Cheney Testifies Before The
and Reconciliation Commission
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
May 23, 2006
Chair: Welcome, Mr. Cheney. As you no doubt are aware, the rules of this
Truth & Reconciliation Commission, as established by the President and
Congress, require that you speak the whole truth here if you want to avoid
criminal prosecution. Do you solemnly and willingly take the oath to do
so? Please raise your right hand.
Cheney: I do so swear.
Commissioner#1: Very well. Mr. Cheney, when you were engaged in the
criminal conspiracy that led to your impeachment and removal as Vice
President and your later indictments, were you aware of the illegality of
Cheney: I did not think they were illegal. The Administration sought the
best judicial advice we could get, and were assured that what we were
doing was within the law and the Constitution.
Commissioner#1: And where did you obtain this legal advice? Did you query
the country's leading conservative and liberal Constitutional and legal
scholars? Did you seek out specialists on Supreme Court decisions from
outside the Administration?
Cheney: We relied on our expert counsels in the White House, Department of
Justice, Pentagon and the like.
Commissioner#1: In other words, you asked employees you had chosen for
their jobs -- those whose employment depended on staying in your good
favor and who were partisan colleagues -- to evaluate the already-decided
policies of their bosses. Is that a fair assessment?
Cheney: They had total freedom to disagree with us. They didn't. We relied
on their legal opinions.
Chair: Mr. Cheney, I think you are not fully appreciative of the purpose
of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, so I will cut to the nub of the
matter: If you want to heighten your chances of staying out of federal
prison, you must at this Commission accept your responsibility for the
crimes you committed against the Constitution and citizens of the United
States, and talk about your role in those crimes and the coverup. If you
do not wish to do so, it's best to say so now, so that we can call
witnesses who do desire to cooperate and save themselves from criminal
prosecution. Do you understand, sir?
Cheney: Yes, Madame Chairman, I apologize to this Commission if I've given
the impression that I don't want to fully participate in these proceedings
openly and honestly.
HOW U.S. WAS DECEIVED INTO WAR
Commissioner#2: Then, Mr. Cheney, please provide a chronology indicating
how you and your similarly-charged defendants deceived the American people
and the Congress and the United Nations in order to take this country into
war with Iraq.
Cheney: Your question is like "are you still beating your wife?". We did
not lie, we used the best intelligence then available to make our
judgments. Some of those judgments turned out to be wrong, but at the time
we thought they were correct. I resent your implication that we
consciously misled our fellow citizens.
Chair: Mr. Cheney, your attempts to dance around the truth will not be
permitted to continue. We possess a documented record of what you did, so
do not for a moment think that you can evade your responsibility. As I did
to your fellow conspirator
when he was before this commission, I hereby issue this final warning:
You tell the truth to this Commission or you will be summarily
frog-marched out of this hearing room. Bailiffs, prepare to remove the
Cheney: Very well, Mr. President. Under the threat of coercion, I will
testify openly and fully.
Chair: No. We accept no coerced testimony. I will remind the former Vice
President that you petitioned this Commission requesting that you be
allowed to testify, as a means of escaping criminal prosecution. If you
are feeling coerced, I would urge you to peer into a mirror for a good
look at your coercer. The witness will answer the question now pertaining
to the chronology of lies and deceptions that resulted in the U.S.
Cheney: (long silence) We had decided to attack Iraq long before we
assumed office in January of 2001. My fellow members of The Project for
The New American Century, including Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, had
urged President Clinton to attack Iraq a few years before but with no
luck. So, with the Soviet Union gone and there being no military power out
there that could stop us -- and no political opposition worth speaking of
inside the country -- we decided to make our move.
WHY IRAQ WAS THE TARGET
Commissioner#3: Why Iraq and what were your goals?
Cheney: Iraq because they had the second largest oil reserve in the world,
and had no military power to speak of to oppose us. Why? Because we could.
And because we needed to control Iraq as a starting point from which to
totally alter the geopolitical power structure in the Middle East. We
thought many other Islamic rulers in the area, especially those in Syria
and Iran, might come on board our American plan once they saw the
consequence of our military wrath in Iraq: 'Shock & Awe' as a lever for
change in the area, so that access to all that oil and gas would be in
friendly hands for many decades to come.
Commissioner#3: You admit that Saddam was weak militarily, you knew that
Iraq possessed no WMD stockpiles, no nuclear program and so on?
Cheney: Yes, of course, we knew that. We weren't stupid; we weren't about
to wage war on a nation with nuclear weapons and biochemical agents. But
we were convinced that Saddam would seek to gain those weapons in the
future, maybe within five to ten years; better to take him out now while
he was defenseless. The CIA wouldn't, or couldn't, supply the proof we
needed to make a case that he had WMD, even after I spent days and days at
Langley leaning on them to do so. Rummy, my old PNAC buddy, set up his own
intelligence operation in the Pentagon, the Office of Special Plans,
stocked it with our ideological friends, and using raw intel from exiles
and the like, came up with scary factoids that were stovepiped directly to
Libby and me and which we used to build the case in the White House for
war. In effect, we did an end-around the professional intelligence
analysts. The Congress bought our arguments and gave us a blank check for
war; we sent Colin Powell to the United Nations to snow the Security
Council with this supposed WMD evidence and came out with an
ambiguously-worded resolution that we were able to use as a cover for our
coming attack. The U.N inspectors in Iraq weren't finding any of that WMD
we talked of, so we simply ordered them out before they could finish their
work, and before the U.N. could stop us, and began our air and ground
Woman in Audience: My daughter died while on duty in Iraq -- for no good
reason! You and Bush and Rumsfeld are war criminals who made sure never to
serve in uniform yourselves but were quite willing to send our children to
fight your wars! You are a disgrace to --
Chair: Madame, we deeply understand your grief and rage, but this is
neither the time nor the place for such comments. You will have your turn
later. It's imperative that witnesses appear and tell their stories before
this commission without fear of attack. Please take your seat. Thank you.
THE MISNAMED "CAKEWALK"
Commissioner#3: You had led the country to believe the invasion would be a
cakewalk, and the occupation would be a brief one until a friendly Iraq
government was in place. The war lasted many, many years, with hundreds of
thousands dead and maimed, and its bloody effects are still being felt
even today throughout the region. What happened?
Cheney: We got to Baghdad so easily that we were convinced all our neo-con
projections were panning out. We didn't need a large occupying force, we
thought, because the Iraqis' interim government would gratefully do our
bidding. Meanwhile, we built a goodly number of permanent military bases,
which would serve as staging areas to support our geopolitical goals in
the region. We didn't figure on the Sunni remnants of Saddam's military
coming out of the woodwork and attacking us, along with local Al Qaida
forces and their suicide bomb missions. We didn't pay enough attention to
ethnic and religious machinations and the jockeying for power on the
ground. We were focused on the big picture -- protecting the oilfields,
building our permanent bases, using our muscle to dominate the Middle East
(our cover term was 'democratizing' the region), and so on -- and
neglected real-life concerns on the ground: public services, utilities,
securing the abandoned ammo dumps, humanely guarding our prisoners, etc.
In short, we lost the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people while Iran, in
effect, won them.
Commissioner#1: Let's stop right there. You talked about losing the
'hearts and minds' of the Iraqi people at least partially because of the
harsh treatment of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. care. The Administration
concocted a theory that said the president, and apparently the vice
president as well, could violate any domestic or international laws
regarding torture of prisoners, or any other laws, when done under the
cover of fighting a 'war.' How involved were you in creating the
'harsh-interrogation' attitudes toward prisoner-care at Abu Ghraib,
Guantanamo and secret prisons elsewhere? And don't bother telling me of
the lowly guards that were prosecuted for abusing prisoners. We want to
know your role from inside the White House.
Cheney: Yes, sir. You have to understand the mood of the time. Al Qaida
had just hit us big on 9/11. There were suspicions that they had more
cells inside the United States. We needed information and we needed it
fast. At our behest, the lawyers -- the ones I mentioned before at Defense
and DOJ and the White House -- came up with the theories you're talking
about: 'commander-in-chief during wartime,' 'the unitary executive,' the
establishment of 'secret detention centers' and 'extraordinary rendition'
of suspects to countries less squeamish about torture, our leaders exempt
from international courts, and so on. The word was passed down the chain
of command that the White House required actionable intelligence; Rumsfeld
relaxed interrogation rules, but the parameters of what was permissible
were left deliberately vague. Those in charge of guarding the prisoners
felt they had been given carte blanche to use rough interrogation
techniques: threats, beatings, 'waterboarding,' sexual humiliations,
snarling dogs, etc. So, yes, I was involved in that.
SPYING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS
Commissioner#2: And how involved were you in getting the NSA and other
intelligence-gathering agencies to begin spying on American citizens here
at home, without court approval?
Cheney: As I suggested earlier, we needed intelligence, and we didn't feel
we had the time to go through the paperwork required by the law. FISA was
set up for an earlier time, and, without consulting the judges, we decided
that the FISA court was ill-equipped to deal with the new data-mining
technologies and new realities we faced. I suppose we could have gone to
Congress for enabling legislation that would permit the legal use of our
huge computer networks to mine and record data on emails and phone calls
-- and to listen in and read emails -- but we considered ourselves at war,
and during wartime it's often necessary to cut corners in order to get
anything done speedily.
Commissioner#2: And ignoring laws of Congress for years, and violating the
Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the one regarding lawful searches
and seizures, didn't bother you? If you thought what you were doing was
perfectly legal and appropriate, why not say so openly and proudly instead
of carrying out secret, anti-constitutional spying operations on millions
and millions of Americans?
Cheney: We figured going to Congress to get the required enabling
legislation would tie us up for months, maybe years, in public and
classified discussions with politicians who often disagreed with our
approach, so we decided to just go ahead and do what we had to do, and to
keep it top-secret. Naturally, in operations of this magnitude, there are
bound to be those who carry things to extremes or who go off the
reservation. Of course, a good share of what we were doing in secret
started to come out anyway years later.
ANY REGRETS? REMORSE?
Commissioner#1: Looking back on your activities during the Bush-Cheney
years, do you have any regrets about the actions you took that eventually
resulted in your impeachment, removal from office, and criminal
Cheney: You would like me to say I'm sorry, that I know I've done wrong
and ask to be forgiven for my lapses and so on. Of course, I'm sorry that,
as collateral damage, our policies got some people killed or hurt or put
into legal difficulties. But this is the Truth & Reconciliation Commission
and, as you keep reminding me, I am obliged to tell the truth. Therefore,
I want you to know that if I had it to do over again, I'd choose those
same policies. I think they were the correct decisions, though we erred at
times on how the operations were carried out and, in particular, in how we
communicated our goals and programs to the American people.
Chair: Do I understand correctly, Mr. Cheney, that you have no remorse for
your actions that have been judged by your fellow citizens to be enough to
warrant your removal from office and indictments on a wide variety of
Cheney: Yes, Madame Chairman, you do understand correctly. I am prepared
to defend myself in court, if you do not grant my application for amnesty,
on the basis that I fully believed my actions to be in accord with the
urgent wartime exigencies of the moment and with the Constitution as we
understood it. Our political enemies and ideological foes engineered our
slide from power, perhaps as payback for our having impeached President
Clinton, or because they are soft on terrorism or don't understand the
true dangers out there on the world scene, I don't know. We were patriots
who by virtue of our election to power were in the position to make the
decisions that had to be made to protect and defend our country.
Chair: Is it not possible that those who opposed you were also patriots,
who believed the policies you were advocating were doing great damage to
the national interest of the United States and thus needed to be changed?
WE HAD ALL THE ANSWERS
Cheney: They were wrong, ill-informed, in effect doing the enemy's work.
It was my job as leader of the nation to decide what was best, based on
the wider knowledge we possessed.
Commissioner#3: Mr. Cheney, you just asserted that "it was my job as
leader of the nation," to make those decisions. Are you suggesting that it
was you who made the Administration's vital decisions and not Mr. Bush?
Cheney: Um, a mere slip of the tongue, Commissioner. I meant to say, of
course, that "it was our job." The President, naturally, made all the key
decisions, with special input from his closest advisors like me and Rove
and Rumsfeld. He was the boss, for sure. The President of the United
Chair: Methinks thou dost protest too much. But let's return to something
you said a moment ago. You believe your fall from power and your
indictments are the result of a plot to get you? That you did nothing
wrong and are not accountable for your actions to the citizenry and to the
domestic and international courts?
Cheney: I recognize no international-court jurisdiction over America's
elected rulers. Leaders are accountable only to their citizens. In two
national elections, we have prevailed. The American people approved our
policies by voting for us. Our mandate was secure and legal.
FATHER(LAND) KNOWS BEST
Commissioner#3: Without even getting into the issue of whether those
election results were fraudulently obtained, I think it's important to
point out that the Bush Administration did everything possible to hide its
true actions and agenda from its own citizens, rather than stand proudly
on them and let the citizens judge you at the polls on the basis of that
Cheney: We had the responsibility to protect our citizens; they didn't
need to know everything we were doing on their behalf, and Congress
likewise. We had the facts and could see the big picture; most everyone
seemed content to let us do the hard, dirty work required, without asking
too many questions. They were frightened and confused, and we eased their
minds by not requiring them to think too deeply about what should be done.
Democratic institutions often get in the way, get bogged down with
scrutinizing the legalities and all that. Electing The Leader and letting
him make all those messy decisions is much faster and effective, we found.
Chair: Yes, we understand that line of reasoning. We've seen the tragic
effects of such governance in several world wars during the past 70 years
or so. Unfortunately for you, people want to be free. Which is why you've
wound up here, sir.
Cheney: This isn't over. The liberals will ruin this country. My friends
and I will be back.
Copyright 2006, by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught
government & international relations at universities in California and
Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for two
decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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