Since he left office, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has been waging a lonesome jihad to defend the practices of the Bush administration during the "war on terror," saying in an emblematic interview in February: "If it hadn't been for what we did -- with respect to the terrorist surveillance program, or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees, the Patriot Act, and so forth -- then we would have been attacked again. ... Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the U.S."
In a speech he gave three months later at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, Cheney said, "In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program."
Cheney gave this speech at AEI the very same day that President Barack Obama, just a couple of miles away at the National Archives, was giving his own major speech on his administration's revamped detention and interrogation policies. Giving such a dueling policy speech was something of a first for a just-stepped-down vice president, a job that is generally supposed to entail a comfortably obscure retirement fly-fishing and attending rubber-chicken fundraisers.
But Cheney did not go gently into that vice presidential night. At AEI Cheney amped up his own sky-is-falling rhetoric, claiming that the coercive interrogations of al Qaeda detainees had "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people." Holy smokes!
Cheney's AEI speech was essentially a remix of the arguments that he had made in the run-up to the Iraq war: that if only ordinary American citizens had seen the top secret information he had access to, they would be even more alarmed than he was. And the Bush administration had only prudently taken every measure necessary to keep Americans safe.
Hiding behind a wall of classification has been a quintessential Cheney trope. But that wall just crumbled.
On Monday Cheney released a statement -- first reported through the reliably unchallenging conduit of The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, who was also the amanuensis of Cheney's authorized biography -- in which the former vice president once again defended the Bush administration's record on the coercive interrogations of al Qaeda members, stating that CIA documents declassified earlier this week "clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks."
Those documents include two CIA assessments from 2004 and 2005 of the information derived from what the U.S. government terms its "high-value detainees." Cheney had pressed the agency to release those assessments because he said that they would substantiate his claims that coercive measures on al Qaeda prisoners had kept the United States safe.