As Scott Whitlock noticed today, the networks are loading up the Darth Cheney segments again, based on this week’s "Angler" series in The Washington Post. The most obnoxious installment so far of the four-part series was Monday’s front-pager, which carried the big headline "The Unseen Path to Cruelty." Beneath those words was a picture of a Gitmo guard tower at sunset that associated Cheney with the guilt for Abu Ghraib: "The vice president’s office pushed a policy of aggressive interrogation that made its way to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, above, and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq." Now that Rumsfeld’s gone, the center of the Abu Ghraib conspiracy map moved across town.
For as much as liberals love the notion of "activism," they certainly haven’t demonstrated much of it in the war on terrorism. The Clinton administration didn’t capture top suspects like Abu Zubeida and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. They could only manage to indict Osama bin Laden in absentia. They don’t even accept the terminology. Late in this massive story, Post reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker write: "For all the apparent setbacks, close observers said, Cheney has preserved his top-priority tools in the ‘war on terror.’"
The logo for the series is an all-black silhouette of Cheney, complete with a villain’s hat. In the third paragraph, Gellman and Becker turn on the adjectives to describe Cheney’s vicious approach to terrorist suspects.
Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive’s will to resist. The vice president’s office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion of prisoners in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials."
Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden "torture" and permitted use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods of questioning. They did not originate every idea to rewrite or reinterpret the law, but fresh accounts from participants show that they translated muscular theories, from Yoo and others, into the operational language of government.
A backlash beginning in 2004, after reports of abuse leaked out of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay, brought what appeared to be sharp reversals in courts and Congress -- for Cheney's claims of executive supremacy and for his unyielding defense of what he called "robust interrogation."
But a more careful look at the results suggests that Cheney won far more than he lost. Many of the harsh measures he championed, and some of the broadest principles undergirding them, have survived intact but out of public view.
Gellman and Becker never explored in this installment whether aggressive interrogations led to the prevention of more terrorist attacks. Has the detention and questioning of top al-Qaeda leaders been part of the reason why the American homeland has not been attacked since 9-11? The Post didn't seem to want to explore that avenue. Instead, the Post is typically fixated on the liberties of terror suspects -- and not on the liberties of Americans who never died in post-September 11 terrorist reruns.