Alex Massie

President Cheney

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Dick Cheney, surely now confirmed as the worst Vice-President in American history, produced a cracker, even by his miserable standards, during his interview with Fox's Chris Wallace on Sunday. The subject was "harsh interrogation techniques":

WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you're OK with it.

CHENEY: I am. Well, you can't get much clearer than that, can you? The contempt with which Cheney views the rule of law is quite breathtaking. Not that, given everything we know about the Vice-Presidents' term in office, it should really come as any great surprise. But still...

Now that George W Bush has retreated to Crawford to clear brush and write his book, it's striking how the field has been left to Cheney. Sure, there's the convention that former Presidents keep quiet, but even allowing for that you could be forgiven for thinking that, now that he's no longer President, Bush has lost all interest in politics and, for that matter, even the legacy of his Presidency.

Bush, one suspects, is quite happy to let the chips fall as they may and allow historians to reach their own verdict in their own time. Not so, his Vice-President. Indeed, Bush's legacy is, in some ways, increasingly being defined by his erstwhile deputy whose constant presence on Fox and elsewhere leaves one with the impression, fairly or not, that it was Cheney, not Bush who was the real President when it came to these matters. 

Some readers were annoyed by my suggestion that (some) torture supporters don't much care whether torture actually works, they simply like the idea of torturing prisoners. Such a party clearly exists, however, as some of Andrew Sullivan's readers demonstrate:

Go ahead. Vindicate Cheney. Me, I would have cut KSM up with a bolt cutter. Burnt him. Cut off fingers. I am furious that we did not cut him up into pieces. Absolutely furious. As are most reasonable Americans. We love KSM being tortured. Me, it is the worst thing that he was only waterboarded. Bolt cutters and blow torches. That's most of us.  

And:

If this man were to have his flesh peeled inch by inch over the course of a month, I could not possibly have less sympathy, and I suspect I'd have an overwhelming majority of Americans to agree. (Just maybe not on paper or in a poll).

This is the Party of Cheney, red in tooth and claw.

It's not, however, David Petraeus's party:

Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone "talk;" however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

I dare say that there are people who consider Petraeus a surrender-monkey too. In the end, however, you're on Petraeus's team or you're on Cheney's and the choice you make is important and revealing.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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