Religiously Shaming Dick Cheney?

Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy ( and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Follow him on Twitter: @markdtooley.

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Richard Cizik, former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals

If the Evangelical Left had its way, former Vice President Dick Cheney would be forced to wear a scarlet “T” on his  chest.  The “T” stands for “torture,” of course.

In the wake of Cheney’s unapologetic new memoir, former National Association of Evangelicals’ chief lobbyist Richard Cizik has issued an angry public letter to Cheney declaring: “Shame on you!”

Cizik is mostly upset that Cheney “authorized” the waterboarding of three al-Qaeda operatives involved in 9-11’s mass murder and other global terror.   The waterboarding occurred in 2002 and 2003.   Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri remain in prison, seemingly alive and healthy, awaiting trials.

Whether or not waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation qualify as “torture” is debated of course.   But even accepting the Religious Left’s worst case definition, does the waterboarding of three al Qaeda killers 8 and 9 years ago merit ongoing obsession?

To hear Richard Cizik is to think that the unpleasant initial incarceration of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri qualifies among modernity’s worst atrocities.   Perhaps more temperate religious minds would understand that there has been other, greater suffering in the world over the last decade that may merit at least as much agitation and grief, much less “shame.”

Cizik lost his long-time job representing National Association of Evangelicals several years ago. He afterwards was rescued by the Open Society Institute of George Soros, whom Cizik hailed as his own “King Cyrus,” the biblical Persian monarch who rescued the Hebrews from captivity.  Now Cizik heads the Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, apparently funded by left-wing philanthropy to help shift traditionally conservative evangelicals leftwards. “Torture” by the U.S., but not by any other government, has been a chief Evangelical Left focus since 9-11.

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  • scum

    What's the 'debate'? The Inquisition developed sophisticated forms of interrogation (sometimes less atrocious than secular forms, because they opposed any shedding of blood), including waterboarding, the strapado, and so on. They had a name for these: torture. They were designed for maximum effect with no blood-letting. Many of these people, if not executed, would go on to live 'normal' lives. There's nothing inconsistent in suggesting that the recent detainees were 'tortured' despite now being 'healthy' and awating trial. But for all the attention to waterboarding, the article above omits some of the other forms of 'enhanced interrogation' (Orwellian double-speak): "Long Time Standing" was worse, as was keeping people awake for 5-6 days at a time. Nor does the article mention how many times suspects were waterboarded. One wonders exactly what the CIA thought they would glean from the 80th waterboarding that they didn't achieve on the 79th. If anyone wants to volunteer for 83 waterboardings, let me know, and we'll sign you up. Otherwise, let's follow the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Unlike what Cheney says, it is not just a US Constitutional issue.

    • DWPittelli

      1) They waterboarded until the subject cooperated. Hence the counts you mentioned.
      2) Those numbers would more accurately be labeled "pours" than "waterboardings."
      3) The laws and treaties against torture do not specifically name waterboarding. It is reasonable to interpret waterboarding as falling under "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental," but it is also reasonable to expect a government, facing what ours faced after 9/11, to take a different stance. Under the circumstances, I think the Bush Administration did what a Gore Administration would have done.
      4) The same treaty also forbids extraditing "a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." Such renditions were effected by the Clinton Administration, under much less exigent circumstances than posed by 9/11, and are also being effected by the Obama Administration. So I think any intellectually honest criticism of Bush/Cheney should also include criticism of Clinton/Gore and Obama/Biden.

    • DWPittelli

      You may recall that when Clinton was considering whether to engage in extraordinary renditions, Gore's answer was "Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action."

    • DWPittelli

      Finally, although the UN Convention Against Torture presumes to bind all signatories even when they are fighting against a nonsignatory, there is a good reason that treaties and other contracts are traditionally (and still, with few exceptions) seen as only binding on mutual parties, and to the extent that the other side is also following its obligations: otherwise, there is no incentive for bad actors not to break their treaty obligations. Indeed, in war, the only thing that keeps hostile powers from breaking their obligations, such as to POWs, or to refrain from using poison gas, is the knowledge that their enemies will then do the same to them. Hitler was deterred from using poison gas in WWII, even though Germany had the more sophisticated gas weapons, because he knew we would respond in kind. (Indeed, the U.S. actually used precious wartime chemical and shipping resources to ship nerve gas to Europe.) And the mutual assured destruction that kept the US and USSR from nuking each other also depended on the fact that if nuked, we would respond in kind. That we would destroy Russian cities, killing millions of Russians, was clear; and this clear knowledge was precisely what kept us from having to do so. But nuking a city is a clearer violation of the Convention Against Torture than is waterboarding ("torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person").

      The point of this is that al Qaeda did not and does not respect prisoners' right to life or to not be tortured. They broke every rule of war that they could. And so, just as we would have had the right to use gas against Hitler's troops, and to nuke Russian cities, had they done the same against us first, we have the right to execute, hold incommunicado, and torture members of al Qaeda. In war, you are allowed to use any militarily useful method, which does not disproportionately harm innocent people, that your enemy uses. Any law which purports to prevent this can only result in aiding the more evil side in any war. And so any such law will be ignored when the war stakes are seen as high, and the war opponent is itself ignoring said law.

    • Chris Nichols

      If anyone wants to volunteer for 83 waterboardings, let me know, and we'll sign you up."

      Why do I have to volunteer? What does volunteering have to do with this at all? They got waterboarded, because they are terrorists who might have information as to the plans and whereabouts of their fellow terrorists. Do you not understand that you moron? If they don't want to get waterboarded, that's up to them isn't it. Maybe they should have picked another line of work.

  • rbla

    To all the libs getting bent out of shape about Cheney – the current president ordering the summary execution of an unarmed man is a bit worse than waterboarding.

    • DWPittelli

      Well, maybe, maybe not. First, these targeted men include a couple of U.S. citizens, so yes, pretty extreme. But on the other hand, these men are not in the U.S., or in U.S. custody; if they are killed it is because they are considered combatants, who can in any war be shot, even in the back while running away. (Just not while trying to surrender.) In contrast, men held by us don't have to be killed or tortured to be rendered safe to us, as they cannot plot to murder us from Guantanamo or other such place. (Well, OK, they might kill a guard, but we control their environment and can generally make that extremely difficult.) But on the other, other hand, normal people would rather be made to talk, even under the pressure of waterboarding, than be killed by a JDAM. And there's really no way we're going to risk JSOC lives on capturing these people if we can't make them talk, or even send them to Guantanamo. So Obama's scruples are indeed related to the "need" to kill these men.

  • Amused

    I would not fault Cheney for for ANY type of interrogation of terrorists .I DO however fault Cheney for throwing Colin Powell and CondelezaRice under the bus in his book .As for the run up to war in Iraq , I fault the whole Bush Administration . In that Rice and Cheney misguided Bush and Powell had not the cahones to assert his CORRECT estimation of it as being folly .

  • Amused

    To Riba , NEITHER is worth getting "bent out of shape over ". Your point merely accentuates the foolishness of such "talking point arguments " . And just to keep you up to speed , there would be no issue had Cheney not published his VINDICTIVE book , which many see as angst or a mechanism to counter his percieved threat of scurrilous charges by idiots on the left .

  • Amused

    Not to mention , it indicates Cheney HAS NO CLASS .

  • Supreme_Galooty

    Dick Cheney, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, et alia, is an anathema to the left – to such a dizzying extent that were one to find himself in the actual physical presence of one of these champions of tolerance, diversity, and ratiocination, he would be in the very real danger of being covered with flying spittle, phlegm, and other distasteful vituperative excreta.

    One engages these philosophical charlatans in serious conversation at his own peril.

  • Amused

    I wouldn't put Cheney in the same class as Limbaugh .Cheney a backstabbing draft dodger and Limbaugh a blithering , blubbering hypocrite with a large vocabulary , and an unfortunately large following of low IQ sycophants . Both however are quite worthy of the splattering of EXCRETIA , tossed their way .

    • DWPittelli

      Yes, but we can't all be so classy as your criticisms.

      • Amused

        I'm so sorry to hear that Pitelli . You must've fell into a category I've mentioned . But in reality , I'm no match for the posters with the monkey jokes , faux ebonics , faslse accusations .I guess you dont read much or simply just see what you wanna see huh ?

  • Amused

    Yes they are infact "anathema " to the left , but also to any person with a fully functioning rational mind . But to "one's own peril " ? Naaa , it'd be like spitting into the wind , a waste of time and energy, and as with handling a nasty material , neccessitating a shower afterwards .