Director R.J. Cutler has put together a film on Dick Cheney’s life that will appear on Sundance TV and later on Showtime. It features lengthy interviews with a candid and “defiant” Dick Cheney who says, among other things, that he has no regrets whatever about the torture techniques that were used to get information about terrorists — including the infamous “waterboarding.” Quoting Cheney, the Yahoo News story goes on:
“Are you going to trade the lives of other people because you want to preserve your honor?” Cheney replies when asked about waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques. “You do what’s required. That’s not a close call for me.”
Cheney always struck me as a thoroughly unprincipled man in a world of politics where principles are as rare as three dollar bills. This quote confirms that suspicion. It brings back that whole George W. Bush-era, all the lies about the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” that Iraq didn’t have that led to the invasion that many think brought about the economic recession we now find ourselves in. It brings back memories of the thousands of American lives that were lost and the millions of Iraqis who were killed and/or displaced in a war that appears to have been about the oil fields. At the time I recall that while the invasion was taking place, the Army’s first objective was to protect the oil fields — not, say, the museums where millions of dollars worth of treasure was being stolen or destroyed. But we know what matters to the powers that be.
In any event, the Machiavellian-like approach Cheney takes to politics is positively chilling. He asks what he regards as a rhetorical question that makes it clear that “honor” doesn’t count for anything when human lives are at stake. But we know that the human lives he has in mind are not foreign, they are of the domestic variety. I have always had a problem with those who insist that American lives are somehow “worth” more than foreign lives. This was the argument used after the Atomic bombs were dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War. It seems to me that all human lives are equally valuable, none more than others.
“You do what is required” translates into “the end justifies the means.” It means that morality has no place at the table and expediency is the name of the game. But even if we allow that torture was necessary to save American lives — which is debatable — the very act of submitting another human being to waterboarding and other interrogation techniques reduces the victim to a sub-human level. And it reduces the torturer as well.
Socrates said long ago that the one who inflicts harm on another harms himself more than he does the other person. That was an extraordinary insight on Socrates’ part and it is something that people like Dick Cheney will never understand.