You can’t shock the conscience of someone who has none
David Addington We here at Passport don’t like to harp; there’s too much going on in the world to dwell on any one particular story. And personally, shrillness just isn’t my style. Yet I have to comment this astonishing series of articles on U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker of ...
We here at Passport don’t like to harp; there’s too much going on in the world to dwell on any one particular story. And personally, shrillness just isn’t my style.
Yet I have to comment this astonishing series of articles on U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker of the Washington Post. In the first article, the authors declare, “Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore,” and then go on to describe a vice president who clearly views himself above the law and accountable to nobody. There are too many alarming bits to summarize adequately; just read the entire piece and marvel at the hubris of a man who, in the words of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, is “hiding in a secure, undisclosed location in the Constitution.”
The second article is no less disturbing. Much of the story of the Bush administration’s drive to torture the law—so to speak—we knew already, but never has the inside account been told in such vivid and painstaking detail. And never have we learned so much about the expansive role of David Addington, Cheney’s hardline lawyer. Addington appears to have used his own lack of conscience to justify harsh interrogation techniques:
The Supreme Court has defined cruelty as an act that “shocks the conscience” under the circumstances. Addington suggested, according to another government lawyer, that harsh methods would be far less shocking under circumstances involving a mass-casualty terrorist threat. Cheney may have alluded to that advice in an interview with ABC’s “Nightline” on Dec. 18, 2005, saying that “what shocks the conscience” is to some extent “in the eye of the beholder.”
What’s perhaps most interesting about the series is just how many former and current administration officials Barton and Becker got to comment on the record. White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, for instance, must feel very comfortable indeed if thinks he can boast about putting the Veep back in his box without consequences. We’ll see if his nonchalance is warranted. And we’ll eagerly await the next two articles in the series.
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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