Many people are saying that Dick Cheney acknowledged on Tuesday that America practices waterboarding, but I'm not sure he actually said that. I'd say he engaged in elaborate verbal gymnastics so that he could simultaneously titillate the base with images of torture and deny that it actually is torture.
The admission (or non-admission) took place in an "interview" with a right-wing radio host (I put "interview" in quotation marks because both sides were clearly scripted by the administration).
Here's the key passage. Watch the carefully garbled syntax:
Q ... I've had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do agree. And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation.
When Cheney says, "that's been a very important tool," does "that" refer to waterboarding or to "our ability to interrogate high value detainees" (in some way that isn't torture but is, as Cheney says later, "fairly robust")?
One of Cheney's minions would say it's the latter:
Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding or endorsed the technique.
"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture," she said. "The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."
But obviously, with a nod and a wink to the base, it's meant to suggest the former. These guys still believe they have to cover themselves with a "we don't torture" fig leaf, though wedge-issue politics drives them to want to rip the fig leaf off and let it all hang out.
What I find more amusing is the way Cheney's "interviewer," Scott Hennen, leads into the waterboarding exchange. Whoever scripted this interview really is good at this sort of thing:
Q I've heard from a lot of listeners -- that's what we do for a living, talk to good folks in the Heartland every day -- and I've talked to as many who want an increased military presence in Iraq as want us out, which seems to be the larger debate, at least coming from the left -- cut and run, get out of there. One fax said, when you talk to the Vice President, ask him when shock and awe is coming back to Iraq. Let's finish the job once and for all.
And terrorist interrogations and that debate is another example. And I've had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?
Utterly brilliant: He gets the testosterone flowing by floating the fantasy of more shock and awe -- but then he segues directly into waterboarding. He can't actually ask Cheney about putting more hurt on Iraq, because that just isn't going to happen. But he implies that a Republican win in November = more shock and awe.
Nice work, Karl.