Dick Cheney has always loved going on “Meet the Press.”
It gives him the appearance of subjecting himself to scrutiny, while actually giving him a great platform to say whatever he wants.
Cheney’s love for “Meet the Press” is not a matter of conjecture. The 2007 trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, revealed all sort of embarrassing facts about an elite Washington press corps that is more into enabling its sources than digging away at the truth – and one of the most delicious morsels was the testimony by Cathie Martin, Cheney’s former communications director, that Cheney’s office saw going on “Meet the Press” as “our best format.”
Prosecutors even introduced as evidence a little chart she had made of the “pros” and “cons” of going on “Meet the Press.”
Under “pros”, she had written: “control message.”
“We control the message a little bit more,” she told the prosecutors. “It was good for us to be able to tell our story.”
When Cheney was vice president, his chief M.O. was to spread false information and savage his critics, while avoiding any sustained inquisition. He often did that through intermediaries.
But when he needed to take things into his own hands, “Meet the Press” was “best” because, while there might be a tough prepared question or two, then-host Tim Russert could be counted on to follow up obsequiously or not at all, without in any way knocking the veep off his talking points.
Cheney is now on a major PR push, leading the critique of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report, which was released Tuesday.
Cheney went on Fox News on Wednesday night, where he notably called the report (which he hadn’t read) “full of crap.” But that was like preaching to the choir.
“Meet the Press” announced on Thursday that Cheney would be on the show this Sunday.
The twittersphere reacted skeptically:
But I have some ideas about what Todd could do differently. (And so did several of my Twitter followers. )
The key is quite simple: Instead of asking Cheney for his reaction to the report, Todd should use the opportunity to ask Cheney factual questions, to fill in gaps in the record.
The Senate report focused exclusively on the CIA. So while it exhaustively documented the gruesome, inhumane and ineffective history of interrogation at the agency’s black sites, it completely failed to address where the idea to start torturing people came from in the first place. That’s because, as other reports and some great journalists have disclosed, it came from Cheney’s office.
Todd should ask Cheney a lot of questions about his role. Here are some I came up with. (I will use an accurate and concise term to refer to the interrogation tactics the CIA used: torture. But if Todd wants to be a bit less confrontational, I would understand.)
Q. Why did people within the CIA start talking about torture, when historically their view was, as Senator Feinstein mentioned in her speech on Tuesday, that “inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers”?
Q. Do you know who first came up with the idea of using torture as part of the interrogation of detainees?
Q. What was the first time you heard anything about making interrogation tactics more brutal?
Q. When was the first time you heard about waterboarding? What was your reaction?
Q. How often were you or your office in touch with the CIA in late 2002 and early 2003 about interrogation matters?
Q. Describe your chief counsel David Addington’s involvement in developing interrogation policy.
Q. What was the first report you heard that made you think torture was “working”?
Q. What do you consider torture?
Q. You know what brutal interrogation tactics have historically been good for and what they’ve not been good for, right? Historically, they’ve been good for punishing people and for eliciting false confessions. They’ve never been good at collecting useful intelligence, except maybe on TV. What was your historical basis for having confidence that these techniques would generate useful information?
Q. Did you ever speak to anyone who opposed using these techniques? What argument impressed you the most?
Q. On Fox News the other day, you were asked about one detainee who died in captivity in November 2002. This was Rahman Gul, a man who had no direct connection to the 9/11 attacks. You shot back “3,000 Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did. And I have no sympathy for them.” Explain that. It sounded a bit retributive.
Q. What do you consider too cruel to do, even to people you think are hiding life-saving intelligence? I gather mock burials were proposed and rejected. Do you consider that too cruel, or not too cruel? What about keeping someone in a coffin-sized box for hundreds of hours, which the CIA did? Etc.
Q. There were 26 detainees, out of the CIA’s 119 in total, who the agency itself determined should never have been held at all. They included “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” and “Nazir Ali, an ‘intellectually challenged’ individual whose taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” When did you first learn that some detainees who had been tortured were there by mistake? What was your reaction?
Q. Do you have any reason to dispute the report’s description of “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration”? Had you heard anything about this before? Does that sound OK to you?
Q. Did you watch any of the videos of detainees being interrogated at the black sites ? What was that like for you?
Q. Did you ever speak directly to someone involved in administering those interrogation tactics? What was that like?
Q. Did you personally approve the waterboarding of the three detainees that have been identified as being waterboarded? Were any other detainees waterboarded that you know of?
Q. According to a DOJ memo, KSM was waterboarded 183 times. Is that correct? Are you OK with that?
Q. What about Abu Ghraib? Do you agree that the treatment of detainees there was inhumane?
Q. A 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded that you bore direct responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Didn’t you notice that the interrogation tactics you architected for CIA use had migrated into the military?
Q. Did you ever suggest to anyone that any specific interrogation practice be stopped?
Q. Do you think it’s likely that some of these tactics will be returned to use in the future?
Q. How would you feel if an American were subject to this kind of interrogation? How would you want the country to respond?
Q. Do you plan to travel to Europe?
I asked on Twitter for constructive suggestions, using the hashtag #MTPWTF. Many of the responses were not constructive. But here are some of my favorites:
(For the record, that question was: “Why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?“)
Some suggested a slight change in the normal format:
And over at the Washington Post‘s Plum Line, Paul Waldman proposed five questions, including: “If things like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are ‘safe, legal, and effective,’ but are not torture, would you recommend that other countries also use them on prisoners they hold?”
So Chuck, do yourself a favor: Go down in history as the talking head who stood up to Cheney. Not as breakfast.
Update at 4:29 p.m. ET: Back in 2011, I proposed 11 questions Cheney should be asked on his book tour. Some will sound familiar, but I also explain them a lot more. The one that people seemed to like the most, by the way, was No. 10: Just how much had you had to drink before you shot your friend in the face?
Photo Illustration: The Intercept; Cheney: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Todd: Paul Morigi/Getty Images