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Dick Cheney, torturer in chief

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By Rick Howell

    Like a dazed dragon you thought you’d slain, former vice president Dick Cheney has arisen from the muck and the ruin of the Bush administration to become the new spokesman for something he really believes in: torture.

    Republicans may have thought they had it bad enough when their only spokesman seemed to be radio fanatic Rush Limbaugh. Now they’re saddled with the angry and smug countenance of a man many of them are horrified to see as the new face of their party.

    Most of the people associated with the Bush administration have been quite happy to slink away in shame and go back to their private lives. But not Cheney. Apparently, he thinks he can rescue history’s verdict and even influence U.S. policy on terrorism specifically, and foreign policy in general.

    But he and his partner presided over an administration that relentlessly exploited the fear of terrorism for votes. They also attacked a country that hadn’t attacked us, hadn’t had anything at all to do with Sept. 11, and they apparently only invaded Afghanistan because they knew that, well, that was where the real terrorists were.

    For these and many other policies, the Cheney-Bush regime (and the real power may have been Cheney, not the intellectually-challenged Bush) was rejected by the American people and saw its approval ratings sink into the low 20s for basically the last two years of its existence.

    It also presided over the destruction of its own party at the national level, losing control of the Congress in 2006, and being utterly unable to put its party nominee in the White House last year. During that campaign, the McCain team treated Cheney and Bush like they had leprosy, which, politically speaking, they did.

    Yet, with all this as his history, here comes Cheney, charging through the media like a right-wing pit bull, defending his record, fighting the closing of the notorious Gitmo prison in Cuba, and refusing to admit that, yes, “waterboarding” is torture and that his administration did indeed believe in and practice torture.

    Let’s remember, too, that Dick Cheney is a man who thoroughly believes in war as long as doesn’t have to fight in one. He could have claimed the title of “Mr. Student Deferment” during Vietnam because he obtained not one, not two, not three - not even four- but five student deferments to keep him out of fighting.

He said, in a quote that became infamous, “I had other priorities.” In other words, it was OK for other young men to die in a war he supported, but he wasn’t going to take that chance himself. Years later, he would help send other young men to die in another war, knowing again that he wouldn’t have to face it himself.

    His knowledge of history is rather short, too. Did we not hang Japanese war criminals for what they did to American POWs, part of which was water torture? Yes, we did. 

    During the presidential campaign, John McCain - a man who knows a thing or two about torture - made it clear that he had no illusions about waterboarding or other methods of torture. Even recently, he said, “I can assure you that, under torture, a subject will say anything he can to make the torture stop.”

    That’s a paraphrase of a recent quote, but John McCain has made it clear that torture should never be the policy of this country. President Barack Obama is absolutely right to take the same position.

    So, if Dick Cheney wants to run around as torturer in chief, go ahead. History will remember him as a truly reprehensible figure in American politics. All his efforts won’t change that verdict.

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    Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.