Thursday, May 21, 2009

And the Winner is Cheney

That was amazing.

First the President speaks on national security, and then, within five minutes, comes the rebuttal, from the former Vice President. Already the spinmeisters on the left are in overdrive, feverishly working to discredit Mr. Cheney, all the usual suspects screeching that what he said was "outrageous." What's really outrageous and, if I'm not mistaken, unprecedented, is a sitting President sitting in moral judgment on his predecessor, making accusation after accusation against him that his values are out of whack. He did it again this morning, and it was refreshing to see a rebuttal come so quickly afterward.

It was the President himself, incidentally, that set things up this way; Mr. Cheney's speech at the American Enterprise Institute had been planned for weeks.

Such a rare and precious moment. If you haven't heard or read both speeches yet, you should take the time, one right after the other, to get the full effect (here, then here).

My favorite part of Mr. Cheney's speech was this:

"Even before the interrogation program began, and throughout its operation, it was closely reviewed to ensure that every method used was in full compliance with the Constitution, statutes, and treaty obligations. On numerous occasions, leading members of Congress, including the current speaker of the House, were briefed on the program and on the methods.

"Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.

"I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about 'values'. Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans."

Wow. Does that ever need repeating.

And what is truly morally wrong is feigned indignation. I believe the theological term for it would be hypocrisy.

It is also reprehensible for people who have behaved bravely and admirably in the service of their country to be castigated for it. Mr. Cheney defended their honor well, honor that was in sore need of defense.


Pr. H. R. said...

I've changed my thinking on a lot of this. It came from reading Gratian's Decretum and studying canon law in general.

I used to argue that non-US Citizens did not have Constitutional rights, and the same went for combatants from nations not signed to the Geneva Conventions.

But I was wrong: Gratian showed the way. The rights we usually call "Constitutional" (due process rights) are actually not constitutional, but moral and divinely given.

Gratian's proof text is brilliant: Genesis 3. Even though God knows Adam is guilty, before he is punished he is tried. And this trial is composed of a summons (Adam, where are you?), knowing the specific charge against you (Have you eaten of the tree?), and the right to defend yourself and call witnesses ("It was the woman. . . ").

Gratian convinced me that every man, no matter who he is or what he has done, has these rights, and that all governments, if they would be called just, must respect them.

Now, I suppose we could still argue that waterboarding, or bamboo in the nails, or fake executions, or what have you, are corporal punishments. But for those to be moral, one would have to be convicted of a crime deserving of that punishment. Which requires Gratian's due process rights and an actual trial as narrated above.

So...the Law of the Church has made me very dubious of the rulers of our government, both left and right. Cheney and Obama are dancing a prepared two-step. Obama does not intend to give the government's prisoner's the rights that Gratian says they are due either - you can bank on it. Cheney is playing his foil so that Obama can look reasonable.

Check out this free online course on canon law for more - it's good stuff. Free readings and even the whole video of the semester long class at CUA:


PS: Still think there are two parties?

Have you seen that chart of the growth of government spending? Same trend line from Kennedy through to today. Even Reagan didn't slow the growth:

There are only professional statists looking to increase their power.

Put not your trust in princes.


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I'd say that's a bit naive. What are we supposed to do: let the terrorists attack us? Let down our guard? Attacks on our nation, whether on our soil or off our soil, have been going on for over thirty years by Islamic terrorists. Do you think that if we just "play nice" they will stop?

I haven't read Gratian, but this is what I think: people who live outside of the law are not subject to the same rights and freedoms as those who live within the law.

Pr. H. R. said...

Paul - the men who work for government are also, well, men. They are fallen and subject to evil. Giving them the power to cause arbitrary pain upon another human being and calling it justice is too much temptation to bear. It's unchristian.

If human dignity comes from God, it must then belong to all men, even the evil. If we want to inflict corporal or capital punishment on other men, fine. But surely - surely - we must have the human decency to justly convict them first, no?

Or how else do you know these men are outside the law? Because somebody with a government uniform says so?

All men are liars. That's why we have due process and the rule of law.

It was the Church who civilized European law. It took centuries. Now that the West has been thoroughly deChristianized, I suppose we should not be surprised that the Law is falling back into barbarism. But I think we men of the Church should not cheer it as partisans of our earthly government, but rather decry it as those whose "citizenship is in heaven."


Peter said...

Waterboarding is not a punishment, it's a government acting to defend its citizens. Due process has to do with civil law. When it comes to terrorist attacks, time is of the essence. And the aim is not to put the person on trial, it's to get at the truth in the midst of a battle. So, I'm proud of Cheney. Not because of "partisanship," but because I think he's right.

(And I don't buy the Lou Rockwellian view of life. I'll always take half a loaf if I can get it, and whatever you say about Reagan, he was not "statist," at least in any way that he could be compared to Obama. True, the government grew. But as a percentage of the GDP, it dropped, which is no small thing. Furthermore, he nationalized no industries. Free enterprise prospered. Taxes were lowered. If that's statist, I'll take it any day.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Heath, Gratian sounds like an interesting read, but I'm not quite ready to be as cynical as you.

And Peter, I believe you are right, and your assessment of waterboarding agrees with my own.

Waterboarding was not used as a means of extracting a confession, or as a punishment, but to obtain information needed to ward off another attack.

In short, Jack Bauer has a point.

And regarding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, are they not subject to military law? No one is arguing against due process when it comes to the determination of guilt or punishment. Military tribunals are in place for several reasons, but certainly not in order to circumvent due process.

Finally, Reagan did something fundamentally different from all other modern presidents. He slashed and cut government offices and bureaucracy, beginning with the White House. Regardless of the statistics pertaining to GDP, his own efforts were consistently aimed at drastic cuts in domestic spending.

Pr. H. R. said...

Right, waterboarding is not be used as a punishment for a crime we know was committed. What is happening is far more troubling than that: agents of the state are causing physical harm and distress on someone, on their say so, because they think maybe, something might just be in the works.

If you think the state should do that with Arabs, why not with Crips and Bloods? Why not those identified as "right wing extremists" in the recent Virginia and Missouri Fusion Center reports: you know, right to lifers, constitionalists, etc. That's what Timothy McVey was. Maybe we should be taking a hard look at these extremists. We need to protect our citizens.

Do think that will never happen here? Ask your German grandparents how the years 1917 to 1919 were in the Midwest. Remember FDR's internment camps? All to protect our citizens.

All men are liars, sinners, prone to evil. Government men included. They need the rule of law and due process to keep them in line.


PS: Peter - please note the adversative: "EVEN Reagan." I agree he's the best post-war fiscal president. But even he couldn't stop the beast: the GOP just won't do it. It's gotten much worse since his day: Medicare Prescription Drugs, No Child Left Behind, etc.

I, too, will take half a loaf. But I'm going to work to get the whole thing. And any more, I'm not convinced that means working for the GOP.

Don't you remember the October 2008 presidential debates? It was the GOP fellow who first suggested that the government should buy your house. . . The GOP has jumped the shark.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

But, as Jack Bauer says, We're running out of time!

Peter said...

Well, I doubt the GOP has really jumped the shark. The party has long been divided. Goldwater had to contend with Rockefeller, and Reagan had to overcome Ford. The party's far from perfect. But, conservatism is alive and well within its ranks, and, in my opinion is the best way to advance a pro-life, pro-capitalism, anti-socialist agenda.

Even, for the sake of argment, that it were not, the Lou-Rockwell philosophy does nothing for me. I'll take Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, and Rich Lowry any day.
That is to say, my guess is that it's more simply a debate between National-Review conservatism and Lou-Rockwell conservatism. Then, we might debate over whose "conservatism" we should place quotation marks.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I find myself in complete agreement with Peter and Burnell.