October 25th, 2005

A Dick Cheney Day — Big Time

by Philip Baruth

Some days a reclusive White House mandarin just can’t win for losing.

Dick Cheney’s all over the front pages this morning, every story a little seamier than the last. The top story in the Times has Cheney himself whispering Valerie Plame’s name to Scooter Libby, this on June 12, 2003, weeks before Novak outed her in his now infamous column. The article is quick to point out that Cheney dick Cheneymay have done nothing wrong, which is to say that it is also possible that he may have, in fact, done something wrong.

For weeks now, months really, Bush has had this tortured, nauseaous look on his face — I guess you’d say an expression of profound constipation — and here finally we have the reason: he’s known this for years. And he knows as well that he and Cheney talked all of this over more than once, and that all of this talking may not ultimately be just talk. Indictments are near.

But that’s not the worst of it. The Post has an even less appetizing Cheney scoop. Given the political pressure building to pass John McCain’s ban on torture and inhumane treatment of detainees — you know, so that we can sit in the UN with a straight face while we talk about human rights — Bush has vowed to veto the legislation, should it reach his desk. Now consider: Bush has yet to veto a single bill in five years. Nothing. No pork was too porky. No surveillance measure was too stringent. He’s signed them all. So you’re telling me that he’s going to make history by making his first veto in favor of protecting the right to torture? Of course not. This is the world’s weakest bluff. McCain knows it; journalists know it; Bush knows it.

Hence, Cheney’s bizarre counter-offer. Again, from the Post:

“The Bush administration has proposed exempting employees of the Central Intelligence Agency from a legislative measure endorsed earlier this month by 90 members of the Senate that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody.

“The proposal, which two sources said Vice President Cheney handed last Thursday to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the company of CIA Director Porter J. Goss, states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element of the United States government’ other than the Defense Department.”

No torture at any time, in any place, by any American — except anyone working for the CIA. And you can bet that private contractors of the CIA would be tucked snugly in here as well.

If you’re McCain, I think you have to laugh at this: the laugh of a guy who was himself tortured by intelligence agents of a foreign government. But it’s so desperately unfunny.

Of all the horrors and lunatic proposals the Bush administration has loosed upon the world — loosed upon America itself — this endless flirtation with torture is far and away the most damaging. And yet Bush and Cheney are like desperate three-pack-a-day smokers: if they quit now, they admit that they’ve been killing themselves, and the country they claim to serve, all along.

So in any event, it’s a Dick Cheney day in the neighborhood. Big Time. Stay tuned.