06/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Unpleasant Things"

That was how Dick Cheney summarized what the International Red Cross described as treatment "tantamount to torture" handed out to certain US detainees. You pays your money...

But buried deep within the former Vice President's chest-thumping speech defending the Enhanced...excuse me, the Unpleasant Things Program was a bizarre boast. He said that immediately after 9/11, the US government targeted the threat of regimes proliferating nuclear weapons, and he specifically mentioned the AQ Khan proliferation program, operating out of Pakistan. Here's what David Albright, a former US weapons inspector in Iraq, says about the Khan program:

"Suspicions also remain that members of the network may have
helped Al Qaeda obtain nuclear secrets prior to the fall of the Taliban regime
in Afghanistan. The damage caused by this network led former CIA director
George Tenet to reportedly describe Khan as being "at least as dangerous as
Osama bin Laden."

Gee, if he was that dangerous, maybe, after the reality-changing experience Cheney describes 9/11 to be, maybe AQ Khan should have been the primary focus of American anti-terrorism policy. Instead of, say, Saddam Hussein.

In Cheney's speech today, he cites the "rollup" of the Khan network as an achievement of the Bush administration. Here's Albright (and his collaborator Corey Hinderstein's) version:

After his arrest in February 2004, Khan confessed to selling sensitive
technology and equipment to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. He received
a conditional pardon and today remains under house arrest with very little
access to outsiders. Khan also maintained that he alone was responsible and
had acted independently of current and previous Pakistani governments--a
statement that many experts view with skepticism as apparently intended to
prevent Islamabad's further embarrassment.

Although many Pakistanis have been detained since the scandal broke, none have been prosecuted. The Pakistani government has provided the IAEA and foreign governments with information about Khan's activities but has not allowed anyone outside the Pakistani government to interview Khan or the others that were detained. Although the IAEA has been allowed to submit written questions that Khan will answer, this type of exchange is not
a substitute for direct access to Khan and his associates.

No prosecution, no access, no problem. And as to the Bush administration's tenacity regarding the Khan network, they write (as of 2005):

Even today, the United States has not demonstrated that it places an equal priority on unraveling the activities of the Pakistani members of the Khan network as it does on maintaining Islamabad's support for hunting down Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan.

If Cheney meant to cite the rollup of the AQ Khan network as emblematic of his administration's single-minded focus on protecting America from the most severe dangers in a post 9/11 world, message received.