Vice President for Torture
Wednesday, October 26, 2005; Page A18
VICE PRESIDENT Cheney is aggressively pursuing an initiative that may be
unprecedented for an elected official of the executive branch: He is
proposing that Congress legally authorize human rights abuses by Americans.
"Cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners is banned by an
international treaty negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by
the United States. The State Department annually issues a report criticizing
other governments for violating it. Now Mr. Cheney is asking Congress to
approve legal language that would allow the CIA to commit such abuses
against foreign prisoners it is holding abroad. In other words, this vice
president has become an open advocate of torture.
His position is not just some abstract defense of presidential power. The
CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers
abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register
those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its
inspectors. Its prisoners have "disappeared," like the victims of some
dictatorships. The Justice Department and the White House are known to have
approved harsh interrogation techniques for some of these people, including
"waterboarding," or simulated drowning; mock execution; and the deliberate
withholding of pain medication. CIA personnel have been implicated in the
deaths during interrogation of at least four Afghan and Iraqi detainees.
Official investigations have indicated that some aberrant practices by Army
personnel in Iraq originated with the CIA. Yet no CIA personnel have been
held accountable for this record, and there has never been a public report
on the agency's performance.
It's not surprising that Mr. Cheney would be at the forefront of an attempt
to ratify and legalize this shameful record. The vice president has been a
prime mover behind the Bush administration's decision to violate the Geneva
Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and to break with
decades of past practice by the U.S. military. These decisions at the top
have led to hundreds of documented cases of abuse, torture and homicide in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney's counsel, David S. Addington, was
reportedly one of the principal authors of a legal memo justifying the
torture of suspects. This summer Mr. Cheney told several Republican senators
that President Bush would veto the annual defense spending bill if it
contained language prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment by any U.S. personnel.
The senators ignored Mr. Cheney's threats, and the amendment, sponsored by
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), passed this month by a vote of 90 to 9. So now
Mr. Cheney is trying to persuade members of a House-Senate conference
committee to adopt language that would not just nullify the McCain amendment
but would formally adopt cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as a legal
instrument of U.S. policy. The Senate's earlier vote suggests that it will
not allow such a betrayal of American values. As for Mr. Cheney: He will be
remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture.