Lately, former Vice President Dick Cheney has been doing a massive publicity tour for his memoir. The book focuses on his long career in politics, including the infamous decisions he made (i.e., war crimes committed) during his time in the Bush administration. Throughout his media tour, he has been defending his vice presidency and the decisions he made. In an interview on NBC News Dateline, Cheney defended “enhanced interrogation” (a political euphemism for torture), waterboarding (a torture technique), wiretapping, and using secret prisons. However, it is important to remind ourselves of the Bush administration’s sheer criminality and Cheney’s participation in it.
The most egregious crime committed by the Bush administration is aggressive war. The United States, under the Bush administration, waged aggressive war against two countries — Iraq and Afghanistan. International law restricts the use of force in international relations but allows it in only two situations, namely self-defense or authorization from the United Nations Security Council. Otherwise, the act is an illegal war of aggression, which the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over. As the Nuremberg Tribunal states, aggressive war is the “supreme international crime”.
The war in Afghanistan was waged illegally. The United Nations Security Council never authorized the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. In addition, the self-defense argument to justify the invasion is weak. As lawyer Marjorie Cohn pointed out, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001 that killed 3,000 people, were “criminal attacks, not ‘armed attacks’ by another state”. While the Taliban, the then-ruling government of Afghanistan, did harbor al-Qaeda, the group responsible for 9/11, the attacks were not carried by the nation-state of Afghanistan. Moreover, none of the hijackers were from Afghanistan. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia and learned how to fly plans in Florida. Yet, the United States did not bomb Saudi Arabia or Florida. It wouldn’t make sense to violently punish the entire country of Saudi Arabia or the state of Florida (resulting in massive human suffering) just because some madmen came from their country and learned how to fly planes in their state. The same applies to Afghanistan. The Taliban did offer to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, if the U.S. provided evidence that he was involved in the attack. Rather than take the offer, the U.S. invaded the country and continues to be involved in a bloody conflict that has resulted in massive human suffering. This makes the self-defense argument very weak. Therefore, the invasion of Afghanistan was illegal under international law.
The invasion of Iraq was also illegal. I have written about this before but, for the sake of argument, I’ll explain why it is. The invasion was not approved by the United Nations Security Council nor was the attack in self-defense. This makes it an illegal war of aggression. The Bush administration justified invading Iraq based on claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, had connections to al-Qaeda and 9/11 and, therefore, was a threat to American national security. These claims were false from the beginning and the public later realized that. The Bush administration deliberately misled the public to go to war. According to the Center for Public Integrity, former “President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” Of those 935 false statements, Bush made 232 and Cheney made 48. So Dick Cheney played a key role in misleading the public to support an illegal and immoral war of aggression. As a result, thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands to a million of Iraqis have died with millions more displaced.
The other egregious crime committed by the Bush administration is torture. It is well-known that torture violates international law and U.S. domestic law, including the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration instituted a torture regime. People suspected of being “terrorists” were rounded up and sent to U.S.-run prisons, such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, or CIA black sites and tortured, sometimes to the point of death. In addition, the Bush administration utilized extraordinary rendition, which amounts to kidnapping people that the government suspects of being a terrorist and sends them to another country to be tortured. This also violates international law. Even more outrageous is the fact that most of these detainees are innocent and even Cheney knew that. Yet, that does not stop him from bragging about authorizing the use of torture or selling books.
Since President Obama has refused to hold Bush administration officials accountable for these crimes and continued most of these policies, they have become the bipartisan consensus and are no longer debated. So when Dick Cheney goes around telling people about his book, his role in authorizing the use of torture and waging illegal wars, these obvious crimes become mere policy disputes. Cheney is seen as having controversial viewpoints but is still respected as an elder statesman. Could you imagine a gang of pundits, talking-heads, and former politicians debating, say, the efficacy of rape, child molestation, or murder? Such a site would, rightfully, disgust the average person. And so should Dick Cheney’s media tour for his book.
Dick Cheney, and other Bush administration officials, do not need another hour on television to talk about their careers in “public service” and whitewash their crimes. Their criminal behavior is well-known to the public and easy to find for anyone who is curious. The next step is to begin criminal investigations and prosecutions for these individuals. Amnesty International has a petition calling on Attorney Eric Holder to open a criminal investigation into the roles that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney played in authorizing the use of torture. This is a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done. In order to end America’s addiction to endless war, it is important that the citizenry hold their leaders accountable for waging those wars and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. When those leaders are punished, it establishes a precedent that says wars of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity will not be tolerated by the public. This will deter future leaders from engaging in such behavior. Therefore, it is important that Dick Cheney not be treated as a serious, elder statesmen on television and go where he needs to go — a prison.