The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted 11-3 to allow the rest of us to read its report on the CIA's use of torture. This report will define Dick Cheney’s legacy. When issued, torture will become the focus for how the former Wyoming congressman is remembered.
Think about Lyndon Johnson who should have been remembered for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare and Medicaid, the war on poverty, his leadership following President Kennedy’s assassination, as well as a senate career where many historians consider him to have been the most effective majority leader in history. Instead, his career is characterized by this question. “Other than Viet Nam, how’d your political career work out?”
When the public is finally able to read the facts amassed by Senate investigators, Dick Cheney’s name will be added to a long list of torturers going back to the dingy dungeons of the Middle Ages. History books will include his photo alongside that of the 15th Century “Grand Inquisitor” Tomás de Torquemada.
While that legacy is well earned, it’s also sad. Cheney’s pre-9/11 resume was exceptional. He was President Gerald Ford’s chief-of-staff. He returned to Wyoming, ran for congress, serving a decade as Wyoming’s congressman. He was appointed Defense Secretary in March 1989, leading the armed forces to a victory in the first Gulf War.
Cheney then made a fortune as Halliburton’s CEO. That’s when the ethical cracks began to appear. Halliburton shareholders filed a securities fraud lawsuit. Though Cheney was at Halliburton during part of the period at issue, he was by then vice-president and not named as a defendant.
Later Nigeria filed corruption charges against Cheney. Those charges were dismissed when Halliburton agreed to pay a quarter of a billion dollar settlement.
Sandwiched between the two cases were Cheney’s years as vice-president. Nine months after he was sworn into office, terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon shocked the world. In the immediate aftermath, the vice-president made it clear the US would go to the “dark side” to avenge the attacks.
He discarded any notion that Americans had to wait for proof that someone was an actual threat before torturing or killing them. Cheney established what was called “the one-percent” doctrine, i.e. substantial evidence was unnecessary. If there was even a one-percent chance someone could harm Americans, they went on the hit list.
Torture was an integral part of Cheney’s game plan. We are perhaps only weeks away from learning the truth. Those who have read the report say the truth is uglier than even longtime Cheney-haters could have imagined. The Washington Post says, “The 6,300-page report includes what officials described as damning new disclosures about a sprawling network of secret detention facilities, or ‘black sites,’ that was dismantled by President Obama in 2009.”
It chronicles lies told by the CIA and Cheney among others to cover the brutality and severity of the torture as well as how little useful intelligence was gathered by casting aside the moral authority of our great country.
So what happened to the Dick Cheney many Wyoming people voted for and respected? Surely he knew as he was making those decisions that the torture program he unleashed would not remain a secret forever.
What happened was the infamous “Presidential Daily Briefing” Cheney-Bush received more than a month in advance of the attacks. Entitled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States,” the memo provided prescient details of what happened on 9/11.
As he was moved to “secure, undisclosed locations” following the attacks, Cheney’s thoughts assuredly turned to that memo. He realized he and the President had missed its significance. For the remainder of his days as VP, Cheney endeavored to atone for that failure.
LBJ still has his loyal supporters as Dick Cheney will have his. But just as LBJ’s obituary was filled with references to Viet Nam so will Dick Cheney’s obituary be filled with references to torture. Torture is morally reprehensible and history will judge the torturers accordingly.