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Cheney's moral argument for torture

Here I go again, another column on my favorite government whipping-boy -- the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Anyone who wants to ridicule the American form of government need only point to Cheney as a prime example of how a democracy can result in the election of such a man.

As I wrote in a recent column, he is a prime example of how the democratic process can go wrong.

I have noted in earlier columns that I have little respect for the man and now, thanks to an article in the Sept. 14 issue of Newsweek, can cite another example of why I have no respect for Cheney, who has held the second highest elected position in our country.

In a Fox News interview the week of Sept. 7, Cheney was asked his opinion if he were questioned about CIA interrogators who went beyond specific legal authorization. His response was that he was OK with it. Most Americans, even the most ardent Republicans, likely would not agree with him.

The Cheney response was in effect saying that certain ends justify criminal means, an astonishing stance for a former high-ranking government official. It is an anti-democratic and authoritarian notion that even his staunchest supporters most likely would reject.

The Newsweek columnist, Jonathan Alter, with whom I generally agree, said in his column that the Cheney view, if it prevails, "will give comfort to human rights abusers everywhere, help terrorist recruitment, harm U. S. foreign policy and set back the prosecution of terrorists by giving defense attorneys more grounds on which to get their clients acquitted."

None of us should forget that Cheney has repeatedly stated that the torture of prisoners was essential in saving thousands of American lives. That's never been proven and a 2004 report from the inspector general of the CIA found no conclusive proof that any specific threats had been thwarted by information from those subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture, and that Cheney's claim that torture was absolutely essential in saving lives was totally unproven.

If there were any proof of that claim, Alter says in his Newsweek column, Cheney would do everything he could to publicize it.

Cheney, Alter writes, attempts to create a moral argument for torture, a fact he says that is a "gigantic setback for civilization."

I fully concur with Alter's call for a full airing of abuses and an official acknowledgment of serious errors that can be discredited as partisan shots. We've had more than enough of those in recent days.

I'm not the only one to criticize Cheney. Paul Van Zyl of the International Center for Transitional Justice has said that Cheney is worse than some others such as the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile and President P.W. Botha of South Africa. In fact, he says Cheney, unlike these two men, creates a moral argument for torture. Neither of these two men have thought to publicly justify torture.

Cheney, on the other hand, does in fact publicly justify torture, creating a moral judgment for torture, but neither of the other two go that far. Cheney, in fact, is worse than these two men.

Enough said.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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