Vice President Dick Cheney has a political tin ear. What was he thinking when he sneaked Ahmad Chalabi into the White House for a meeting with himself and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? Cheney’s guest arrived just as the Senate was debating whether the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in an effort to rush America into the war in Iraq.
Chalabi, remember, was the head of a group of exiles who funneled phony intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction to the U.S. He is now Iraq’s deputy prime minister.
Cheney recently courageously carried the administration’s message to a conservative group called Frontiers of Freedom. The vice president leveled his attack at those who claim the administration “cherry-picked” and exaggerated pre-war intelligence. He called those critics “dishonest, reprehensible, politically ambitious hypocrites.”
This echoes the president’s own charges, delivered to a hand-picked military audience, that critics of the war are undermining the morale of the troops and encouraging its radical Islamic foes.
Cheney is also lobbying furiously to be sure that the U.S. remains unbound by international agreements restricting torture. He exhorted Senate Republicans to add an exemption for the CIA to Sen. John McCain’s amendment to ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. You would think Cheney would have some sensitivity about confronting John McCain on the subject of torture. But you would be wrong.
The Cheney-Bush position on torture is simple: “America does not torture.” They believe that if you say it often enough, people will believe it. But the truth on torture is somewhat different.
Americans and the world will not soon forget the Abu Ghraib torture photos nor the investigative reports out of Guantanamo, nor the fact that Cheney’s office opposes any language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture and cruel treatment. Just as Cheney was opposing the McCain amendment, The Washington Post revealed that the CIA has been running a secret network of prisons, hiding and interrogating suspects. Collaborating with foreign intelligence services, this amounts to what the Post called a “hidden global internment network” in which prisoners are deprived of all rights.
It comes also at a time when we learn that the government of Iraq, which we hail as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, is allowing its police to run a secret underground prison in Baghdad. The prison is right in the basement of the Interior Ministry where 173 Sunnis were found weakened and malnourished, many beaten and tortured, some put in tubs of water and administered electric shocks.
It also comes at a time when we learn from combat soldiers that in the battle of Fallujah America used white phosphorous as an attack weapon. This is normally shot skyward to illuminate targets in night battles. It is not technically considered a chemical weapon, but reading of its effects on civilians and soldiers, it should be.
Finally, we learned this week that the Pentagon paid hundreds of millions of dollars in graft to obtain fuel contracts in Kyrgyzstan, involving the family of that country’s former president. Also, hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid in bribes and kickbacks to members of the American occupation authorities in Baghdad, cases now sent to the Justice Department for prosecution.
The incompetence and dishonesty of the Bush-Cheney administration is staggering. The sad thing is that it is taking America’s reputation in the world right down with it.