So far the summer has been mild in the Washington, D.C., area. But for former Vice President Dick Cheney the temperature is well over 100 degrees. He is sweating profusely, and it is becoming increasingly clear why.
Cheney has broken openly with former President George W. Bush on one issue of transcendent importance — to Cheney. For whatever reason, Bush decided not to hand out blanket pardons before they both rode off into the sunset.
Cheney has complained bitterly that his former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, should have been pardoned, rather than simply having his jail sentence “commuted.” The former Vice President told the press that Bush left Libby “sort of hanging in the wind” by refusing to issue Libby a pardon before Bush left office. Libby had been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal agents investigating the leak of a former CIA operations officer’s identity.
“I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon, and the President disagreed with that,” Cheney said. He would disclose no details of his efforts to lobby Bush on Libby’s behalf, saying they would be “best left to history.”
It is getting close to history time. You do not need to be a cracker-jack analyst to understand that Cheney is feeling betrayed — that he is thinking not of Libby, but of himself, and fearing that, if our system of justice works, he could be in for some serious, uncommuted jail time.
His situation has grown pathetic. Aside from the man himself, it has fallen almost solely to faithful daughter Liz to defend her dad and to start a political backfire to keep him out of prison. She is to be admired for her faithfulness. In the process, though, she has unwittingly given much away.
Liz on the Offensive
On Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio program Monday, Liz acted again as designated hitter, responding to the recent New York Times report that her father had given “direct orders” to the CIA to withhold “information about a secret counterterrorism program for eight years.” Not for the first time, Liz Cheney disclosed what has her father so worried and agitated. She said he is “very angry” over recent press reports that Attorney General Eric Holder may be about to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation practices.
She branded this “shameful” — worse still, “un-American.” Not the interrogation practices, mind you, but the notion that her father should be held to account for them.
Typically, Ms. Cheney did well in sticking closely to her talking points, arguing that the issue is “somebody taking office and then starting to prosecute people who carried out policies that they disagreed with, you know, in the previous administration.” As if unprecedented decisions to torture, in violation of international law and the War Crimes Act of 1996, can be accurately described as “policies” over which there can be honest disagreement. This is about crimes, not “policies.”
Pulling out all the stops, Ms. Cheney worried aloud over what this does to “morale at the CIA,” where the practitioners of what Bush called “an alternative set of procedures” for interrogation were told they were acting with the blessing of the Justice Department.
Liz Cheney went on to argue that this could in the future inhibit CIA functionaries from various actions, out of fear of criminal liability. (Not a bad idea, it seems to me.)
What has pretty much escaped notice in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) is that the former Vice President has also reminded us all that President Bush was the “decider.” That unusual word sounded quite macho as Bush strutted around and about reminding us regularly that he was also “commander in chief.” But now, it could be the kiss of death — for Bush, as well as for Cheney.
Here’s what Cheney allowed himself to tell Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer about “enhanced interrogation techniques” on May 10:
SCHIEFFER: How much did President Bush know specifically about the methods that were being used? We know that you – and you have said – that you approved this…
SCHIEFFER: … somewhere down the line. Did President Bush know everything you knew?
CHENEY: I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew — he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the President. He signed off on it.
Small wonder that Republicans are wincing, although the winces have been largely suppressed. The Washington Post reported recently that many Republicans now consider Cheney a major problem, but cannot say so.
The Post quoted one Republican strategist on the Cheney dilemma: “He continues to be a force among many members of our base, and while he is entirely unhelpful, no one has the standing to show him the door.”
Spending four days in Dallas last week, I learned that George W. Bush continues to be a lofty hero among many folks there — with the notable exception of the hardy activists of the Dallas Peace Center and Code Pink. Hefty donations keep pouring in for his library and institute, and any “mistakes” that may have been made during the Bush/Cheney administration are laid at the door of the former Vice President.
Leading Republicans are passionate about this. And the phenomenon is not limited to Dallas. Cheney is smart enough to know that he, too, may soon be “sort of hanging in the wind” along with his former subordinate, Libby.
It’s Also About “Fixing” Intelligence
Approval of torture, assassination, warrantless eavesdropping — hey, there is quite enough to go on, and increasing signs that Cheney will be called on the carpet.
What we have been focusing on, however, glosses over Cheney’s key role in purveying lies to get our representatives in Congress to approve a war that qualifies for what the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime” — a war of aggression.
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) were on to Cheney very early. Exactly six years ago, we took the unusual step of sending a formal recommendation to President Bush that he “ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
Our unprecedented appeal even caught the eye of the FCM, since our Memorandum for the President reviewed some of the deceit engineered by the Vice President in concocting a rationale for war on Iraq and leading the cheerleading for it.
We noted that Cheney, skilled at preemption, had stolen a march on his vacationing colleagues by launching, in a major speech on Aug. 26, 2002, a meretricious campaign to persuade Congress and the American people that Iraq was about to acquire nuclear weapons. That campaign mushroomed, literally, in early October, with Bush and senior advisers raising the specter of a “mushroom cloud” threatening our cities. On the inside of the synthetic clouds one could almost read the label — “manufactured out of thin air in the Office of the Vice President.”
In his memoir, the pitiable former CIA Director George Tenet complains that Cheney’s assertion that Iraq would acquire nuclear weapons “fairly soon” did not square with the intelligence community’s assessment. Tenet adds, “I was surprised when I read about Cheney’s assertion that, ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.’”
Tenet whines that the Vice President did not send him a copy of the speech for clearance. But the malleable CIA director quickly got over it, and told CIA analysts to compose the kind of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that would provide ex post facto support for Cheney’s bogus assertions. Just what Cheney (and Bush) ordered.
Tenet explains lamely, “I should have told the Vice President privately that, in my view, his speech had gone too far … and not let silence imply agreement.”
Yes, George; and you should have resisted White House pressure for a dishonest NIE to grease the skids to unnecessary war.
In fact Cheney, as well as Tenet, knew very well that Cheney’s assertions were lies.
How? Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, whom Saddam had put in charge of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as missile development, told the United States when he defected in mid-1995 that all (that’s right, all) such weapons had been destroyed at his order by the summer of 1991.
And in mid-2002, the Iraqi foreign minister, whom CIA operatives had recruited and persuaded to remain in place, was telling us the same thing.
When they briefed the President and his senior advisers on this, CIA operations officers were astonished to learn first-hand that this intelligence was unwelcome. These officers, who had used every trick in the book to “turn” the foreign minister and get him working for us, were told that further reporting from this source was not needed: “This isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change,” they were told.
Tenet was hardly astonished at reports of the non-existence of WMD. From documentary evidence in the Downing Street Minutes we know that Tenet on July 20, 2002, told the chief of British intelligence that the intelligence was being “fixed” around the policy. And former UN inspectors like Scott Ritter could verify that some 90 percent of the WMD Iraq earlier possessed had been destroyed — some during the Gulf War in 1991, but most as a result of the inspections conducted by the UN.
The reporting from Hussein Kamel and the Iraqi foreign minister, sources with excellent access, was suppressed in favor of “evidence” — from forgeries, for example, like the infamous Iraq-Niger yellowcake report. When finally U.S. officials were forced to concede that the Iraq-Niger information was based on a forgery, lawmakers like Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, protested loudly — but too late.
Three days before President Bush let slip the dogs of war, NBC’s Tim Russert braced Cheney with the assertion by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear weapons program.
Cheney strongly disagreed and claimed support for his view from the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community. He even ratcheted up his bogus assessment of Iraq’s nuclear capability: “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
We? Maybe his wife, Lynne, and Liz were on board for that judgment; few others believed it.
Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired CENTCOM commander but still enjoying access to the most sensitive information on Iraq, was sitting in the audience on Aug. 26, 2002, and later described himself as astonished at the way Cheney hyped the Iraqi threat. And the most knowledgeable analysts — those who knew Iraq and nuclear weapons — scoffed at Cheney’s faith-based intelligence.
In our July 14, 2003, appeal to President Bush to ask for Cheney’s resignation, we warned of the likelihood that intelligence analysts would conclude that the best way to climb the ladder of success is to acquiesce in the cooking or “fixing” of their judgments, since neither senior nor junior officials would ever be held accountable.
This remains as acute a concern as the tolerance for torture and the like.
We shall have to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder do his duty and move quickly to start the process to hold accountable those responsible for dragging our country down into a moral abyss.
RAY McGOVERN was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades: Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Verso). He can be reached at: email@example.com
A shorter version of this article appeared at Consortiumnews.com.