Mr. Cheney Is Blind to the Damage of His Terrorism Policies

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"THE UNITED States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected." So declared former vice president Dick Cheney in an interview this week with Politico. Mr. Cheney is right -- which is why he should be apologizing rather than defending the extreme Bush administration policies on detention and interrogation that he championed.

Mr. Cheney asserted that the administration's antiterrorism policies may have been unpopular but were necessary, and he offered sweeping and unverifiable pronouncements about their effectiveness. "If it hadn't been for what we did -- with respect to the terrorist surveillance program or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees, the Patriot Act and so forth -- then we would have been attacked again," Mr. Cheney claimed.

Characteristically self-assured, Mr. Cheney perpetuated the myth that abiding by the rule of law puts the country in danger. In a thinly veiled attack on the Obama administration, he scoffed at those who are "more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans." This is not only a mischaracterization of Mr. Obama's position, it is a false choice.

The Bush administration deserves credit for shepherding the United States through seven years without another attack, but it may be decades before information is declassified that could shed light on whether this can be attributed to such practices as waterboarding and the lawless detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Indeed, military and intelligence officials from Republican and Democratic administrations have suggested that they probably cannot, and they have repeatedly argued that traditional intelligence-gathering techniques are sufficient to thwart the kinds of attacks Mr. Cheney warns against. They have also stressed that the coercive techniques advanced by Mr. Cheney produce unreliable information from prisoners desperate to avoid further agony.

Most profoundly, Mr. Cheney fails to recognize the damage these policies have done to the country's reputation at large. They have alienated even once-stalwart allies, and they have played into the hands of terrorist leaders, who use the sordid images from Abu Ghraib and tales of abuse at secret CIA prisons overseas as political ammunition to recruit the next wave of suicide bombers and foot soldiers. Thanks to Mr. Cheney and his allies, global respect for the United States is at a low point. Part of the mission of preventing attacks must be to repair that damage.

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