Cheney Beckons Obama to the Dark Side

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 16, 2008; 1:15 PM

Vice President Cheney revels in his "Darth Vader" nickname, frequently joking that his wife says it humanizes him.

Yesterday, in two interviews, Cheney encouraged President-Elect Obama to come to the dark side.

After acknowledging his role in approving the waterboarding of detainees, Cheney urged Obama in an ABC News interview to reconsider his "campaign rhetoric" and instead "retain the tools that have been so essential in defending the nation for the last seven and a half years."

He also said the prison at Guantanamo Bay should stay open as long as there is a war on terror -- which, since there will always be terror, could mean forever.

In a second interview, with right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, Cheney boasted of having strengthened executive branch powers and made a prediction: "I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they'll find that given a challenge they face, they'll need all the authority they can muster. . . .

"[M]y guess is that once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day," Cheney said, "they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place."

Maybe you expected some regrets? Dream on.

"Regrets?" asked ABC's Jonathan Karl.

"Oh, not a lot, at this stage," Cheney replied. "I think I'll have a chance to reflect on that after I get out of here and see whether or not anything immediately comes to mind. I think given the circumstances we've had to deal with, I think we've done pretty well."

Cheney didn't even share his boss's arguably insincere regret that the pre-war intelligence about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction was flawed.

Unlike his boss, Cheney bluntly acknowledged that the president would have taken the country to war anyway.

Cheney's Defense of Torture

From the transcript:

Q. "But you've heard leaders, the incoming Congress saying that this policy has basically been torture and illegal wiretapping, and that they want to undo basically the central tenets of your anti-terrorist policy."

Cheney: "They're wrong. On the question of terrorist surveillance, this was always a policy to intercept communications between terrorists, or known terrorists, or so-called 'dirty numbers,' and folks inside the United States, to capture those international communications. It's worked. It's been successful. It's now embodied in the FISA statute that we passed last year, and that Barack Obama voted for, which I think was a good decision on his part. It's a very, very important capability. It is legal. It was legal from the very beginning. It is constitutional, and to claim that it isn't I think is just wrong.

"On the question of so-called 'torture,' we don't do torture, we never have. It's not something that this administration subscribes to. Again, we proceeded very cautiously; we checked, we had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross. The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful, wouldn't do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong.

"Did it produce the desired results? I think it did. I think, for example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information. There was a period of time there, three or fours years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source.

"So it's been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves. And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the Terrorist Surveillance Program, simply don't know what they're talking about."

Q. "Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?"

Cheney: "I was aware of the program certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do, and I supported it."

Q. "In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?"

Cheney: "I don't."

There's so much wrong here, it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, waterboarding is almost universally considered torture. It's basically drowning -- and it's been a staple of torturers since the Spanish Inquisition. Second, neither Cheney nor anyone else has provided evidence that torture or illegal surveillance elicited information that saved American lives, or that it couldn't have been elicited otherwise.

And as Andrew Sullivan blogs for Atlantic, Cheney's description of his role "is an absolute lie," as proven by last week's bipartisan Senate report.

Among other things, that report chronicled how the White House's role -- and particularly that of top Cheney advisor David S. Addington -- was less reactive than proactive.

Sullivan also notes: "Cheney's open, proud defense of a torture technique, waterboarding, that has always and everywhere been understood as torture means he stands vulnerable to war crime prosecutions. Until he is tried, convicted and jailed, the rule of law in this country stands fatally compromised."

Guantanamo Forever

More from the ABC interview:

Q. "So when do you think we'll be at a point where Guantanamo could be responsibly shut down?"

Cheney: "Well, I think that would come with the end of the war on terror."

Q. "When's that going to be?"

Cheney: "Well, nobody knows. Nobody can specify that. Now, in previous wars, we've always exercised the right to capture the enemy and then hold them until the end of the conflict. That's what we did in World War II with thousands, hundreds of thousands of German prisoners. The same basic principle ought to apply here in terms of our right to capture the enemy and hold them."

War, Regardless

Q. "You probably saw -- Karl Rove last week said that if the intelligence had been correct, we probably would not have gone to war."

Cheney: "I disagree with that. I think the -- as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What we found in the after-action reports after the intelligence report was done and then various special groups went and looked at the intelligence and what its validity was, what they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feedstocks."

Ryan Powers blogs for Thinkprogress.org: "Cheney appears to be confusing 'capability' with 'desire.' Indeed, in 2004, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) -- which searched Iraq for Hussein's supposed WMD stockpiles -- concluded in a 1,000 page report that Iraq 'had the desire but not the capability to create weapons that could attack the west' at the time of the U.S. invasion. Additionally, the ISG confirmed that Iraq's WMD capabilities were 'essentially destroyed' in the 1991 Gulf War."

A Moment of Praise

Cheney had a surprisingly positive response to Obama's national security team, telling Karl: "Well, I must say I think it's a pretty good team. I'm not close to Barack Obama, obviously, nor am I -- do I identify with him politically. He's a liberal, I'm a conservative. But I think the idea of keeping Gates at Defense is excellent. I think Jim Jones will be very, very effective as the National Security Advisor. And while I would not have hired Senator Clinton, I think she's tough, she's smart, she works very hard, and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs."

Rollback Watch

So far, at least, it seems unlikely that Obama or Vice President-Elect Biden will pursue a Cheney-like course.

Carol E. Lee writes for Politico: "Joe Biden is laying plans to significantly shrink the role of the vice presidency in Barack Obama's White House, according to an official familiar with his thinking.

"It's not just that Biden won't sit in on Senate Democrats' weekly caucus meetings -- a privilege Republicans afforded outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney. He won't have an office outside the House floor, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave Cheney early on.

"Biden will not begin every day with his own intelligence briefing before sitting in on the president's. He will not always be the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision.

"He also will not, as a transition official calls it, operate a 'shadow government' within an Obama administration."

And here is the Obama transition team's response to one of the top-ranked questions among the 10,000 submitted by users of the Change.gov Web site.

Q: "What will you do as President to restore the Constitutional protections that have been subverted by the Bush Administration and how will you ensure that our system of checks and balances is renewed?" Kari, Seattle

A: "President-elect Obama is deeply committed to restoring the rule of law and respecting constitutional checks and balances. That is why he has pledged to review Bush Administration executive orders. President-elect Obama will also end the abuse of signing statements, and put an end to the politicization that has taken place within the Department of Justice and return that agency to its historic and apolitical mission of fair and impartial administration of justice."

More Shoe News

Sudarsan Raghavan writes in The Washington Post: "In hurling footwear and insults at President Bush, Muntadar al-Zaidi expressed what relatives said were his own frustrations with American policy in Iraq and made himself into an overnight celebrity in the Arab world.

"After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Zaidi was distraught over the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He interviewed widows and orphans in his work as a journalist, once telling an editor that he hoped to meet Bush 'and hit him with my shoes.' Earlier this year, Zaidi was arrested during an American raid in his neighborhood and released a day later. And in March he covered a U.S. airstrike in which children were trapped under the rubble.

"'This incident made him very angry against the American forces,' recalled Maithan al-Zaidi, 28, his brother.

"On Monday, people across the Middle East applauded Zaidi for expressing their anger at the Bush administration. In cafes and online chat rooms, people joked about the incident with glee, releasing years of frustration with U.S. policies. Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in the streets demanding his release from Iraqi custody."

Bush "rejected suggestions that the incident symbolized wider Iraqi displeasure with his administration and the conduct of the war. 'I don't think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,' Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving Baghdad. 'You can try to do that if you want to. I don't think it would be accurate.'"

Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed write in the New York Times that "the lowly shoe and the Iraqi who threw both of his at President Bush, with widely admired aim, were embraced around the Arab world on Monday as symbols of rage at a still unpopular war. . . .

"Mr. Zaidi, who remained in custody Monday, provided a rare moment of unity in a region often at odds with itself. Glee, even if thinly veiled, could be discerned in much of the reporting, especially in places where anti-American sentiment runs deepest.

"In Syria, Mr. Zaidi's picture was shown all day on state television, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery. In central Damascus, a huge banner hung over a street, reading, 'Oh, heroic journalist, thank you so much for what you have done.'"

Robert H. Reid and Lee Keath write for the Associated Press: "Iraqis and other Arabs erupted in glee Monday at the shoe attack on George W. Bush. Far from a joke, many in the Mideast saw the act by an Iraqi journalist as heroic, expressing the deep, personal contempt many feel for the American leader they blame for years of bloodshed, chaos and the suffering of civilians.

"Images of Bush ducking the fast-flying shoes at a Baghdad press conference, aired repeatedly on Arab satellite TV networks, were cathartic for many in the Middle East, who have for years felt their own leaders kowtow to the American president.

"So the sight of an average Arab standing up and making a public show of resentment was stunning. The pride, joy and bitterness it uncorked showed how many Arabs place their anger on Bush personally for what they see as a litany of crimes -- chief among them the turmoil in Iraq and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 U.S. invasion. . . .

"What made al-Zeidi's defiance particularly resonant for many was their anger at autocratic Arab leaders whom they have considered slavish followers of Bush's policies in the Middle East.

"Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political science professor at the West Bank's An Najah University, wrote in an online commentary that 'Bush wanted to end his bloody term hearing compliments and welcoming words from his collaborators in the Arab and Islamic world. But a shoe from a real Arab man summed up Bush's black history and told the entire world that the Arabs hold their head high.'"

The Associated Press notes that Bush didn't have any such trouble in Kabul: "The Afghan journalists kept their shoes on. . . .

"Afghan officials, however, appeared concerned the press would not show sufficient respect to the American president.

"[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai's deputy spokesman, Saimak Herwai, told Afghan reporters that they had to address Bush as 'His Excellency,' an honorary title not typically used with U.S. presidents.

"While one Afghan journalist did address Bush as 'His Excellency,' another prominent television reporter disagreed with Herwai. And when that reporter got the chance to ask Bush a question, he pointedly said: 'I have a question for Mr. President Bush.'"

Opinion Watch

The Financial Times editorial board writes: "George W. Bush, who ducked a volley of shoes from an enraged Iraqi journalist at a press conference in Baghdad on Sunday, professed to be perplexed. This was an epic insult intended for a serial bungler. But, like the shoes, it too went straight over his head. Mr Bush, who has buried America's reputation throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds in the ruins of Iraq, did not, does not and will never get it.

"The Bush administration, on a false prospectus, broke the state of Iraq, scattered its middle classes across the Middle East, proliferated jihadism and uncorked a sectarian war that will haunt the region for a long time to come. By invading Iraq it also made Iran a regional power.

"Diligent reporting by institutions such as the US Government Accountability Office reveals the Bush team had no strategy beyond triumphalism and could barely even get the lights turned on or the taps flowing."

The USA Today editorial board writes that the incident "is a reminder that as important as it is to leave Iraq secure, many Iraqis will never see the United States as their liberator. Sectarian and tribal divisions assure there will be no 'victory,' in the triumphal sense. . . .

"[T]he disruption of Bush's celebratory tour and the lionization of the disruptor underscore that U.S. endgame in Iraq remains tricky. Iraq is far calmer than seemed possible two years ago as sectarian violence threatened to engulf the country. Whether it will remain stable as U.S. troops withdraw, though, is still in doubt."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes: "Bush made light of the incident, saying all he could report was that the shoe was 'a size 10.' Many Iraqis thought the shoe fit."

The New York Times editorial board blogs: "[W]e hope Mr. Bush does not only see the incident as a source of endless 'shoe' jokes. He must make clear to Baghdad that the United States does not condone abuse of defendants and that it expects Mr. al-Zaidi to have a speedy trial, a fair process and access to a competent lawyer."

Robert Dreyfuss blogs for the Nation: "I hope I don't get in trouble with the Secret Service by saying that I, too, found satisfaction in the display of anger toward Bush, whose reckless war costs hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed an entire nation. What Zaidi did was to put an exclamation point on Bush's war, fittingly -- and, given the fact that the smoothly bipartisan, rancorless Barack Obama isn't likely to investigate the crimes of the Bush administration in Iraq, it might be all we get before Bush rides off into the Texas sunset."

Secret Service Watch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "The U.S. Secret Service yesterday defended its agents' response to an Iraqi journalist who threw a pair of shoes at President Bush during a Baghdad news conference, saying that they acted with the proper balance of aggressiveness and restraint. . . .

"'No one should read anything more into it than what it was, which was an individual throwing a shoe,' [said Eric Zahren, a Secret Service spokesman in Washington] . . .

"The episode underscored the limits of the large security apparatus that surrounds U.S. presidents, a detail that must balance safety concerns against the need to be accessible, according to security experts. . . .

"Zahren said that those at the news conference at the prime minister's palace were screened with magnetometers and were given additional pat-downs to ensure that no weapons were brought into the room. U.S. officials also conducted background and identity checks on all participants ahead of time as usual, he said.

"'This was a room full of cleared and screened press, and that could be the case anywhere,' Zahren said. 'We wouldn't expect this type of behavior out of our press corps, but within the security structure, people can still misbehave.'"

Julian E. Barnes writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Patrick J. Lennon, [a] former agent, said that after he saw the video, his impression was that the agents seemed to react more slowly than he would have expected.

"'I thought they would have responded after the first shoe,' Lennon said.

"The agents guarding Bush were not able to immediately get in front of him because they were positioned at the side of the room, not beside him, as they would be if he was working a rope line, Lennon said. Luckily, he added, Bush moved quickly.

"'Thank God, Bush apparently played a little dodge ball when he was younger,' said Lennon, who heads a security consulting firm in Rockville, Md. 'His reflexes are quick. I was proud of him.'"

Poll Watch

Michael A. Fletcher and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post: "Americans are more upbeat about U.S. prospects in Iraq than at any time in the past five years, but nearly two-thirds continue to believe the war is not worth fighting and 70 percent say President-elect Barack Obama should fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. forces from the country within 16 months, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

The poll finds Obama's job-approval ratings nearly a mirror-image of Bush's. A whopping 76 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing, with only 15 percent disapproving. Bush, by contrast, has a 30 percent approval rate, with 68 percent disapproving.

Also, consider that 22 percent said they did not find Obama honest and trustworthy -- compared to 57 percent who said that of Bush, the last time they were asked, in January 2007.

The Last Barneycam

And the worst ever.

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Late Night Humor

David Letterman: "But you've got to give Bush credit. The guy moved pretty quickly. . . . He reacted pretty good when you see him. . . . Too bad he didn't react that way with bin laden or Katrina . . . or the mortgage crisis . . . or Lehman Brothers. . . .

"I don't think Bush really has dodged anything like that, well, since the Vietnam War."

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles, Mike Luckovich, Joel Pett, John Sherffius, John Branch, Nick Anderson, J.D. Crowe, Jeff Danziger, Robert Arial, Peter Brookes and Jim Morin on the shoes.

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