As nearly every HuffPost Media Monitor (well, specifically Derrick, Clayton, Chad, "RStein," and Teresa) pointed out today, former State Department official Liz Cheney came on MSNBC to defend her father's legacy, with regard to the administration's role in authorizing the torture or terror detainees. That's sort of sad. But sympathy wears thin when Cheney indulges in what I guess is the family business -- pretending that waterboarding isn't torture.
"It's what our own people go through in SERE training," Cheney says, as if that makes it all OK. Naturally, I'm pretty sure that our soldiers undergo SERE training to learn what it's like to be tortured, if not withstand it. I mean, if we've reached the point where it's okay to not be outraged when our own soldiers are waterboarded, someone should say so. But either waterboarding is a tolerable technique for military interrogations in every case or it is torture and thus the provenance of sadistic regimes.
O'Donnell shoots back, disputing the idea that there is a consensus on the efficacy of waterboarding:
O'DONNELL: Liz, the CIA, on its own after 2005, stopped waterboarding on its own. The U.S. prosecuted people for waterboarding after World War II. So to suggest there's a consensus out there that waterboarding is not torture is not in fact accurate.
L. CHENEY: No, I think it is accurate. There were three people who were waterboarded. And two of those people are people who gave us incredibly important and useful information, information that saved American lives after they were waterboarded. Both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah.
As noted yesterday, Marcy Wheeler gave the case of Abu Zubaydah a thorough going over and found the case that waterboarding revealed worthwhile intelligence to be a weak one. The only thing that torture proponents have to offer in defense of the sadism are claims which they never substantiate. O'Donnell responds by pointing out that Dennis Blair's assessment was that torture was a net negative as a technique and inessential to our national security in any event.
Liz Cheney then contends that the White House was misrepresenting Blair: "I'm sure you know that actually, the first statement that Blair put out acknowledged the effectiveness of the programs and acknowledged that very important intelligence had been gained and it was only after the White House got a hold of the statement, edited the statement, censored it and pit it out publicly that his language changed."
Very sorry, but she's wrong! As Greg Sargent explains:
There seems to be some confusion about whether Obama intel chief Dennis Blair's private memo saying torture has yielded "high value information" is in contradiction with his public statement saying that torture has done us far more harm than good.
So let's go over this again. I've got a copy of the full memo right here.
Down below is a screen capture of the relevant part (click...to enlarge).
In his private memo, Blair said that in some cases, torture yielded "high value information" that has "provided a deeper understanding" of Al Qaeda. He said he couldn't promise he wouldn't have approved such tactics in the wake of 9/11.
In his public statement, he said that despite those facts, torture still does more harm than good and is not essential to our national security.
Sorry -- these two statements are not mutually exclusive. Many will disagree with Blair's initial statement. Many will believe that his real views skew in the direction of the private memo. All fine. But the simple fact is that his public statement deserves to be part of this discussion, and it isn't contradicted by what's in the private memo.
The dispute continued, and I think Norah O'Donnell did a fine job, standing up for the this nation's honor and reflecting the decidedly mainstream values of those who oppose the practice of torture.
CHENEY: There's absolutely no question that this was a program that was widely approved and supported within the administration. I think there's no secret here that the National Security Council reviewed the program. The National Security Council ensured that it had legal approval before going forward with these techniques.
Yes. So proud that they lost their mind when everyday Americans were told of the means by which these so-called accomplishments were achieved.
CHENEY: Now setting aside that, what you're doing is reading headlines and talking about direction of lawyers, which is a very different thing. And there's no assertion that that's what went on. The lawyers' opinions were sought in order to make sure that the program that the CIA ran stayed within the law. And the lawyers did a very responsible and professional job of laying out exactly what were the limits of how far we could go. And that is precisely what makes it so damaging that these memos have now been released.
O'DONNELL: Listen to yourself - listen to yourself, Liz, "how far we could go."
CHENEY: That's right.
O'DONNELL: How far could we go with detainees? I mean, how far could we... Torture them in order to get information?
CHENEY: How far - no. For how many minutes you could ask them certain kind of questions. How many...
CHENEY: I'm sorry, it's very, very important point.
O'DONNELL: It's a very important point.
CHENEY: It is a very important point.
O'DONNELL: The Geneva Convention were established...
CHENEY: Norah, there is nothing...
O'DONNELL: ... to protect our men and women in the military. So that America would be a beacon in the world so when our men and women are captured overseas that they would not be tortured. We would never want our people to...
CHENEY: Norah, are you going to give me a chance to answer your question?
O'DONNELL: Let me finish my point.
CHENEY: I get your point, Norah, but the point is - no, Norah, wait a second...
O'DONNELL: ... America no longer cares about torture?
CHENEY: That's not what the world is hearing, Norah. First of all...
O'DONNELL: .. and if gets valuable information, then OK, we're for it. Is that the message they send?
CHENEY: Norah, that may be what you're saying, but that's not what I'm saying.
CHENEY: What I'm saying that is there were a series of tactics, a series of techniques that had all been done to our own people. We did not torture our own people, these techniques are not torture. The memos laid out...
O'DONNELL: Did we torture other people?
O'DONNELL: You just said, we did not torture our own people.
CHENEY: Therefore, the tactics are not torture. We did not torture. The memos laid out the extent of exactly how far we could go before it would become torture, because it was important we not cross that line into torture.
And that's really the question isn't it? Does torture become torture depending on one's nationality? Again, the training Liz Cheney describes is undertaken to prepare our fighting men and women for the sadistic acts that might be done to them if captured. I've always been of the mind that it's proper to be morally outraged at the thought of an American soldier getting waterboarded. But moral outrage is meaningless if you only talk the talk.
It's either torture for everyone or its torture for no one. A truly great nation hardly needs an exception to this rule. If one of these torture proponents would simply and forthrightly state: I believe that it's okay for the United States to torture whoever we want, but it's wrong for Americans to be interrogated in the same way, I'd at least give some points for honesty, even if I was thoroughly repulsed.
For the second day, we get double O'Donnell push back. In this case, Lawrence O'Donnell, at length, takes down two key arguments that Cheney used to defend the practice: the first being her belief that anything done to soldiers during SERE training could not be considered torture, and the second being the "torture stopped a Los Angeles terror plot" story. Jonathan Capehart provides excellent support.