Richard Cohen, no fan of Dick Cheney, wants to know what’s in those two memos which Cheney claims bolster the case that enhanced interrogation techniques “paid off.” In perhaps two of his best paragraphs ever Cohen writes:
Cheney says he once had the memos in his files and has since asked that they be released. He’s got a point. After all, this is not merely some political catfight conducted by bloggers, although it is a bit of that, too. Inescapably, it is about life and death — not ideology, but people hurling themselves from the burning World Trade Center. If Cheney is right, then let the debate begin: What to do about enhanced interrogation methods? Should they be banned across the board, always and forever? Can we talk about what is and not just what ought to be?
In a similar vein, can we also find out what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it? If she did indeed know about waterboarding back in 2003, that would hardly make her a war criminal. But if she knew and insists otherwise, that would make her one of those people who will not acknowledge that the immediate post-Sept. 11 atmosphere allowed for methods that now seem abhorrent. Certain Democratic politicians remind me of what Oscar Levant supposedly said of Doris Day: “I knew [her] before she was a virgin.” They have no memory of who they used to be.
The time is passed when the administration and the Democratic Congress can selectively declassify documents and steer the outrage to just the “culprits” they desire. If the objectives now are to “learn lessons,” hold everyone accountable for what they did, and explore whether circumstances justified their behavior I suppose we should have at it. And if Cheney is correct — and those memos provide evidence of the efficacy of these interrogation methods — then the president, who chose not to release them, has some explaining to do as well.
Cheney may be politically unpopular, but he’s been remarkably successfully in demanding that more than a partisan slice of the story be told. Forcing a public debate about the hard and very real choices in war, and reminding the country of the circumstances in which the Bush administration labored after 9-11 are no small things.
Notwithstanding his swipes at the former VP, Cohen is right about one thing: “this could be Cheney’s time.”