The Real "No-Brainer"
On Tuesday last, Vice President Cheney was being interviewed by WDAY talk radio host Scott Hennen, operating out of Fargo, ND. Hennen asked Cheney "Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" The Veep responded "Well, it’s a no-brainer for me. But for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in."
Understandably, Cheney's comments have been interpreted as an personal (if not official) endorsement of certain forms of interrogation, including so-called "waterboarding," which, as the NYT's Neil Lewis points out today "is actually not a dunk in the water, but rather, covering a subject’s face with a constantly soaked cloth to make breathing difficult." Human Rights Watch director Tom Malinowski said this week "If Iran or Syria detained an American, Cheney is saying that it would be perfectly fine for them to hold that American’s head under water until he nearly drowns, if that’s what they need to do to save Iranian or Syrian lives."
White House spokesman Tony Snow tried to tamp down the questions Friday in his briefings by suggesting that Cheney was not referring to waterboarding or any other interrogation technique: "A dunk in the water is a dunk in the water." Earlier in the day, Snow also quipped "You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will. ou think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on." Lewis adds "One reporter noted that the vice president had once used a profanity on the Senate floor, and also shot a friend in the face during a hunting accident last February."
Today's Washington Post notes that Cheney told reporters last night "that he did not talk about any specific interrogation technique." "I didn't say anything about waterboarding. ... He didn't even use that phrase," Cheney said.
While that's a technically accurate answer, Cheney has thus far failed to respond to the overarching question of what exactly he was terming a "no-brainer." It is clear, in my view, that the radio host was not simply referring to a pleasant swim, and was probably asking indirectly about waterboarding or a similar tactic. To suggest that such methods, which are banned by international law, treaties, and federal statutes, are "a no-brainer" is repulsive and inappropriate, and serves only to further weaken America's reputation and put our men and women in uniform in danger.
A couple weeks ago I began thinking of what sort of "October Surprise" the Republicans could pull that would improve their chances of holding Congress after November's elections. Among the things that came to mind was "ditching Cheney." Picture it: a few days before the election, the Veep announces that he's become a distraction from the Administration's governing strategy (due to [insert your favorite scandal here]) and has decided he can best serve the country by quietly resigning.
With the probable impending release of his visitors' logs (which are expected to show many meetings between his staff and Jack Abramoff & Co.), and now this additional firestorm, I've begun thinking this might not be quite so far-fetched as I originally imagined it. Of course, I still think the odds are miniscule that this will actually happen, but just think about what would happen if, a week or so prior to Election Day, the Vice President who has been so identified with the missteps of the Bush Administration rides off into the sunset. Bush then (quickly) nominates a replacement Veep from the Skeptical Wing of the GOP (someone like John Warner or Jack Danforth, for example, who would be presumed not to run in '08). While "the base" might collectively freak out for a minute, this wouldn't be something that would cause them to stay home - and for wavering Republicans and many independents, this would be exactly the sort of action that would get them back (especially since the Dems still haven't managed - inexplicably - to offer much of an alternative other than "we're not them"). Sure, it'd be more of a totally transparent political stunt than an actual admission of error, but they've certainly been effective before.
Seems to me that's the real "no-brainer" around here, and this new brouhaha may be the perfect cover for it.