In the Arena

Cheney on Torture

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Here’s what he said to AP yesterday:


Q You think that waterboarding, for example, was warranted in the three cases that it was used. Do you have any qualms about the reliability of that — of the information that comes out of a technique like that? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t. I think your question is — I think that it’s been used very — with great discrimination by people who know what they’re doing and has produced a lot of valuable information and intelligence. 

Q Okay. Is there any real contemplation being given to preemptively pardon any of the interrogators, or is that just something that’s just been in blogs? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think you see a lot of it on blogs, but I don’t — I don’t have any reason to believe that anybody in the agency did anything illegal. 

Q So the administration is not really — has not really been contemplating that or working on that idea? I mean, maybe they thought about it but — 

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can’t — you know, I can’t speak for everybody in the administration, but my view would be that the people who carried out that program — intelligence surveillance program, the enhanced interrogation program, with respect to al Qaeda captives — in fact were authorized to do what they did, and we had the legal opinions that — and in effect said what was appropriate and what wasn’t. And I believe they followed those legal opinions and I don’t have any reason to believe that they did anything wrong or inappropriate. 

Would have been nice if the AP reporter had asked something like, “Do you think you’re guilty of war crimes?” And, as a follow-up, “Are you worried about traveling in Europe after January 20, given that many people there–including judicial officials–believe you are guilty of war crimes and may want to indict you?”

On another note: Glenn Greenwald apparently believes there’s no such thing as a civil liberties extremist (Thanks, Readers: Greenwald says he’s proud to be a civil liberties extremist–my bad). Certainly, civil liberties stand at the center of the American idea and the individual’s right of privacy should be the standard default position. But any right or belief can be taken to extremes. Libertarians–with whom Greenwald sometimes finds common cause–would argue that they’re civil liberties extremists, too; I’d say their negative view of government is a comic book fantasy.

There are times when the common defense trumps individual privacy–say, TSA inspections at airports. Another example: maybe 15-20 years ago, the Chicago Housing Authority wanted to put metal detectors in the projects, but was opposed by the ACLU to the dismay of residents who were sick of being terrorized by gun-toting thugs and criminals. I’d be with the residents in that case. I also agree with Barack Obama that we’ve taken a moderate, rational path on FISA reform: data-mining–ADD: the use of algorythms to discern suspicious patterns of phone calling and emailing–should be permitted, but any targeted wiretapping has to be done with a legal warrant. I thought the ideologues on both sides were wrong on that one: the Bush officials who thought no warrants were needed, and the libertarians like Greenwald who thought that right to privacy of non-targeted individuals trumped the national security need to know whom targeted terrorists overseas were talking to.  

In the end, the older I get, the more I find ideologues of all stripes to be deficient. We’ve just had eight years of the most  ideological presidency of my lifetime. The free market extremism at home and pre-emptive bellicosity abroad didn’t work very well. (There are libertarians who argue that government financial regulation is an intrusion on the privacy of free markets; and as for the Madoffs of the world–caveat emptor!) I’m looking forward to an Administration that is guided by liberal democratic principles, in the classic sense, and by the common sense notion that every right has its limitations…or as Barry Goldwater once didn’t say: extremism in the defense of liberty can easily be a vice, if it ignores the common good.