By Dave Lindorff
Vice President Dick Cheney has cultivated the image of a serious tough guy, with his grim, scowling vissage, his dismissive "So?" comments when things go badly, his unrepentant defense of torture, including waterboarding, and his brash statements confirming that he approved the interrogation measures that clearly violated US criminal statutes and the Geneva Conventions.
But it appears we willl in a few days get to discover whether Cheney really is a tough guy, or whether he is in truth just the same corpulent, self-centered hypocrite and gutless coward that he was back in the 1960s when, despite being a vocal backer of the Vietnam War, he ducked the draft not once but five times by arranging for student and marriage deferments, which he later defended by saying he had "other priorities" than serving his country.
If, as most people expect, Cheney is offered a pardon by outgoing President George Bush for his role in approving the systematic torture of US captives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, for his role in the outing of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame and the subsequent coverup of that crime, and for his role in lying about the alleged threats posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the vice president will be admitting that he is guilty of those crimes. He will also be taking the coward's way out, after earlier strutting about and claiming to be in the right.
It would be vintage Cheney--talking big but hiding from responsibility for his statements and his actions.
If Cheney were for real, he would tell Bush he doesn't want no stinkin' pardon. He'd say he backed a policy of torture of captives because they deserved it, because it would save American lives, and because he had no respect for international law. He would dare the US government, and other governments around the world that have a policy of universal jurisdiction, to indict him and put him on trial for his actions.
But that's not Dick Cheney's way. His way is to duck responsibility and to let lesser people take the heat for him.
We've seen his MO already. This is a guy who would furtively destroy the career of a dedicated undercover agent, putting not just her, but all of her in-country contacts in places like Iran at risk for their lives, and then let a subordinate, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, take the fall for him. Libby, recall, was convicted of lying about his role in exposing Plame's identity in a federal trial that included considerable evidence that it was his boss, Cheney, who was actually behind the effort. He ended up being convicted and sentenced to prison, though he was spared being locked up by a presidential clemency order. Cheney didn't lift a finger to protect Libby, who remains a convicted felon, unable to return to his practice of law.
If Bush pardons Cheney, and if Cheney accepts that pardon, he will be admitting that he is a war criminal, willing to let a few low-ranking soldiers who simply did what he says he wanted them to do take the heat for him and his criminal actions.
While we're at it, it will also be interesting to see whether Bush, whose media handlers have also spent the last eight years constucting an image of him as a swaggering, tough-talkin' Texas cowboy, will grant himself a broad pardon for his many crimes in office.
My guess is he will do both, confirming that this has been an administration not of tough guys, but of cowards, hypocrites and professional buckpassers.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net