Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Compleat Angler

The Washington Post is running a four-part series on Vice President Cheney's place in the White House. As you'd expect, it's profoundly chilling stuff, and well worth the time it takes to read and digest.

In league with a network of aides throughout the government, and buttressed by David Addington, his lawyer, Cheney has made himself into the most powerful veep ever. The first two parts of the series detail his role in the War on Terra, from developing the warrantless wiretapping program to making torture acceptable. Through it all, Cheney - whose Secret Service code name is "Angler" - has waged total bureaucratic warfare, unremittingly punished his enemies, taken advantage of the incompetence and stupidity of officials such as Alberto Gonzales, exploited the same traits in the president, and ended up advancing policies which actually diminish American power and status. We are weaker, not stronger, thanks to Cheney's machinations.

And even though almost all of it occurred in secret, it all of this directly concerns the average citizen. For as Scott Horton reminds us, torture matters not only because the government can now do it to captured al-Qaeda operatives, but because they can do it to us - U.S. citizens caught up in events beyond our control.

In the early days in Afghanistan, two Westerners were picked up with what were believed to be Al Qaeda or Taliban units. They were a kid from California named John Walker Lindh and a young Australian kangaroo skinner named David Hicks. As an act of political largesse directed by Dick Cheney, the man who runs our secret government, Hicks was released from Gitmo and returned to Australia. Lindh, however, didn’t have it so good. A decision was made to make an example of him. So he was sentenced to 20 years without parole by Judge T.S. Ellis III in a case prosecuted by Paul J. McNulty, a man who later made his reputation in the U.S. attorney scandal, and now faces suggestions of perjury and lying to Congress. At the time, I was told repeatedly that prosecutors were frantic to secure a plea bargain because they knew that Lindh had been tortured and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was deeply implicated in the decision to torture him. In other words, torture didn’t start in Gitmo or among some grunts in the field and then spread. In fact perhaps the very first victim was a young American citizen, and the decision was reached right at the pinnacle of power and then hammered down on people out in the field who reacted with disbelief upon hearing the instructions given.