Recently former Vice President Dick Cheney had the audacity to claim
the Obama administration, by reversing President George W. Bush's
policy on the harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects, has endangered
American lives and opened our country to another terrorist attack.
Americans would be best served by ignoring the baseless accusations of
the former vice president.
Today, if America is as vulnerable as Cheney claims, the reasons are
that the interrogation methods he defends have become a major
recruiting tool for terrorists, and that he and his ilk diverted
America's resources away from those who attacked us on 9/11 by invading
a country that did not. Regrettably, the war in Iraq was a costly
distraction for which we are now paying in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
2008 was the deadliest year in Afghanistan for U.S. and NATO troops.
In many parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have
regained control and usurped the traditional functions of a sovereign
state: collecting taxes, enforcing order, and providing basic services.
Additionally, former CIA Director Michael Hayden predicted the next
attack on the U.S. homeland would likely originate from the tribal
areas of western Pakistan, a vast lawless region that has become a safe
haven for splinter groups of the Taliban, al Qaeda, Afghan insurgents,
and other extremist elements.
Our current problems in the region began after initial victories by
the United States and the Northern Alliance in autumn 2001, when
hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters fled Afghanistan to seek
refuge across the border in Pakistan's rugged northwest. Less than a
year after the invasion of Afghanistan, President Bush pulled most of
America's Special Operations Forces and CIA paramilitary operatives off
the hunt for Osama bin Laden to prepare for a possible war in Iraq.
That redirection of American resources away from Afghanistan and
Pakistan alleviated pressure on the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda
forces. Today, a spreading Islamic insurgency engulfs the amorphous and
ungoverned border between the two countries.
Since spring 2002, the mutilated bodies of more than 150
pro-government tribal elders have been found in northwest Pakistan's
scattered hamlets. Terrorists along the border thrive where security is
thin, offering their own brand of swift justice and enacting their own
visions of an Islamic state. Poverty, low education, and extremist
sentiments have empowered militant groups, with whom the Afghan and
Pakistani governments must now compete.
Despite what Vice President Cheney wants Americans to believe, his
favored policies have neither made us safer nor limited the ability of
terrorists to plan another attack.
To make a bad situation worse, not only has the war in Iraq hindered
America's operations in Afghanistan, but Iraq is now the cause celebre
for jihadists worldwide, according to declassified sections of the 2006
National Intelligence Estimate.
Moreover, rebuilding Iraq has cost the United States almost $1
trillion; 4,000 dead soldiers, with thousands more crippled and
traumatized. Even the celebrated "surge"—itself a dubious proposition
resting on the false belief we invaded the right country—was described
as "fragile and reversible" by former Commanding General of
Multi-National Forces in Iraq and present Chief of Central Command,
General David Petraeus.
During the Iraq war the harsh interrogation methods Cheney defends,
such as electric shock, near-asphyxiation, prisoners putting the urine
and feces of other people on themselves, mock executions, and other
forms of humiliating and degrading treatment, also made America less
On this subject, Harper's Magazine contributing editor
Scott Horton interviewed U.S. Air Force Major Matthew Alexander, who,
through skillful interrogation that didn't involve torture, secured
information that led to the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the late
head of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Matthews insists, "I listened time and time again to foreign
fighters, and Sunni Iraqis, state that the number one reason they had
decided to pick up arms and join Al Qaeda was the abuses at Abu Ghraib
and the authorized torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay. My team of
interrogators knew that we would become Al Qaeda's best recruiters if
we resorted to torture."
He added that the loss of "at least hundreds but more likely
thousands of American lives... are linked directly to the policy
decision to introduce the torture and abuse of prisoners as accepted
Americans should ignore Cheney's attempt to restore his tarnished
legacy. He and Bush deserve to be remembered for how the debacle in
Iraq, the lost war in Afghanistan, and the harsh interrogation of
suspected terrorists have all undermined the very freedom and safety
his administration claimed to provide.
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