After he was indicted for the murder of Alexander Hamilton, vice president Aaron Burr fled to South Carolina, to hide out with his daughter. Another vice president, Spiro Agnew, kept completely silent before pleading nolo contendere on corruption charges. Former vice president Dick Cheney, on the other hand, seems proud of his criminal misadventures. On Sunday, he took to the airwaves to brag about them.
"I was a big supporter of waterboarding," Cheney said in an appearance on ABC's This Week
on Sunday. He went on to explain that Justice Department lawyers had been instructed to write legal opinions to cover the use of this and other torture techniques after the White House had settled on them.
Section 2340A of the federal criminal code makes it an offense to torture or to conspire to torture. Violators are subject to jail terms or to death in appropriate cases, as where death results from the application of torture techniques. Prosecutors have argued that a criminal investigation into torture undertaken with the direction of the Bush White House would raise complex legal issues, and proof would be difficult. But what about cases in which an instigator openly and notoriously brags about his role in torture? Cheney told Jonathan Karl that he used his position within the National Security Council to advocate for the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques. Former CIA agent John Kiriakou and others have confirmed that when waterboarding was administered, it was only after receiving NSC clearance. Hence, Cheney was not speaking hypothetically but admitting his involvement in the process that led to decisions to waterboard in at least three cases.
What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it? Such cases cry out for prosecution. Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants.
Scott Horton is a contributor to Harper's Magazine and writes No Comment for this website, www.harpers.org. A New York attorney known for his work in emerging markets and international law, especially human rights law and the law of armed conflict, (more...