It did not take long for politics to resume its usual course following the moving funeral services for Sen. Edward Kennedy. On the Fox News Sunday show, former vice-president Dick Cheney threw another salvo at the Obama administration over Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to name a special prosecutor to investigate specific cases of torture by CIA. Cheney called John Dunham’s appointment an intolerable political act by Obama and claimed to be deeply offended by the decision. He added that Obama is pursuing a course that will make America more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Holder’s decision is undoubtedly controversial, since many on the left would have preferred a full-blown investigation that would certainly have included Cheney. Those on the right—led principally by Cheney and, to a lesser degree, the congressional Republican leadership—counter that Dunham’s investigation will affect morale at the CIA and will make future administrations hesitant to take actions to safeguard American security.
It should be noted that Dunham is already investigating the C.I.A.’s destruction of tapes that reportedly featured some of the most abhorrent tactics in the agency’s arsenal, including water boarding. These interrogations were performed with the encouragement of senior officials associated with Cheney, and Dunham’s initial investigation was authorized by President Bush’s last attorney general, not the Democrats. All Holder has done is widen the scope of Dunham’s investigation. He has not in any way made Cheney or his cohorts the subject of it. Granted, the findings may be damaging to people like Cheney, but it is unlikely to result in a full-scale probe of the Bush Administration, complete with show trials into its conduct of the war on terrorism. It is for this reason that the left is not satisfied with the Holder move.
There is no doubt that Cheney is having an impact on the political debate regarding torture. Last spring, his interventions affected Obama’s approval ratings and this one will no doubt sidetrack the administration as it gears up for the congressional showdown on healthcare. The ongoing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan may be mining public support for both wars, but it does remind the public about the continued threat of Islamic fundamentalism and al Qaeda. The attack on Obama and Holder shows Cheney and the right can smell blood. It should be noted that Cheney is on a pre-release book tour during which even his former boss, George W. Bush, has not been spared the Cheney rod.
Republican John McCain argues that Cheney-inspired policies of torture—Cheney prefers the term “enhanced interrogation techniques”—failed to uncover significant information and may have instead become a recruitment tool for terrorists. McCain has long been an opponent of torture and has pressed for the United States to scrupulously abide by the Geneva Convention and other international agreements. To do otherwise makes every potential American prisoner of war a subject for torture—McCain is an expert on the matter. Where the Republicans, including the Arizona senator, become inconsistent is in their criticism of Holder. Cheney can be forgiven for wanting Holder to cast aside the attorney general’s sacred duty to uphold the law and to do it in a way that is independent from the president. It seems Cheney prefers an Alberto Gonzalez-type of attorney general. In fact, Cheney accuses Obama of going back on his word to not investigate the past. But Republicans like McCain cannot deny that Holder is acting on indisputable legal grounds and that the C.I.A. report has been widely recognized as solid in its foundation.
What is most disconcerting about this latest Cheney strike is that it shows politics in America continuing down their polarizing course. The Democrats are not above criticism when it comes to partisan politics. But last November, America seemed to have chosen a different course—one where the public interest took precedence over narrow partisan interests and the interests of well-paid lobbyists. Obama has done much to raise the rhetoric to a level where the U.S. is once again seen in a hopeful light around the world, where America can lead without sacrificing its fundamental values and ideals. I believe that moderate conservative Republicans would genuinely prefer that direction. But the far right and Dick Cheney seem to want to take America in a different direction.