Stop the Presses: Cheney's Re-emergence Is Finally Explained!

I think I have the answer to why Dick Cheney has emerged from all those undisclosed locations he used to hide in as vice president to loudly defend his lawbreaking, precedent-setting promotion of torture: the former vice president is simply nuts. The attacks of September 11, 2001 just did him in, mentally. And he's never been the same since.

I came to this view after reading a book review by Jeffrey Record, a professor of strategy at the Air War College. Professor Record reviewed The Dark Side, Jane Mayer's book on the Bush administration's torture policy, of which Cheney was the chief proponent. Tom Ricks's blogsite tipped me off to Record's review. Read this excerpt:

What made Cheney's influence so perfidious was the combination of his profound panic over the 9/11 attacks (and the mysterious anthrax "attacks" in the following month) and his absolutist view of presidential prerogatives. The attacks apparently unnerved Cheney to the point of his imagining Saddam Hussein to be undeterrable, an al Qaeda collaborator, and brimming with weapons of mass destruction. "I don't know him anymore," said Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to George H.W. Bush. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, [Secretary of State] Powell's chief of staff, "Cheney was traumatized by 9/11. The poor guy became paranoid." Having underestimated the al Qaeda threat before 9/11, Cheney overcompensated; in the weeks following the attack he travelled with a doctor as well as a duffel bag containing a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.

It's not clear to me how much of the above information Prof. Record got from Mayer's book, and how much from other sources. Nor does he suggest, as I do, that Cheney's post-9/11 paranoia apparently became a permanent part of his personality -- a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Added to his panic over the attacks was doubtless his guilty conscience, stemming from his failure to prevent them.

After all, Cheney had ignored a briefing by White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke in February 2001 on a plan to deal with al Qaeda. And, although ordered by President Bush three months later to chair a terrorism task force, the vice president had failed even to call a meeting before 9/11.

Cheney's promotion of torture -- and his rabid public defense of it since leaving office -- seem to me like a continuation of the post-9/11 "overcompensation" Prof. Record writes about.

This past week you would think the principal promoter of torture was not Cheney, nor Bush, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The media have leapt upon what it sees as significant changes in her story of what and when she learned about waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques;" as if the then-Democratic minority leader could have done anything about them if, indeed, she knew all about them, which clearly, she didn't. In defending herself, Pelosi accused the CIA of lying, a charge that's been greeted with a combination of horror and incredulity by journalists of almost all stripes. Who, they collectively ask, could ever accuse the CIA of lying?

Who indeed? Almost anybody, it seems to me. The new CIA director, Leon Panetta, made what I thought was a half-hearted attempt to defend his agency against Pelosi's charge of deception. "It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress," he said, citing notes on briefings the CIA had conducted for Pelosi and others in 2002 that indicated "that CIA officers briefed truthfully..." But he left the door wide open for the opposite view, by adding that Congress would have to determine for itself whose memory was most accurate. As for the public, a new poll shows as many people believe Pelosi as believe the CIA.

That's strong evidence that in this contest, the CIA starts out with credibility problems. Furthermore, its records show that former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, then chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was briefed on waterboarding in 2002. But Graham, who has a reputation for integrity and is a stickler for details, says he wasn't. And he says his personal journal shows that he did not attend three briefings the agency said he did.

In recent years, the agency's credibility has often proved anything but good. After all, it was former CIA chief, George Tenet, who told President Bush it was a "slam dunk" that Saddam had those non-existent weapons of mass destruction, even though the intelligence community was divided on that question. The same CIA director supplied most of the material for Secretary Powell's disastrous U.N. speech the month before Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Virtually everything Powell said in that speech (made with Tenet sitting just behind him) turned out to be untrue.

The CIA lied to a federal judge and the 9/11 Commission in 2003 and 2005 when it said it did not have video recordings of the interrogations of two al Qaeda operatives in its custody. In fact, the agency destroyed those tapes after the judge and the commission asked to see them.

And in December 2007, a former CIA operative, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and later other media that al Qaeda member Abu Zubayah had begun to cooperate after being waterboarded "for probably 30, 35 seconds." This was widely reported as an example of the effectiveness of that brand of torture, which Kiriakou told ABC had disrupted "maybe dozens of attacks."

But a Justice Department memo declassified last month said Zubayah had been waterboarded "at least 83 times," hardly an indication of instant, or indeed, much if any efficacy. It also turned out that Kiriakou was not even present when Zubayah was waterboarded in a secret prison in Thailand. He had only read about the treatment at CIA headquarters in Virginia.

The CIA insisted it had not instigated or encouraged Kiriakou's remarks, and had even considered legal action against him for divulging classified information. I am tempted to repeat the old cliche that if you believe any of that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. If the agency ever told him to shut up or else, its warnings were not very effective, since after ABC he gave interviews to the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC, among others.

If the agency really tried and failed to shut Kiriakou up, it would be very unusual, since CIA censorship of other former employes, including former director Tenet himself, Michael Scheuer and Valerie Plame, has been very effective. All complained that the agency unjustifiably cut out parts of their books. Plame even said the CIA forced her to leave out matters that were part of the public record, such as the fact that she was employed by the agency from Nov. 9, 1985, to Jan. 9, 2006, a fact that appeared in the Congressional Record.

I could go on and on. But you get the point. At times, the CIA's credibility is not much better than crazy Dick Cheney's.