With just seven days left in our eight-year-long national nightmare, nearly everyone is holding their breath while praying to their favorite gods, hoping against hope that after two disastrous wars and the worst economic devastation since the Depression, the most incompetent administration of the modern era will leave office without causing any additional catastrophe. Everyone, that is, except for the 27 percent of the adult, telephone-owning population, which continues to tell CNN that George Bush has done a good job.
We may now count Newsweek editor-in-chief Jon Meacham among these Undoubting Thomases.
Those of us outside this magic minority have been cataloging the huge questions facing Barack Obama. Will his economic stimulus plan be enough to jump start a devastated economy? Will he keep his promise to make a prompt exit from Iraq? Will he come to his senses and reverse his disastrous campaign pledge to add tens of thousands of new combat troops to the quagmire of Afghanistan? How quickly will he close Guantánamo? And finally–and to many of us, most importantly—will his oft-repeated promise to end American torture to restore us to the community of civilized nations become a resounding passage in his Inaugural Address?
However, in Jon Meacham’s judgment, none of those questions matters as much as the one he has placed on the cover of the magazine sitting on thousands of news stands across America this morning. That question is: “What Would Dick Do?”
Still confused? Here is Mr. Meacham’s explication of that cover line inside the magazine: “the urgent question now is whether President Obama…confronted with the realities of office, will begin to see virtue in the antiterror apparatus Cheney helped Bush create.”
It is true that Newsweek’s cover story makes New York Timesmen Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane look like two of the most sophisticated torture reporters in Washington. And Champagne corks are surely popping on every floor of the CIA’s Langley headquarters to celebrate this extraordinary triumph of disinformation. However, the story’s “virtues” end there.
Written by Newsweek veteran Evan Thomas and National Journal contributor Stuart Taylor Jr., this article has no connection to serious journalism whatsoever.
Let us examine a few of its highlights:
The issue of torture is more complicated than it seems. America brought untold shame on itself with the abuses at Abu Ghraib. It’s likely that the take-the-gloves-off attitude of Cheney and his allies filtered down through the ranks, until untrained prison guards with sadistic tendencies were making sport with electric shock. But no direct link has been reported.
Leave aside for a moment the comforting image of “making sport with electric shock.” (The ACLU has documented the deaths of at least 160 prisoners in U.S. custody during the Bush administration, of which more than seventy were caused by “gross recklessness, abuse, or torture”: an unfortunate side effect of that “sport,” I suppose.) Let us focus instead on that tossed-off assertion of “no direct link” between Cheney and his allies and what happened on the ground in Iraq and Guantánamo.
The truth is, we know for a fact that all of the most heinous methods of torture used by this administration were aired at White House meetings attended by Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. George Bush confirmed that those meetings took place in an interview with ABC correspondent Martha Raddatz last year. And just one month ago, Cheney boasted to ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl that he had personally approved of the program which led to waterboarding of alleged terrorists.
McClatchy reporters Tom Laseter and Matt Shofield have written that
the framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantánamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan … was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials.