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Dispatches from the Dark Side

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Today, former vice-president Dick Cheney delivered a speech called (I'm not kidding) "Keeping America Safe" at the neoconservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute where Cheney is also a trustee. The title gave me pause because I - like many Americans - remember something called 9/11 that happened both on George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's watch. So if someone asks me who I think keeps America safe, the first name that pops into my head isn't Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney.

Cheney accurately summarized his own service as Vice President when he murmured about "the dark side" and slithering in the "shadows [of] the intelligence world" during his 2001 Meet the Press appearance. Some of the craziest Constitutional and international law violations occurred when Cheney controlled the President's attention: Iraq, The Patriot Act, wiretapping, torture, suspension of Habeas Corpus, the US attorney firings, the list goes on and on.

Dick Cheney is a painful reminder of America's sins to a population eager to make amends with the rest of humanity. It's rare that Americans get to see such a Machiavellian creature in its essence, while it's still alive. History books normally act as a buffer between citizens and the dark deeds of their leaders. They get to soothe themselves with retrospect and say, "Yeah, maybe Lincoln shouldn't have suspended Habeas during the Civil War," or "Roosevelt's Japanese detention camps were a bit much." But Dick is very much alive, free, and still trying to convince Americans that even as he violated their Constitution and spearheaded an illegal war, he was keeping them safe. And he's still keeping them safe.

Today, the dark lord returned to AEI to pump more meaningless propaganda into the ears of his sycophantic underlings. Cheney opened his speech by saying he approves of Obama's decision on Afghanistan and reversing his decision to release the photos documenting abuse, and then stressed the old adage that it's essential Americans not look backward (where crimes have been committed,) but look to the future (where crimes cannot have occurred yet).

Whatever choices [our President] makes concerning the defense of this country, those choices should not be based on slogans and campaign rhetoric, but on a truthful telling of history.

Apparently, the law also does not factor into the President's decision-making, and history is whatever weird, warped interpretation of events Cheney espouses to a roomful of crazed neoconservatives.

Cheney continued, "Part of our responsibility, as we saw it, was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America ... and not to let 9/11 become the prelude to something much bigger and far worse." And yet that is precisely what the Bush administration guaranteed through its systematic destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, and areas of Pakistan.

James Cromitie, one of the men accused of being part of the alleged planned bombing of a New York City synagogue said he participated in the terrorist activity because "his parents had lived in Afghanistan and he was upset about the war there and that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces." No one can know how many people might have died had the synagogue attack taken place, but what we can be certain of is that Cromitie is not alone in his hatred for the United States, and that prolonged occupation of foreign countries can only result in more of this blowback. Cheney and Bush have played a large part in any future attacks on American soil by implementing their aggressive military strategies abroad.

Cheney reiterated his ideology of preemption, or the One Percent Doctrine as described by author Ron Suskind where threats with even a 1% likelihood must be treated as certainties. Such a paranoid, Minority Report view of the world increases the possibility of hitting the wrong targets. "We didn't know what was coming next, but everything we did know in that autumn of 2001 looked bad," said Cheney. Of course it did. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Men who are eager to make war will find enemies in the most unlikely places.

Ridiculously, Cheney pulled out the discredited Saddam-Al Qaeda connection yet again to "prove" his point that America's enemies were everywhere: "We had the training camps of Afghanistan, and dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists." Perhaps to hurry us past the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the events of September 11, 2001, Cheney then launched into a summary of 9/11 that would have made Jack Bauer swoon. Cheney described being swept off to an underground bunker, and later hearing about "the final phone calls from hijacked planes, [and] the final horror for those who jumped to their death to escape burning alive." As if the 24-hour news cycle didn't already sear those traumatic images into the minds of Americans, Cheney is back to remind us of the events in order to defend his own mistakes and bankrupt ideology.

Hunting down every single person who hates America is - as you'd imagine - difficult, so America had to switch from defense to offense, Cheney explained. The claim that America has ever been utilizing a "defensive" strategy is in itself laughable. Furthermore, Cheney glossed over the fact that his "offensive" strategies included domestically spying on American citizens and invading a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

At this point, Cheney said something with which I actually agree, "We did all of these things, and with bipartisan support put all these policies in place." That's true. They did have bipartisan support, which is why I hold the Democrats equally responsible for much of the Bush era war crimes. This is also why I'm filled with concern that many of Obama's decisions have Cheney's seal of approval.

Cheney's proof of victory is that the "enemy" is now on the "defensive," and "every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed." Certainly, bombing the hell out of entire countries may lower the risk of being attacked, but it also vastly increases the risk of blowback. Cheney mockingly refers to blowback as the left sighing that "we brought it on ourselves." What he fails to grasp is that recognizing our mistakes and trying to evolve foreign policy is the work of adults, and not grown men playing soldier from a safe distance in their underground bunker. In Cheneyland, the terrorists attack us because of the "values we profess." Cheney's ideology is - as always - extremely immature, cruel, and myopic.

Cheney claims that specific terrorist attacks were thwarted because interrogators were able to use "tough interrogation" i.e. torture. Even if that is true, such an excuse is again myopic and fails to recognize the terrible consequences of torture. Torture frequently produces false evidence and sends investigators on wild goose chases that cost millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Torture has never been conclusively proven to be faster or more reliable that other methods of interrogation. Al-Qaeda uses the fact that America now tortures to recruit more people to fight for them. Matthew Alexander, a former interrogator, writes, "These foreign fighters made up approximately 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq at that time, in addition to leading and participating in thousands of attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces." Cheney misconstrues this point and says interrogators were "too lenient" with the men that returned to the battlefield post-torture. Maybe he would have preferred execution squads.

Quite simply: torture makes more terrorists and makes America less safe.

Strangely, Cheney's defense of torture has led him to request a "Truth Commission." I fully support that and think it would benefit America greatly to get the facts on the table. Of course, Cheney shies away from criminal prosecutions should any bad be dug up with the good. "Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals."

No, some are demanding criminals (even white, wealthy criminals) be treated as criminals. That notion seems strange to Cheney, but it doesn't seem strange to the majority of Americans, who want investigations into whether Bush officials broke the law. Cheney and his cronies are accustomed to skirting the law, but when it becomes too blatant that they committed a violation, they blame an underling. "At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency." The "few bad apples" excuse is worn out and tired, particularly when one considers high-ranking officials like Donald Rumsfeld were sending our memos in regards to the torturing of prisoners that asked, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?" Corruption starts at the head and rots downward, and torture was not the brainchild of Lynndie England.

Cheney went on to mock Obama's philosophy of compromise. "In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed." Again, I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Cheney. When it comes to torture, there is no middle ground and there is no such thing as a little torture. It's always wrong, and those that torture and allowed torture should be prosecuted.

Cheney saved the timely issue of Guantanamo for the end of his speech. "The administration has found that it's easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo." Apparently, law-abiding citizens now qualify as European. Does that mean we get decent health care? Cheney continues in his mocking tone, "But it's tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America's national security." No it isn't. Bring the prisoners to America, keep them in supermax, and give them fair trials.

Like he was the prize-winner in a second grade "Why I Love America" contest, Cheney closed with a series of platitudes (my comments are in parenthesis): America loves women (unless they make a choice about their own bodies or want equal pay,) America loves Israel (even when they kill Palestinian babies,) America likes freedom of speech (if it's the right speech,) and religion (as long as you admit there's a man sitting in the sky). We protect human rights (by blowing up the planet, torturing people, and domestically spying on our own citizens). We are good and just (except when we make war and refuse to obey the Constitution and our own laws).

Cheney ended by thanking us, or rather, his audience at AEI. But we should thank him to. No other man illustrates quite so clearly what American should not be. Cheney heaping praise upon President Obama should inspire great concern in his supporters. If there's one man you don't want your President to resemble, it's Dick.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.