When NBC announced late last week that former Vice President Dick Cheney would be the lead guest on yesterday’s “Meet the Press,” it was easy to start imagining exactly how the interview would go. Cheney would do what he always does: celebrate torture and apologize for nothing.
But it’s one thing to expect the worst; it’s something else to actually see the worst play out on national television. Irin Carmon noted yesterday:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday budged not an inch in his defense of the CIA torture program – even when it came to people who were falsely detained. And he reiterated that, given the chance, that he would do it all again. […]Each time Cheney was asked to weigh in on the grisly tactics, he pivoted instead to American citizens dying on the September 11 terrorist attacks.
That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. Host Chuck Todd didn’t ask any questions about 9/11, but looking at the transcript, I count at least 12 direct references to the 2001 attack in response to inquiries about torture.
Indeed, when Todd asked Cheney how he defines the word torture – an excellent question under the circumstances – Cheney referred only to the terrorism of 9/11.
At least for me, the most striking exchange came when the former V.P. was asked about a detainee who died after CIA abuse, who was only taken into custody as the result of mistaken identity.
TODD: I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.CHENEY: Right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield.
Let that sink in for a minute. An innocent man died. For Cheney, there is no remorse, no reflection, no acknowledgement of an obvious tragedy. Rather, there is an immediate shift to others he wishes he could have imprisoned longer.
When Chuck Todd reminded the former V.P. that 25% of the detainees turned out to be innocent, Cheney added, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”
The ends justify the means, apparently, just so long as Cheney is the one dictating both the means and the ends.
There may be a temptation among some to acknowledge this gut-wrenching perspective as repulsive but irrelevant – Cheney no longer holds public office, he’s been gone for six years, and he’ll never be in a position to celebrate torture from a position of authority ever again. Maybe, some will argue, Cheney’s abhorrent views are a thing of the past.
Except that’s plainly not the case. Most of the contemporary Republican Party not only agrees with Cheney, but GOP policymakers literally welcome Cheney to Capitol Hill to help offer guidance to Republican lawmakers on matters of national security.
It was just a few months ago when the Republican Study Committee, a group of far-right House GOP lawmakers, invited former Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to share words of wisdom. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), now a member of the House GOP leadership, said at the time, in reference to Cheney, “He’s got a lot of credibility when it comes to talking about foreign policy.”
Today’s Republicans actually believe this. Nothing will change their mind. Cheney isn’t some monstrous figure on the fringes of American life – a case study in the betrayal of American principles – so much as he’s prominent leader in Republican politics.
And that’s why I think interviews like this one are important. It was, to be sure, hard to watch Cheney and not be horrified, but it also served as a reminder of who’s helping guide the Republican Party’s thinking on national security – and what conclusions they’re drawing about how the United States can and should conduct itself.