Global Policy Forum

Might Dick Cheney Really be Tried for War Crimes?

In July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report urging the Obama administration to investigate former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials for ordering detainee abuse amounting to torture. Human rights organizations are now demanding for Cheney to be tried for war crimes. But the Obama administration has not initiated an investigation into the interrogation policies conducted by the Bush administration. If the US does not act, other countries could. The chance of Cheney being tried by the International Criminal Court is though extremely small, as the US is not a member state of the court. 

By Peter Grier

Christian Science Monitor

August 31, 2011

Is there a possibility that former Vice President Dick Cheney will be tried as a war criminal?

The question arises because Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said Tuesday that Mr. Cheney fears that very thing.

Cheney’s tough defense of his record during interviews promoting his new memoir “In My Time” are the bluster of someone who underneath is really worried about his actions,Mr. Wilkerson told ABC News.

“I think he’s just trying to, one, assert himself so he’s not in some subsequent time period tried for war crimes, and second ... [vindicate] himself because he feels like he needs vindication. That in itself tells you something about him,” Wilkerson said.

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Wilkerson said that he thought that as vice president, Cheney seemed to be a totally different person than he had been earlier, during his service as secretary of Defense in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

“He’s developed an angst and almost a protective cover, and now he fears being tried as a war criminal,” Wilkerson said.

First off, we’ll note that Wilkerson’s words are likely a salvo in the developing feudbetween Cheney and Mr. Powell. Cheney has called Powell disloyal to the president he served, Powell has said Cheney takes cheap shots in his book, and so forth. As a loyal staffer Wilkerson is jumping in here on the side of his ex-boss.

Second, the chance that Dick Cheney will be tried as a war criminal is vanishingly small.

Yes, Human Rights Watch did issue a report in July urging that President Obamainvestigate former President George W. Bush, Cheney, and other top ex-administration officials for allegedly ordering abuse of detainees that amounted to torture.

Waterboarding is among the harsh techniques cited in the Human Rights Watch report, along with use of secret CIA prisons and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture.

“The US has a legal obligation to investigate these crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, when the report was released. “If the US doesn’t act on them, other countries should.”

But the Obama administration has declined to conduct a broad probe of the legality ofinterrogation policies authorized by the Bush White House. The Justice Departmentinstead is looking into whether unauthorized techniques were used in the deaths of two men in CIA custody.

And the part about other countries acting, if they US doesn’t? For that to have any actual consequence, it would have to involve snatching Dick Cheney off the streets and spiriting him away to, say, the International Criminal Court in the Hague. That’s almost certainly not going to happen.

The US would protest strenuously – and probably take some kind of action in retaliation – if one of its citizens was subjected to international courts without Washington’s approval. It is not a member of the ICC, after all, and that’s a big reason why.

Cheney, for his part, has been joking about his status as the Bush official the left most loves to hate.

On “Today” earlier this week, interviewer Matt Lauer noted that Cheney has been called many things, including the most divisive US political figure of the century.

“You left out Darth Vader,” Cheney replied.


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