Cheney’s Sophistry on Torture Investigations

It will not surprise you to learn that PapaDick parsed wildly about what Obama has said about torture in Cheney’s defense of torture today. Five times today, Cheney claimed that Obama is "going back on his word," "his promise," that "his administration would not go back and look at or try to prosecute CIA personnel."

President Obama made the announcement some weeks ago that this would not happen, that his administration would not go back and look at or try to prosecute CIA personnel.


We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn’t be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration. Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they’re reversing course on that. 

The president is the chief law enforcement officer in the administration. He’s now saying, well, this isn’t anything that he’s got anything to do with. He’s up on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and his attorney general is going back and doing something that the president said some months ago he wouldn’t do. 


Instead, they’re out there now threatening to disbar the lawyers who gave us the legal opinions, threatening contrary to what the president originally said. They’re going to go out and investigate the CIA personnel who carried out those investigations. I just think it’s an outrageous political act that will do great damage long term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions, without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say. 


I think if you look at the Constitution, the president of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer in the land. The attorney general’s a statutory officer. He’s a member of the cabinet. The president’s the one who bears this responsibility. And for him to say, gee, I didn’t have anything to do with it, especially after he sat in the Oval Office and said this wouldn’t happen, then Holder decides he’s going to do it.


But my concern is that the damage that will be done by the President of the United States going back on his word, his promise about investigations of CIA personnel who have carried those policies, is seriously going to undermine the moral, if you will, of our folks out at the agency.

Of course, as is Cheney’s sophistic habit, his description of what Obama said changes: from "looking at or trying to prosecute CIA personnel" to "looking at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policy of the prior administration" to "his promise about investigations of CIA personnel who have carried those policies."

Here’s what Obama said in his official statement.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.

That is, Obama assured those who tortured "relying in good faith upon legal advice" from DOJ that they would not be prosecuted.

Obama said nothing about those who ignored or overstepped that legal advice. He said nothing about those who tortured before that legal advice. He said nothing about those who gave the legal advice.

Yet Cheney claims–and Fox, unsurprisingly, accepts Cheney’s claim–that Obama promised not to consider prosecution of those who didn’t relying in good faith on DOJ’s legal advice. 

Mind you, Rahm once did make broader promises (even while he reaffirmed Obama’s statement as the official statement). And while I can understand that a guy like Cheney would mistake Rahm’s statements for Obama’s (having repeatedly made statements he was happy to have conflated with Bush statements), in this appearance, Cheney is focusing on Obama.

And Obama never said there’d be no investigation.

I’m sure this is a very deliberate approach–one already widely adopted by the torture apologists–to turn to attack on Obama and, just as importantly, to distract away from the abundant evidence that the torturers paid little heed to the legal fig leaf Cheney erected for them. And implicit in Cheney’s sophistry is the policy that his torture regime really had no legal bounds–the torturers are above the law

So Cheney is resorting to his favorite weapon (after torture, secrecy, and illegal wars, I guess)–sophistry–to try to shift the debate. 

And I’m betting the traditional media will let him do so.

17 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Minor typo in “That is, Obama assured those who tortued” which should be “tortured”.

    I was sure I would see EW would dispatch PapaDick’s latest efforts at lying to protect his own ass. I wish I had bet on it. *g*

    And “sophistry” is too kind to describe what PapaDick is doing. The liar is lying as liars are wont to do.

  2. Mary says:

    Basically what Cheney is saying is what Nixon told Frost (and what, imo, kind of freaked Comey out as being the sole basis for some of what was done on the wiretap program)

    The President is the chief law enforcement officer of the land – therefore, he’s above the law. If the President says do it, it “is” legal. That’s what Cheney is saying (in addition to mischaracterizing Obama’s statements)

    Even in the MSM, you have to hope that only Fox would let something like taht go. But he’s actually going Yoo one further and saying that if Bush wanted to crush a child’s testicles, it doesn’t matter why he does it – the only thing that matters is that he’s the chief law enforcement officer and so he can if he wants.

    That’s the mindset that permeated for 8 years and not one DOJ lawyer saw fit to resign bc of it. JAG might have fought, DOJ didn’t – they cooly opted to say, “well, as long as I keep My nose clean and protect my friends, it’s better for Me to be here than someone who might be worse than me, so of course I won’t resign in protest” And so the country has operated for years now with MSM and DOJ endorsement, explicit and implicit, of torture regimes and no real pushback from either, ever.

    The amazing thing is, if it was reported accurately, that anyone working with Holder at DOJ was surprised at the national non-reaction to the torture revelations. They think they can all sit back and protect their own backsides for years and years by working with torturers as a “policy” matter, and picking who was involved in torture they they like or who looks good and covering for them, and then one day when it’s more convenient for them all, get the nation to be unhappy about the torture they refused to rock the boat on for years, but only unhappy about it vis a vis the guys they decide to pick and choose as scapegoats, all the while saying that you can have good faith torture with a legal opinion and don’t pick on sweet ol Jay Bybee or good ol Dan Levin or brave or Jim Comey for their pro-torture efforts?

    They think they can reduce it to popcorn theatre, put a black cape on Snidely and a blonde wig on Dudley and have the audience respond appropriately.

  3. R.H. Green says:

    To follow the law (or not) is a policy decision, according to Mr. Cheney; further, according to Unitary Executive theory, the Attorney General is a policy tool of the President, who makes no legal decisions without presidential approval. Recently Mr. Cheney criticized Mr. Obama for allowing-allowing!- his AG to proceed with investigations, which could, as a matter of policy, be ignored. He seems to be playing to the birther/teabag crowd to come to his defense when the spotlight turns on him.

    • MadDog says:

      To follow the law (or not) is a politicalcy decision, according to Mr. Cheney;

      I think this more accurately reflects PapaDick’s interpretation of The Law.

  4. R.H. Green says:

    However worded, it still turns on what goals you serve. I reacted strongly to the comment that Mr.Cheney was offended that Holder would undertake to expand the investigation, like it was all about him, and the law had nothing to do with it. Wait till he has to claim that he had no personal interest in torture, it just was the right thing to do.

  5. MrWhy says:

    Enduring America has transcribed the Wallace/Cheney interview.

    I’ll cherry pick one quote:

    CHENEY: Well, these two reports are versions of the ones I asked for previously. There’s actually one, “Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al Qaeda,” there’s another version of this that’s more detailed that’s not been released.

    But the interesting thing about these is it shows that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided the overwhelming majority of reports on Al Qaeda. That they were, as it says, pivotal in the war against Al Qaeda. That both of them were uncooperative at first, that the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically waterboarding, especially in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is what really persuaded him. He needed to cooperate.

    I think the evidence is overwhelming that the EITs were crucial in getting them to cooperate, and that the information they provided did in fact save thousands of lives and let us defeat all further attacks against the United States.

    The thing I keep coming back to time and time again, Chris, is the fact that we’ve gone for eight years without another attack. Now, how do you explain that?

    The critics don’t have any solution for that. They can criticize our policies, our way of doing business, but the results speak for themselves. And, as well as the efforts that we went to with the Justice Department and so forth to make certain what we were doing was legal, was consistent with our international treaty obligations.

    In particular, Cheney asserts that there’s a more detailed version of the “Detainee Reporting Pivotal” report that hasn’t been released.

  6. JasonLeopold says:

    The fact that Cheney would basically state that it’s perfectly acceptable to politicize the Justice Department certainly calls into question the integrity of the review of the torture cases previously conducted by the DOJ.

  7. 1boringoldman says:

    After I read this, I thought, Dick Cheney is getting scared. And he should be scared. He bullied us into a war; he outed a CIA Agent; he directed a secret torture program and a secret eavesdropping program by manipulating the DoJ; he consciously lied about all of it the whole time. His reign of intimidation may be coming to a close at last. I doubt that anyone on either side of the Aisle really cares what he thinks anymore, including his fellow Republicans. He’s just a has-been…

    • dmnolan says:

      This guy has been meandering around the federal power palace since the reign of Tricky Dick. He and his ilk may briefly submerge to reorganize, but they’re not going away. Over-confidence about their demise is a mistake. They are immune to facts, are amoral, and have come to depend on never having to atone for their misdeeds.

  8. perris says:

    cheney is scrambling big time, just like he did when every report told us there was no link between al qaeda and saddam, he went on the teevee and said there was no doubt that there was a link

    this is what’s happening again, each and every report tells everyone cheney is lying and his response is to get in front of the camera and repeat the lie even more loud

    it’s a technieque that seems to work

  9. SparklestheIguana says:

    I believe it was the ABC nightly news tonight that actually contradicted Cheney’s claim that Obama was going back on promises.

    At least they’re not completely asleep at the switches…..

  10. Boston1775 says:

    You know, when Dick says:

    But my concern is that the damage that will be done by the President of the United States going back on his word, his promise about investigations of CIA personnel who have carried those policies, is seriously going to undermine the moral(e), if you will, of our folks out at the agency.

    I’m reading a veiled threat.
    This “morale, if you will” about “our folks at the agency”

    morale ( ) n. The state of the spirits of a person or group as exhibited by confidence, cheerfulness, discipline, and willingness to perform assigned tasks.
    Another *poof* and the Attorney General *poof* is neutered *poof*
    And he lays a warning out to Obama that “our folks at the agency” will be unwilling to follow out Obama’s assignments.

    Message: Obama is at risk.

    Doesn’t Dick live within walking distance of a CIA building? And how many of our/his folks are in that building?

  11. brantl says:

    Now, when did the President become the chief law enforcement officer? He’s obliged to obey laws, not enforce them. I think Cheney’s wrong on his basic premise. I know, that’s not unusual for him, but still.

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