Cheney's 'Dark Side' Is Showing

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, November 7, 2005; 1:21 PM

Vice President Cheney is on a passionate, mostly secret and sometimes lonely campaign to prevent Congress from approving prohibitions against torture -- prohibitions that he insists could encumber American intelligence gathering.

Always a hawk, Cheney nevertheless is widely considered to have undergone a radical transformation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. One of the New Cheney's cardinal rules: No holding back.

Cheney publicly embraced the "dark side" within days after the terrorist attacks. Here he is talking to NBC's Tim Russert on Sept. 16, 2001. The U.S. military has "a broad range of capabilities. And they may well be given missions in connection with this overall task and strategy," Cheney said.

"We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

Arguments against torture -- along both moral and pragmatic lines, from both Democrats and Republicans, and even from inside the White House -- have not dissuaded the vice president. Indeed, he got some apparent support today from President Bush, who had this exchange with a reporter in Panama. From the transcript :

"Q Mr. President, there has been a bit of an international outcry over reports of secret U.S. prisons in Europe for terrorism suspects. Will you let the Red Cross have access to them? And do you agree with Vice President Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. The executive branch has the obligation to protect the American people; the legislative branch has the obligation to protect the American people. And we are aggressively doing that. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.

"And, therefore, we're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it possible -- more possible to do our job. There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans, and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet, we'll aggressively pursue them. But we will do so under the law. And that's why you're seeing members of my administration go and brief the Congress. We want to work together in this matter. We -- all of us have an obligation, and it's a solemn obligation and a solemn responsibility. And I'm confident that when people see the facts, that they'll recognize that we've -- they've got more work to do, and that we must protect ourselves in a way that is lawful."

Stopping Congress

Dana Priest and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "Over the past year, Vice President Cheney has waged an intense and largely unpublicized campaign to stop Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department from imposing more restrictive rules on the handling of terrorist suspects, according to defense, state, intelligence and congressional officials. . . .

"Increasingly, however, Cheney's positions are being opposed by other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism. . . .

"Cheney's camp is a 'shrinking island,' said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House. . . .

"Cheney's camp says the United States does not torture captives, but believes the president needs nearly unfettered power to deal with terrorists to protect Americans. To preserve the president's flexibility, any measure that might impose constraints should be resisted. That is why the administration has recoiled from embracing the language of treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Cheney's aides find vague and open-ended."

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