether waterboarding or mock executions are consistent with our values, and a country where the government is surveiling Americans without the warrant of a court — is that the kind of country we want to pass on to them?

Cheney: We want to pass on to them a country that is free, that is not plagued by terrorist attacks, doesn't see a repeat of the terrible events of 9/11 when we lost 3,000 of our people that morning to a handful of terrorists who had no justification at all for what they do. I can guarantee you that what we do do as a government, as an administration, is to support and uphold the Constitution of the United States, that we do in fact take extraordinary steps to make certain we maintain our Constitutional obligations and responsibilities, which include both defending the country as well as defending individual liberties and protecting the rights of all Americans.

Moran: But it's not the America we grew up in.

Cheney: Having said all that, well, you know, somehow we go through these cycles. After 9/11, we are berated for allegedly not connecting the dots. "You guys weren't tough enough, you weren't aggressive enough, you didn't follow up on all the leads." And now, you know, it's been four years, maybe it was a one-off event. Maybe the terrorists just hit us accidentally. Maybe there's nothing for us to be concerned about. I know that's not true, and I want my kids to grow up in a strong, free, independent America where they are free from the kinds of outrages that have been perpetrated not only in New York and Washington, but in Madrid and Casablanca and ─░stanbul and Bali and Jakarta, all over the globe. We're up against a very tough adversary, and under those circumstances we need to do everything we can to protect the American people. That's got to be a prime concern for us, and it is.

Moran: Even if it's changing who we are?

Cheney: It's not changing who we are. We've had times in the past where we've had to go before, take steps to protect ourselves. The whole argument over military commissions — should the President be able to set up military commissions to try unlawful combatants, terrorists who've committed murder or other outrageous acts against the American people. The precedent for that is FDR in World War II, who set up military commissions to try German spies who came into the United States to commit acts of terror. They tried them, perfectly tried, it was a legal proceeding, and they were executed. Everybody acts as though a military commission established now is somehow a brand new development — no, it's not, it's a precedent based exactly on what was done in World War II by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Extraordinary times offer extraordinary measures, but we do everything we can — and I say successfully — to defend our basic Constitutional liberties. That's part of who we are, that's part of what we have to do.
The "compromise" the Veep referred to between the Prez and Senator McCain was that the President accepted exactly, word for word, the original language that McCain proposed. The "compromise" was that the President's abject capitulation was announced on the same day that the Iraqi election was drawing the attention of the world and particularly the U.S. news media.

The existence of secret detention facilities without Red Cross access to the prisoners would violate our international obligations and our laws. Cheney says that we are not doing anything that violates our international obligations or our laws. Yet he refuses to say that we do not have secret detention facilities. What is the conclusion of any reasonable person from those three facts? They do not add up. Cheney is lying.

The Veep "respectfully declined to talk about" Valerie Plame.
Moran: As Vice President, can you answer, did you direct anyone to disclose her identity or to lie about disclosing her identity?

Cheney: Terry, you can ask the question any way you want. Scooter Libby is a close friend of mine, he's one of the most able and talented people I know, he's entitled to the presumption of innocence, and from my perspective, it would be totally inappropriate for me to comment, period. ...

Moran: I'm going to try once more, because I'm not really asking about the criminal —

Cheney: The answer will be the same, Terry.

Moran: — I'm asking about the conduct of the Vice President, and people have a right to know that. Did you direct anyone to disclose her name or to cover up disclosing her name?

Cheney: Terry, I have given you the answer. I will not say any more about it. There will be a time when I can discuss it, but not now.
Terry Moran did not ask about Scooter Libby's guilt or innocence. He asked about Dick Cheney's personal involvement, and Dick Cheney refused to deny having directed anyone to disclose the identity of an undercover CIA operative or to cover up that disclosure. If it looks like a rotting dead fish and it smells like a rotting dead fish, it probably isn't a bottle of perfume.