Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as:

“Definitions, and one that was provided by the Office of Legal Counsel, we went specifically to them because we did not want to cross that line into where we violating some international agreement that we’d signed up to. They specifically authorized and okayed, for example, exactly what we did. All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture.”

Tell us another, Dick. The Office of Legal Counsel produced are what we call advocacy memos. That means they were told, “Write us your best legal justification for not calling any of what we are doing torture, so we can say it was cleared ny the lawyers.” That’s hardly an objective opinion, and Cheney knows it. Any lawyer who wrote an opinion that said that the methods were torture would have been looking for a job.

“It worked. It absolutely did work”

So what? I examined this issue here. Cheney is arguing pure consequentialism: if it works, it’s ethical. Hey, sexism “worked.” Slavery “worked.” All manner of horrible conduct can accomplish desired ends. My conclusion in 2006, 2012, and now:

“Torture is evil, and the United States of America should not engage in it willingly whether it works or not. The United States of American cannot be the United States of America and embrace evil as policy.”

Back to Cheney:

“I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States. I was prepared and we did. We got authorizing from the president and authorization from the Justice Department to go forward with the program. It worked. It worked now for 13 years”

The ends justify the means.

Asked about our prosecution of the Japanese for war crimes and the apparent hypocrisy:

“They did an awful lot of other stuff to draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that’s an outrage. It’s a really cheap shot, Chuck, to even try to draw a parallel between the Japanese who were prosecuted for war crimes after World War II and what we did with waterboarding three individuals–“

See, it was only three, so it’s not really wrong. Rationalization #22: “It’s not the worst thing.”

I give the ex-Vice President ethics points for integrity. He believes what he believes, and doesn’t mince words. If only his words weren’t so repulsive….


Sources: Meet the Press

Graphic: The Chaos Within


37 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

  1. Aren’t we confusing administering justice with gathering intel? I think they’re light years apart, as far as the applicability of “it’s better that 10 guilty go free..”. Also, I mentioned before that I and thousands of other specops and aviation personnel experienced pretty much all of this (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, hypothermia (surf torture in BUD/S), stress positions) at SERE school, and continue to do so to this day. It was unpleasant, but I could agree that it falls short of actual torture, which I would consider to be maiming and mutilating; something that our enemies would have no qualms about doing to us. I agree that there are a few rationalizations in the above, but considering what’s at stake, I feel that there was a good ethical risk to potential benefit ratio. I’m also confused by all of these supposed reports from flag officers stating that this yields no useful information. We were always taught that if we found ourselves being interrogated, we would reach our breaking point eventually, and that we would give at least some valid intel,, but that there were ways of mixing in erroneous, misleading intel with it. This would work for a time, and maybe even completely, but a determined, savvy enemy could get the whole picture from us at some point. This is the R in SERE; resistance.

      • I see your point, but how would that work? Knowing this would decrease the efficacy to the point of it being nearly useless. It’s not a nice thing, but they’re enemy combatants. It’s expected that if you’re taken prisoner, harsh treatment will be meted out. Everyone that signs on knows they’re entering an entirely different system of laws, ethics, and culture. It’s like an alternate reality, where you’re trained to be bloodthirsty, and to see the enemy as less than human. How does this mesh with our ethics?

  2. “They did an awful lot of other stuff to draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that’s an outrage. It’s a really cheap shot, Chuck, to even try to draw a parallel between the Japanese who were prosecuted for war crimes after World War II and what we did with waterboarding three individuals–“ I agree. What the Japanese did was wanton and cruel, serving absolutely no useful purpose but satiating the desire to inflict suffering and death.

      • If Marines did this, I would not object to them being court-martialed. Neither would I object to spies being prosecuted for this by foreign governments if they had been captured while spying in those foreign government’s territories.

        That written, I do not oppose what they did if they did what they are accused of doing.

  3. A little off-topic
    Article 104 of the UCMJ:
    Any person who–

    (1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or

    (2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or [protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly;

    shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.

    According to an article written by him (John McCain) for the U.S. News and World Report, May 14, 1973, …”After being periodically slapped around for “three or four days” by his captors who wanted military information from him, McCain called for an officer on his fourth day of captivity. He told the officer, “O.K., I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital.” Not only was this a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Code of Conduct, but can be viewed as collaboration with the enemy.

      • The Code of Conduct
        1.I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

        2.I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

        3.If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

        4.If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

        5.When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

        6.I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

        #5 isn’t punished but it must be commanded because the “ideal” soldier would never break… But knowing it is impossible to resist forever, it can’t be punished. But it can’t be not said.

      • My point is that he wasn’t tortured. This was common knowledge among fellow P.O.W.’s at the Hanoi Hilton. They called him the songbird or something like that. No, no one has been prosecuted, but you’re still expected to resist and confound to the greatest degree possible.

        • I think the condition of his arms are sufficient proof that he was tortured. Being kept in “tiger cages” is torture. Not that it matters: my regard for McCain or lack of it has nothing to do with whether he was technically tortured or not.

          • He had compound fractures when he ejected from his plane, and received poor medical care. McCain is a traitor, and his actions towards veterans has been beneath contempt.

            • Poor medical care is a euphemism for prisoner abuse. He was brutally beaten, which is torture, and he didn’t lose 50 pounds because he was on Nutrisystem. Two years in solitary confinement is torture. And again, so what? His position on the US behaving like the Spanish inquisition is correct.

  4. I think in the case of the terrorists who were involved in the 9/11 attacks and available for interrogation, yes “the ends do justify the means”. To save the lives of countless innocent Americans and residents in this country, let the CIA do what it must do. The UN has no business determining who should be tried as a war criminal and I would sincerely hope that the UN moves to Sweden or some other ‘enlightened’ country in the near future.

    • One thing that needs to be reiterated is that CIA spies are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. If they are captured by a foreign government, they can certainly be prosecuted for espionage and any crimes committed in pursuit thereof. Of course, Al Qaeda would not even extend them the courtesy of a trial.

      This is why so many of us Americans are okay with the CIA doing things that, if done by U.S. Marines, would get Marines court-martialed.

      As for foreign terrorists, we should stop taking them prisoner. Just shoot them and then shove them into a brazen bull to ensure the job is finished.

      • There are a lot of ambiguities and special categories in the Geneva Conventions. For instance, I was a hospital corpsman, and when I served with the marines, I had special protection under the rules as a non-combatant as long as I wasn’t with STA platoon or operating a crew-served weapon. Had I succeeded in getting NEC 8492, I would have been considered a combatant, as my primary role would be a shooter with medical skills, not that there was a chance in hell of any of our enemies actually acting in accordance with these rules. I agree with your take on how to deal with them. This is an enemy that will fight pretty much to the last man, making this a war of attrition. They’ve proven that they simply don’t fear death. This is sort of a hive mentality. If we manage to kill enough of them that total defeat appears inevitable, they MIGHT stop. I have a feeling, and I’m sure you’ll agree, that we are going to be fighting these people for a very long time, and resorting to tactics that would appear barbaric by today’s standards.

      • The legality is irrelevant. The US values and Founding documents preclude torture. Simple as that. Who can get tortured for what and legalistic definitions are distractions. There is no argument. The approval you refer to is dangerous cultural corruption. I did not give out leaders permission to violate human rights in my name.

    • The UN has no business sticking its proboscis into our affairs, or getting involved in something that represents a conflict of interest; being that most of them sponsor terrorism. Dear Leader signed that arms control agreement with them. I hope that they take him with them to Sweden.

    • Ugh. There is no consensus that they “must do it,” and if they can’t do it, since it is dead wrong and a degradation of our values, then they don’t even get to “must.” There’s no getting off that slippery slope. The line between terrorism and torture is invisible. Your statement could not be less ethical.

  5. I agree with Cheney. There are different rules when dealing with terrorists. I don’t become a terrorist, just because I’m forced to defend myself or my country from them. Just as I don’t become a murderer when defending myself or others against one.

  6. “The Cheney variation: ‘It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.’”

    The Martin/Brown variation: There is something more important going on here. Don’t annoy me with facts, reality, legality, justice or logic.

    These are not even end-justifies-the-means situations; the relative concepts of innocence and guilt are too easily distorted by Believers. In trying to discuss the latter variation with more than a dozen close friends and reasonable acquaintances, Left, Right and Sideways, over the past few weeks and months, (and paying close attention to what’s going on on the Torture front) I have finally accepted — with sorrow and not a little horror — that mental and moral deafness is not just a disability of the cult proselytizer.

    The end justifies itself. The means is … whatever was to hand. And whatever it was, who cares how it started. Stop bothering me: Either I have to dig out my old marching shoes, or write another letter to the editor defending our police.

    Or: dammit, now I have to go all the way out to the suburbs to find a shopping center that isn’t blocked by demonstrators.

    The reaction to the question of torture raised in the Senate report seems much more solid, obvious. Until a discussion is raised. Why do you think….? What about …? But if ….? A faster retreat. The hard answer: ‘Torture is never justified’ includes the modification “never” and is therefore dismissible without further consideration by those who fear their own ignorance and imaginations (the what-iffers). ‘Justified sometimes’ covers personal anecdote, reliable sources on particular instances — fear of letting down the side, insulting authority or heroes: the Marines can do no wrong. ‘Justified’ when “they” say so; it’s not my decision: fear of thinking it through oneself, fear of having an informed opinion and, worse, having to defend it.

    Ones basic, atavistic FEAR is not a topic of discussion, neither public nor private. Whether it is fear of the very idea of defining torture — how many people can hold a picture of being subjected to waterboarding in their own minds for seconds, much less discuss it (remember the uncomfortable, either euphemistic or over-forceful comments on “humane” execution on this website)?
    Or the fear of ones own unacceptable deeply submerged prejudices (we Americans were born into a largely racist, sexist, homophobic society: like it or not, these were absorbed without consciousness — if not acknowedged and dealt with, They Live! In spite of concious convictions otherwise). It is painful learning to think about them, never mind talking about them without floundering and rationalizing, shouting and demonstrating.

    So we don’t think about them. Just make up our minds with the decision that seems most palatable and least likely to invite dissent … and shut those minds down tight.

    Ethical thinking requires constantly re-opening a dialog with oneself. I am growing old and lazy and I like having Jack’s dialogs with himself in front of me, open for examination, experiment, and application of my own choice. I also like having the Comment section available as it often serves to validate the “double-blind” aspect of the ethics experiment.

    “Torture is evil, and the United States of America should not engage in it . . . .” Examined: ethically unquestionable.
    ” . . . willingly . . .” Experimented: questionable, depends on unknown factors
    ” . . . whether it works or not . . .” Applied: unlikely, depends on an insecure, ill informed electorate (and its government) motivated by fear of things not working, not winning, mostly of having to be re-thought.

    • You’d better get with a whole lot of state legislators about ADSEG being torture. We have thousands of state and federal prisoners being held in solitary confinement for years, even decades. We give DOC personnel wide latitude in how they run things. What usually happens is people are sent to a supermax, initially for a few months, for minor but chronic discipline problems, usually a few class A or a bunch of class B tickets. In most cases, these are not the alleged “worst of the worst”, but “level 2 killers” (minimum or medium security skid-bids) After a few months, they start acting up, and their stay is extended, wash, rinse, and repeat, until after a year or two, they’re to effed up to be sent back to level 4,3, or 2. Many become clinically insane after a number of years, but not all. I would guess we have well over 10,000 being held right now under these conditions. Brings to mind another fact. The detainees in Gitmo, despite claims of inhumane conditions, when they were considering transferring them to our Florence, CO supermax, they fought this tooth and nail. The simple fact is that our prisons are worse than Gitmo. I was at Gitmo a while back with 1/2, 2DMARDIV when about 50,000 Cubans and Hatians were being held there in concentration camp conditions (using the literal meaning of the term). The criminals and gangsters among them would riot, we would bust heads, drag the Cretins out and bring them to Delta. It wasn’t a bad place at the time, and it appears to have greatly improved since. This is one of the reasons why I remain dubious amidst the hue and cry about cruelty and so forth.

      • I know I make a lot of references to personal experiences. I’m not trying to use the “argument of authority” fallacy; just offering personal anecdotes.

      • Another thing we routinely do here to our prisoners is not detoxing them off methadone in a humane manner. Lots of guys go to jail on minor offenses, and because it technically won’t kill you, they go from daily doses that would kill 3 or 4 people, to zero, overnight. People at these doses under normal circumstances need years to taper off, but are still uncomfortable. Cold-turkey withdrawal is an indescribable agony that lasts for months. People usually don’t sleep for a month and a half because they are constantly writhing in hellish agony. Some states have mercifully prohibited the practice as cruel and unusual punishment after a significant number of people killed themselves rather than continue to endure this hell. There has also been evidence of permanent organic and psychological damage.This is absolutely, unequivocally genuine torture, going on with probably hundreds of poor souls as we speak. I would rather be skinned alive than endure this. I challenge anybody on the “torture is wrong” side to defend this. No, I’m not using this to justify the 9/11 interrogations, just pointing out something that just doesn’t wash with me.

      • But if the distinguishing factor for torture (and there’s so many definitions of torture flying around these days) is the belief in the mind of the detainee that the authorities actually possess an ill will and desire to harm, then that would make a difference between prisoners of our judicial system (who have no good faith reason to assume the system intends on doing harm to them) and someone we captured and see as a representative of a world view bent on our destruction for whom we have NO LOGICAL REASON to preserve.

        • That seems a little flawed as a pivotal definition. It was mentioned that neglect or poor care fits, and so does this. Besides, I think if you were to ask any of these inmates if they felt they were the recipients of ill will and a desire to do harm, they would answer yes almost to the last man. You should check out some of the articles on the “Supermaxed” site I posted. They are designed from the ground up to reduce humans to their barest elements, strip them of as much humanity, autonomy, and agency as possible, and set up an adversarial dynamic between the guards and inmates. They warehouse inmates indefinitely in a sensory deprivation environment. If this doesn’t qualify as torture, I couldn’t buy any other definition.

  7. To be fair on Fear, I should have included fantasy of all kinds, i.e. torture: of being perpetrator as well as victim. We wouldn’t be human without all our fantasies. But when they scare us (how could I even THINK of such a thing, much less enjoy thinking about it?), we can get extremely unreasonable about people who act them out, like suspending a child from school for biting a slice of pizza into the shape of a gun.

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