Mark Danner: Cheney's Using Politics Of Fear

Mark Danner on AC360 calls out the Cheney father-daughter tag team for their use of fear mongering and Karl Rove style "ruthless politics of national
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Mark Danner on AC360 calls out the Cheney father-daughter tag team for their use of fear mongering and Karl Rove style "ruthless politics of national security". As he notes it isn't good for the country or for the Republican party, not that the Cheney's seem so care.

Mark also points out the very slippery slope that President Obama is talking about taking us down with this idea of prolonged detention which is essentially preventive detention and is not something anyone should be supportive of.

COOPER: Mark, you have written extensively about the detainee issue, about these interrogation techniques. What did you think of what Vice President Cheney said today, about what Liz Cheney said tonight?

DANNER: Well, I think this is an extension of what President Obama has referred to as the politics of fear.

Both Cheneys made very serious charges about President Obama, basically saying, explicitly, that he was endangering the country, that he endangered the country, as -- as Liz Cheney said, by putting out these memos, which is a complete canard.

These techniques have been public not simply since the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, as -- as you pointed out, Anderson, but since 2005, when ABC News did an extensive report that specifically described all these techniques.

So, the idea that this was a great secret and now terrorists can train to them is completely and manifestly untrue. And, as a charge, it is a kind of ruthless politics of national security, of the sort that we have seen Republicans seize on since about four months after 9/11, when Karl Rove basically told the Republican National Committee, look, this is an issue we can win on.

This was January 2002. And you see a kind of reclaiming of this ground, or an attempt to reclaim this ground, from the two Cheneys. And I think the Republican Party in general doesn't want to go in this direction, but they're being, in effect, dragged along, kicking and screaming, by the ubiquitous voice of the former vice president.

I don't think it's good for the country. But I agree with David Gergen that it's at least interesting to see a public debate and to see President Obama come up and, in a prepared speech -- and I thought a very elegant speech -- try to take on these matters and build a consensus for a sustainable policy. And I emphasize sustainable. He wants something that we won't fight about, that can be submitted to the rule of law, that the Supreme Court will not throw out, that can last over the length of the so-called war on terror.

COOPER: David...

DANNER: And I...

COOPER: David, was -- I mean, were the Bush policies sustainable? Because, I mean, that's what President Obama is saying, that he inherited this mess.

And if -- you know, I was trying to look -- I have been doing research today, trying to look at what the end game was for some of these detainees under the Bush policies. And it just seems like it was kind of indefinite detention.

GERGEN: I think that President Obama was right. It was not sustainable. In fact, it was already starting to break apart.

The Supreme Court, as -- as Liz Cheney, who disagreed with the Supreme Court, had to recognize, they had spoken out against some of this. And I think that President Obama is moving in a -- toward a much more sustainable system.

And to echo one thing that Mark said, what's -- what's been -- what impressed me today about the Obama speech was that he made it very clear that he doesn't want to be the sole judge, as president, of how these detainees are treated and how future detainees are treated. He wants a system which brings in the Congress and the courts, as watchdogs of the watchers, in effect.

And I think those -- and I think bringing this in -- within the checks-and-balances system, bringing it back to constitutional values, was a valuable step forward for the president today in impressing people that this is a well-thought through -- more well-thought- through than he's been given credit for approach to how to deal with an extremely complex issue.

COOPER: Mark, I want to ask you about where the truth lies in this question of the migration of these interrogation techniques. Both Cheneys making the point today, the former vice president earlier today, Liz Cheney tonight on the program, essentially saying Abu Ghraib was an anomaly, it was a couple of bad apples. And all these, you know, any crimes that were committed have been investigated. People have been prosecuted.

Was there -- is there a connection between Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and some of these CIA enhanced interrogation techniques?

DANNER: Absolutely. There's no question about it. And there's a wealth of documentary evidence in the public realm now that proves it. And there's no question there was some sadism at Abu Ghraib.

But essentially Liz Cheney and the former vice president were making the old "few bad apples" argument that the Bush administration originally greeted the appearance of these photographs from Abu Ghraib with: "This is just a few bad apples. They're sadists. We're going to prosecute them."

In fact, many of the activities pictured were put in place because military intelligence officers had urged MPs to keep these prisoners awake. These were various ways that they were meant to keep them awake.

And those techniques migrated, as you pointed out -- former Secretary of Defense Schlessinger said in his report, migrated from Guantanamo to Bagram to Abu Ghraib and Iraq. So you know, the idea that this is a few bad apples and this was just a crime and you shouldn't conflate it is just completely wrong. As is, by the way, the notion that these techniques were legal, which the vice president repeatedly said and his daughter repeatedly said and the former president has repeatedly said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is the legally-constituted body to examine POWs and examine their treatment has declared, unequivocally, that these activities, quote, "constituted torture" and, quote, "constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

So the idea -- there's a well-known political technique. You simply keep repeating the same thing, and people will believe it. But in fact, there was a realm of facts out there that completely undermines these arguments.

I'd like to make a final point here, which is that the president's speech today was very impressive. And I'm glad you have it up on your Web site. And I hope viewers will watch it in its entirety and the former vice president's, as well.

But there were a number of elements in it that should give people cause -- pause, and people should debate. One of them is the notion of prolonged detention, this idea that some of these prisoners in Guantanamo were going to keep in detention for five, ten years, more than that. Americans should be debating this. It has not happened before. I salute President Obama that he's trying to put it on a legal footing under observation of the courts and with Congress. But still, it's something that should be debated. It's a perilous step for the United States to take. Perhaps necessary, but a perilous step.

COOPER: It's of concern certainly to a lot of civil libertarians.

DANNER: Absolutely.

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