The Dick Cheney School for Heartless Bastards

December 17, 2014 Originally published on SFGate

Thank you, Mr. Cheney.

For your refreshing honesty, for your brutally – some might say nauseatingly – forthright character, for not disappointing a single harried soul on God’s ravaged Earth by pretending to be even the slightest bit ashamed, contrite, a mite horrified by the findings in the Senate’s unprecedented torture report – a massive, rot-infused document in which you figure prominently, a 6,000-page beast of moral burden so full of American-bred cruelty and ignominy, it makes ISIL look like a kiddie play.

Look at you, sitting there on ‘Meet the Press,’ defending your record as co-architect of the most disastrous, malicious war effort in this lifetime.

You were, in a word, perfect. Sour and forbidding, not giving an inch, daring your interlocutor, with a snarl and a beady black stare, to question your impeccable savagery. You’re the lion in winter – if the lion had incurable mange and the blood of a decomposed turnip.

Oh, that torture report. The abuses you and Bush authorized, that your CIA minions eagerly enacted upon other, often innocent, humans, in the name of war, in the name of God, in the name of counteracting unspeakable terror by performing… even more terror. Such barbaric algebra you live by, Mr. Cheney. The Devil is, surely, beaming.

The way you speak of torture, so intimately, so affectionately (“It worked. It absolutely worked”) it makes one wonder if you had a personal favorite. Was it the rectal feeding? Waterboarding? Shackles? Dragging Islamic bodies around by chains, dunking them in ice baths, hanging them up by their limbs for hours and days, electrocution? To hell with all those historians who say the Bush/Cheney era was the most acidic and destructive in recent American history. Your tone suggests you were enjoying yourself immensely.

And what of the report’s most damning conclusion of all? That, despite all that cruelty, torture is a failure as a reliable technique, that it doesn’t work and never really has? Hell, even Napoleon knew that.

Or what of the widely-known fact that there’s a far more effective and humane technique for extracting vital information from detainees?

Surely you know it: It’s called pretending to befriend the prisoner. Sympathize with them. Understand their plight. Gain their confidence and, psychologists have proven, they are far more likely to give up accurate information than beating them with chains and forcing pureed hummus up their colons.

I can hear your pacemaker wail in horror. What the hell? Sympathize? Pretend to be nice? Pathetic. Shameful. Where’s the ruthlessness in that? And the cold-blooded, eye-for-an-eye gratification?

This explains why, when asked if you would authorize torture again, you didn’t even flinch. “I’d do it again in a minute,” you said, out loud, because you are nothing if not unwavering in your mercilessness, in your dedication to your dark principles. Again, very impressive.

Funny, though. The torture program you so adore wasn’t just a failure, one that further degrades America’s shabby standing among developed nations. It’s not merely a repulsive adjunct to an equally failed Iraqi war, one you helped launch by shamelessly whoring America’s greatest modern tragedy, all to help your pals at Halliburton and, in the larger schema, your beloved military industrial complex.

This report manages something even worse. It does dark violence to the national character, corrodes the soul, puts America on nasty parallel with the savage tormenters to whom we claim to be so morally superior.

Sure, the U.S. is no angel when it comes to international relations; we’re the biggest arms dealer, an unparalleled warmonger, architect of all sorts of puppet governments, drone warfare, surveillance. As Matt Taibbi points out, Obama’s drone program might prove to be even worse, in its way, than your toxic torture concoction.

But our transgressions never felt quite like this. It was never so ugly, so harshly obvious, so in our faces. Maybe it’s time it was? Maybe we needed to hear it? Or maybe it will just numb us out even more, and torture will become mundane and obvious? Six years after you and your ludicrous boss hobbled out of office, you’ve managed, once again, to take us to a new and even darker level than we imagined possible. Well done.

Of course you’d authorize torture all over again. Because it was never about the war, or capturing bin Laden, or extracting secrets.

It was about playing The Game. About sour old men moving archaic chess pieces of power, fear, influence around a board of authoritarianism and ego. You’re one of the old guard, after all. A different breed. You think in polarities, savage binaries. Eat or be eaten. You’re either the butcher or the meat. Ad nauseam.

No wonder your “in a minute” blurb is reminding everyone of Nicholson’s famous “You can’t handle the truth!” speech from A Few Good Men. You still see yourself as some sort of untouchable, omnipotent overlord, a protector of the realm who must, by definition, be allowed to operate independent of any law we can muster.

But there’s one notable difference: Nicholson’s cartoonish Col. Jessep was justifying the death of a single soldier as an “unfortunate” price to pay to keep the “walls” in place and our tormentors at bay.

In this case, Mr. Cheney, the walls are what remains of our national integrity, and the tormenters are callous monsters just like you.

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Mark Morford

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