Should Dick Cheney Be Hanged?
By Rachel Maddow Video And Transcript
We hanged people for waterboarding as a war crime, in Dick Cheney's lifetime. With that is as the historical context, the vice president cavalierly told ABC News that he specifically approved that same technique being used against the prisoner named Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.
But first, it isn't often that a news headline has the ability to stop you in your tracks. Drop your jaw and leave you speechless. And, I mean, legitimate headlines, not "Guy Makes Big Money off YouTube" headlines like CNN.com will happily put on a t-shirt for you. Today, we got one of these, for real, jaw-dropping headlines, "U.S. Vice President Admits to War Crime." Can you say bombshell?
In his latest legacy-polishing exit interview, Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledged for the first time, without trepidation or apparent fear of prosecution that he authorized torture techniques to be used against prisoners. He was asked and answered specifically about waterboarding.
Waterboarding, you may recall, from the Tokyo trials after World War II, when an international coalition, including us, convened to prosecute the Japanese officials and military personnel accused of war crimes including waterboarding. A number of those found guilty of waterboarding, American troops and allied troops and civilians. People found guilty of waterboarding those folks were sentenced to death and hanged. We hanged people for waterboarding as a war crime, in Dick Cheney's lifetime. With that is as the historical context, the vice president cavalierly told ABC News that he specifically approved that same technique being used against the prisoner named Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, that is, the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well others, to explain what they wanted to do and I supported it.
KARL: And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, wildly reported was waterboarding, and that seems to be a tactic we no longer used. Even that, you think, was appropriate?
CHENEY: I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Well knock me over with a feather duster. It appears that the sitting vice president of the United States just admitted to approving a practice that was once punishable by death by our country. The "I approve waterboarding and I'd do it again" admission came during another one of this victory lap interviews from President Bush and Vice President Cheney in their remaining 30-plus days on the job.
Later in the same interview, Cheney said of his so-called "enhanced interrogation technique program," he said this, quote, "It's been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves."
So that would be results like catching Osama bin Laden, catching the number two guy in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri? And the head guy in the Taliban, Mullah Omar? Results like wiping out al Qaeda? Like wiping out the Taliban? Like turning the Muslim world towards moderation and against extremism? Because it would be awful if he we had results like that. Instead, we had the prosecution of Osama bin Laden's chauffeur.
We've had 14,000 terrorism deaths worldwide last year. We've had a four-fold increase of worldwide deaths due to terrorism in the eight years before that.
Asked by ABC if he has any regrets, the vice president said, quote, "Oh, not a lot at this stage." Asked about the offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay or the Red Cross found U.S. personnel using tactics that they described as tantamount to torture, the vice president says he is a man who likes what he sees there.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHENEY: I think Guantanamo has been very well run. Guantanamo has been very, very valuable, and I think they'll discover that trying to close it is a very hard proposition.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: A very hard proposition. The Bush administration does appear to be making it as hard as possible for anybody to close Guantanamo down. But I say, don't hold your breath, Mr. Vice President. I think you'll find that everything you have done can be undone, except, maybe, the bringing back to life of the people, the tens of thousands of people who have died in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS, MONDAY)
CHENEY: I think the-as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability do produce weapons of mass destruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: That is so not what they found. That's actually the opposite of what they found. The Iraq study group in 2004 found that Saddam Hussein had the desire for weapons of mass destruction but not the capacity. Not, not the capacity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No, no, no. No, no. Not, not at all what they found, actually. Totally wrong about that one.
The White House is actively trying to sell us the war in Iraq again, now, against all the widely known fact-based nearly universally accepted cases against it. A wise man once said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me-you can't get fooled again."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 17, 2002)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: Fool me once, shame on-shame on you. Fool me-you can't get fooled again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You can't get fooled again, right? Right?
So, here's the political question-for these last 35 days or so of the Bush administration, why is there seemingly no pushback against the revisionist history that is being pumped out of the White House right now? If a person drinks and drives and crashes into your living room, the rest of us with the government as our proxy, take that person's keys away. You did a very bad thing. You're no longer allowed the chance to do that again. In this case, Bush and Cheney are still drunk, still in that car, still sitting in the rubble of our living room, revving the engine, and asking if we want to go for another spin around the block with them.
The public has actually spoken here and the most effective way that we can. The 2006 midterm elections and the 2008 presidential elections-two elections, two Democratic, anti-Bush landslides. The verdict from the public is in. We've got a new president-elect who was against the Iraq war from the get-go and says he will close Guantanamo and he's unequivocally against torture.
And a new "Washington Post" poll shows 70 percent of Americans support Obama's plan to get out of Iraq in 16 months, 70 percent. The world now sees us as a disaster. The guy who threw a shoe at our current president is being hailed as a hero in much of the world. An overwhelming majority of Americans have come to agree that the past eight years of American foreign policy, if nothing else, were just unacceptable.
And we're working on the future of the country, which hopefully we're always doing. And we're scouring our own history for good and bad examples of how to act. One might hope that a near universal consensus against some bad idea, like drunk driving or invading Iraq, would consign an idea like that to the big circular file of American history marked "waste," the proverbial dust bin of history.
Just as an example, the U.S. government apologized for the illegal interment of Japanese citizens that took place after Pearl Harbor. Reparations were paid to those who were interred. That is for the history books judgment rendered that is intended to leave no ambiguity. No doubt for future generations. What went on here was wrong. Don't do it again. Anybody proposes doing something like this again-laugh them out of the room.
So, instead of just glossing over the vice president's war crime's admission on ABC News, should something be done here? Is it possible that some of the many public officials elected as a rebuke to Bush and Cheney could do something official? As a statement for the record? Just for future reference?
Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Ron Suskind. He has written three bestselling books on the Bush administration.
Mr. Suskind, thanks very much for being back on the show with us tonight.
RON SUSKIND, "THE WAY OF THE WORLD" AUTHOR: My pleasure.
MADDOW: You have written a number of books about the inner workings of the Bush administration, specifically, you detailed their decision to invade Iraq. Is Dick Cheney making the same case for invading Iraq now that he did then?
SUSKIND: Well, not really. You know, it's interesting. Think about this case back then. Think about Dick Cheney saying, now, back in 2003, this pitch.
The president gets up for the State of the Union Address a few months before the Iraq invasion and says, "Listen, Saddam Hussein may, someday, want to get his hands on weapons of mass destruction and who knows what he'll do with them. Based on that we're going to invade Iraq and own that country." I mean, folks at that the point would have said, frankly, Rachel, "You've got to be kidding."
At this point, we're fighting Islamic radicals from around the world.
We have finished business in Afghanistan. Pakistan, of course, is a mess. You know, that would have an actual conversation. What's interesting here is that when you look at the broad context, which is something we should be doing at the end of the presidency, we say, first off, we have the extraordinary instance of a war of choice, almost unheard of in American history, and a case where the choice itself, was never offered to the American people, a kind of compounding.
And right now, I think it's fascinating you've got Dick Cheney, actually, oddly, embracing the truth at the very end, even while the president and Karl Rove and others are sticking to the old, torn, and worn-out script.
MADDOW: It is-I think it is significant and interesting that Karl Rove is saying essentially that the war was a mistake with different intelligence about WMD. I wonder how that intelligence got screwed up. He's saying we wouldn't have gone. But now, the vice president is saying, "Ah, who cares about the intelligence? We are glad we went," looking back at it.
SUSKIND: Exactly. You know, what's really interesting here, the historical record is actually, fairly clear now. What is absolutely indisputable is, (A), from the very first National Security Council meeting of this presidency in January of 2001, it was all about how to remove Saddam Hussein and own the country. Not about why or whether. It was about how to do it, all logistic, how to justify the war.
Beyond that, what's also clear is that, through 2002 and the fall of '02, and early 2003, we had both the Iraqi foreign minister and the head of intelligence in secret back-channel meetings, telling us there are no WMD. Let us prove it to you.
Beyond that, fascinating, Iraq intelligence chief, as I pointed out in my last book, told us, here's what Saddam Hussein is actually thinking. He's afraid of the Iranians. That's why he doesn't want to show the world he has no WMD. All of this was clear to the White House prior to the invasion.
And what the vice president is now saying quite clearly, "None of that mattered. We were going in anyway." There was never really trust or any actual veracity in a case for war. It was a matter of simply selling it like a bar of soap, and now, well, here's the truth. It didn't matter that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction. We basically said he's got to go. And we carried through implementation.
MADDOW: The vice president is now, also, because of this last interview, on record admitting to having authorized waterboarding. He obviously thinks that it is legal and as you helped document, the Bush administration took great pains to make it seem sort of legal. But is it -I mean, couldn't that very easily be tested if war crimes charges were brought?
SUSKIND: Absolutely. You know, let's again be clear as to what's just occurring. The president and Karl are sticking to script. Cheney, maybe he's thinking of his own legacy is saying, "Fine, most people believe this stuff anyway. Come at me. Here's what we did. Yes, waterboarding was something that we saw, we thought through, we approved at the highest levels. It is indisputably torture."
What does that mean? The United States approves torture. The White House of the United States cleared, checked the box, and said, "Full steam ahead."
Now, what's important here, is that this coming out at the end of so-called "operational time," the president is still in office, provides an opportunity, historically-speaking, to have an actual debate as to the course of the shape of state. That's the way democracies are really supposed to work.
The self-correcting prophecies in a democracy, that's the brilliance, Rachel, of what makes democracy so special. That in actual sorts of present tense, you are going to correct, when something's gone wrong or at least begin the process of saying, "Hey, look, this is an unfinished experiment in democracy here in America. We're doing, frankly, our best toward a more perfect union. This is what we do here. We go right at these issues."
And in a way, the vice president is opening the gates for that. Let's see what happens.
MADDOW: Yes. The key, though, is that the correction actually happens. And people pushed for it.
Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, thank you very much for you time tonight, sir. It's always nice to have you on the show.
SUSKIND: My pleasure.
MADDOW: I should mention that Mr. Suskind's latest book is called "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism"