Thursday, May 21, 2009

News Talk Online May 21, 2009: Obama, Cheney Face Off With Dueling Speeches

The rhetorical battle between the current and immediate past administrations about national security came to a head today as President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney gave successive speeches before separate audiences in Washington - speeches that were both carried in their entirety live on News Talk Online on

Cheney has been very vocal of late, criticizing the Obama administration for making the nation less safe with its elimination of enhanced interrogation of terrorist suspects.

The president who has been trying to make his case for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, received a major setback this week when Senate Democrats joined with Republicans in turning down funding for its mothballing over concerns that some detainees might end up loose on the streets of the United States.

So Obama had to go public and restate his case for its closing. He emphasized that no one who is a "danger to the American people" will be released. He said they will be transferred to maximum security federal pens, from which there has never been an escape. And he said he is confident that the federal court system will successfully prosecute terrorists. Though that sidesteps the emotional issue driving the opposition to closing Gitmo of what would be done with those who are acquitted.

Cheney, on the other hand, lambasted the Obama administration for having little regard for the valuable information detainees might provide - information that, he argues, could be used to thwart future terrorist attacks in the United States. The former vice president argued that the issue of waterboarding has been overblown by detractors, noting that only three people ever were waterboarded. And he said, several times, that torture was never permitted on the Bush administration's watch, noting that the enhanced interrogation techniques were only authorized after having been given what he called "careful" legal review.

He says the most vocal critics of the interrogation techniques come from those exhibiting "contrived indignation" and who "distort the truth."

CIA intelligence officers, he asserted, were only attempting to prevent future killings of Americans. And he repeated his assertion that completely prohibiting such techniques makes the United States less safe.

He concluded by citing the Bush administration's record of preventing terrorist attacks for the seven-and-a-half years following the September 11, 2001 attack. A record he says that should not be scorned "much less criminalized." Which goes directly to the heart of the issue. Because Cheney, seemingly, is not just concerned about future terrorist attacks. He's appears concerned that he and others might face prosecution for the decisions made on his watch.

We'll talk about the closing of Guantanamo and the enhance interrogation techniques of the Bush administration at 5 PM New York time today on News Talk Online on CLICK HERE to join the conversation.


Anonymous said...

I listened to both speeches and I have to say I am in 100% agreement with the words of Mr. Cheney.

We were kept safe. And frankly, I don't really care HOW we were kept safe. Our constitution affords rights to citizenry. Not to foreign terrorists, whether caught here or abroad.

Sadly, we seem to think it's immoral to place these persons at GITMO, where only the ardent terrorists had harsh interrogation used on them, and they still received three hots and a cot, a koran, and all their medical needs met (more than some Americans have guarateed to them!)

By the way, it seems odd to me that Obama criticizes the Bush policy when he reserves the right to sign off on the same- or worse- interrogation techniques himself.

So what the hell is the difference?

Release the information garnered by the use of these techniques, please! I want to know what we were spared. Let's just hope that the reports don't disappear like other tidbits have in the past.

-LD McLellan

Anonymous said...

I do so wish people would realize that the Geneva Convention doesn't cover these guys.

"First, the Taliban were not a signatory to the treaty. The Convention is pretty clear that it applies — as common sense would suggest — to countries that actually sign the thing: "the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties." Now, Afghanistan signed the Convention 50 years ago, so its government is bound by it, but the Taliban was not its government (we will return to this point in a moment).

The Convention's Article 4 does have provision for covering militias, but to be recognized by the treaty they have to meet a couple basic requirements: wearing uniforms, having a clear line of command, and respecting "the laws and customs of war." The Taliban might meet the chain-of-command requirement but flunks the other two, and therefore fails the militia test. (Even if we consider the Taliban the regular army of a government, it arguably should have to meet these basic criteria to qualify for Geneva protections anyway, which it didn't.)

Finally, Article 4 has a provision that seems as if it might be capacious enough to include the Taliban: "Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or authority not recognized by the Detaining Power." This is the closest call, but it wasn't just the U.S. — the detaining power — that didn't recognize the Taliban, but the entire international community as embodied by the United Nations. According to the U.N., the Taliban was basically an armed gang that happened to occupy most of Afghanistan for five years or so. What administration critics are asking is that in defiance of the U.N. and world opinion the U.S. now retroactively recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. Very weird.

What are these detainees guilty of? Violating "the rules and customs of war." Get out your Latin. They might be tried under two broad categories:

1) Jus in Bello — essentially for the way they conducted their war, their targeting choices, including attacking civilians and military targets without warrant.

2) Jus ad Bellum — the basic fact of their unlawful aggression (this would echo the first two counts against the Nazis at Nuremberg — conspiracy to wage aggressive war, and waging aggressive war)."


Gary Baumgarten said...

So are you suggesting, LD, that since they are not in uniform it's OK to treat them in a manner that we can't treat prisoners who are in uniform because the Conventions don't prohibit it?