As prepared for delivery
Vice President Cheney Remarks at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday, May 21, 2009
Thank you all very much, and Arthur, thank you for that introduction. It’s good to be back at AEI, where we have many friends. Lynne is one of your longtime scholars, and I’m looking forward to spending more time here myself as a returning trustee. What happened was, they were looking for a new member of the board of trustees, and they asked me to head up the search committee.
I first came to AEI after serving at the Pentagon, and departed only after a very interesting job offer came along. I had no expectation of returning to public life, but my career worked out a little differently. Those eight years as vice president were quite a journey, and during a time of big events and great decisions, I don’t think I missed much.
Being the first vice president who had also served as secretary of defense, naturally my duties tended toward national security. I focused on those challenges day to day, mostly free from the usual political distractions. I had the advantage of being a vice president content with the responsibilities I had, and going about my work with no higher ambition. Today, I’m an even freer man. Your kind invitation brings me here as a private citizen – a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek.
Full Text: President Barack Obama on National Security, Torture, Guantanamo – National Archives – May 21
These are extraordinary times for our country. We are confronting an historic economic crisis. We are fighting two wars. We face a range of challenges that will define the way that Americans will live in the 21st century. There is no shortage of work to be done, or responsibilities to bear.
And we have begun to make progress. Just this week, we have taken steps to protect American consumers and homeowners, and to reform our system of government contracting so that we better protect our people while spending our money more wisely. The engines of our economy are slowly beginning to turn, and we are working toward historic reform of health care and energy. I welcome the hard work that has been done by the Congress on these and other issues.
In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.
President Barack Obama has pretty good instincts – most of the time. His lack of support for investigation and consequences into state-sanctioned torture during the Bush Administration is one of those times squarely not in the “most” category.
Apparently the presdent has abandoned the righteous indignation of the campaign trail for the Washington Easy Button. When one pushes this red button, the difficult parts of governing are cast aside with rhetorical flourishes that sound like this – “The president said that given all that’s on the agenda and the pressing issues facing the country, that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive,” a White House official who attended the session said. “The president was very clear…that he believes it’s important that there’s not a witch hunt.”
The “session” being recounted by the White House official was a meeting Obama had with Congressional leaders (presumably only Democrats) in which he counseled them that investigations into “harsh interrogation tactics” and other Bush Administrations legal missteps along the way in the War on Terror would do nothing to advance the political agenda of Democrats today.
That Democratic agenda – including health care reform and a new energy economy – is vital. But, who is to say that the Congress and the U.S. Dept. of Justice can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? Paul Krugman today:
What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?
For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?
Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.
I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.
The fact is, there are reasonable and important questions that need to be answered regarding the Bush Administration, and in particular the role of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and their staffs in the subverting the Constitution and rule of law. Above all else, the United States is held together by the rule of law and citizens’ acceptance of this state of affairs. The U.S. is a beacon of freedom and fairness when we honor the best of our traditions and hold everyone – no matter their station in life – to their obligations under the law. This includes international treaties like the Geneva Conventions.
The world is not only wary of the U.S. because of debacles like Iraq. Our standing in the world is stained at the very least due to the impression that we broke a few rules over the past several years. Serious rules.
Those in Washington arguing that to honestly investigate alleged rule breaking and shed the light of day on it are missing the point that it’s not primarily about punishment and retribution. It’s about upholding the rule of law in a land made great by those laws.