Debating Liz Cheney on Guant

She doesn't care if Bush-Cheney military leaders disagree with her, or if Ahmadinejad wins in Iran. Reality check?

By Joan Walsh
June 10, 2009 7:10AM (UTC)
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I debated Liz Cheney tonight on CNN's "Campbell Brown," over the issue of whether closing Guantánamo endangers national security. You can guess which side I was on. Man, I had it easy.

Text and commentary continue below the video.

First I told Liz that if she had a problem with closing Guantánamo, she needed to talk to the top military leaders under the Bush-Cheney administration, because they all support closure -- from Bush's Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to widely admired Iraq-turnaround expert Gen. David Petraeus.


In fact, before President Obama was even inaugurated, Mullen told the media that Guantánamo was a "recruiting symbol" for al-Qaida, and that it had to be closed. There wasn't any debate about it in last year's election, because of course, John McCain supported closing Gitmo. I mean, just about exactly three years ago in Vienna, even President Bush told European leaders he intended to close Guantánamo and try its prisoners in the U.S., because he knew it was a black eye for America globally. (God bless that little guy, I hope he finds peace, and finds it through telling the truth about the Cheney administration. And sending folks to jail.)

So support for closing Gitmo is bipartisan, I told Liz. It's mainstream opinion. The Cheney family position on Guantánamo is the one that's eccentric and extreme. Let's be clear about that. I think she started yelling at me around then, even though, according to CNN's new "Great Debate" feature, we were both supposed to let each other finish a 30-second opening statement. Which I did, because I am, well, like that. Polite. That's how my parents raised me. God bless them. (Note to self: Shed the home training to get ahead in life.)

Of course, no matter the wisdom and direction of our top military leaders, now that the Cheneys are trashing Obama about making us less safe, polls show a majority of Americans are opposed to bringing the Gitmo folks to the U.S. (Points here to Liz, who raised this, when she couldn't rebut stellar military leaders like Petraeus, Gates and Mullen. She's a brawler!) And unbelievably, even some spineless Democrats have been cowed by the Cheneys and don't want Obama to move the remaining 240 prisoners left at Gitmo to American prisons.


Sigh. As I told Liz — oh, and Slinky-spined Harry Reid! — we already have 340 convicted terrorists locked up in American prisons, and none have ever escaped. None. Ever. We're a tough country. We can do this shit. The Florence, Colo., Supermax facility alone holds Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center attacks; shoe bomber Richard Reid; Oklahoma City terrorist Terry Nichols; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

Shoe bomber, Unabomber, WTC bomber, OKC bomber. Florence, Colo. is still A-OK. Macho folks, I guess. I'll send Liz contact info because for sure her dad wants to know about those American patriots. They clearly kick ass.

So, to catch up: That's 340 terrorists already housed on American soil, and no one's losing sleep about it. Isn't this a totally bogus issue? We can and we will close Guantánamo, with or without Liz Cheney's support. We're on our way, aren't we?


But then Liz, slightly abetted by the debate format, unfortunately, rushed to the question of the worst of the worst of the worst: the folks even Obama says we can't try for lack of (admissible) evidence, and we can't release. Liz insisted her dad and former President Bush released all the innocent folk before they left office.

And that is just is so not true. If you read ABC News' gut-wrenching coverage of the torture and detention of innocent Algerian Lakhdar Boumediene, you'll know Liz Cheney is lying. Yet again! Yikes!


Boumediene, as we all know, was not set free by Bush-Cheney, he was only released in late May, long after Obama took office, after being held for nearly eight years. He described his torture for ABC's Jake Tapper, and the segments were tough to watch. Boumediene was kept in a cage, he was regularly abused in his shackles, enough to show the scars. We don't know how many Boumedienes are still at Guantánamo, but I would bet my savings there are others. I am so sad that his daughters, 1 and 5 when he was snatched by the U.S., are now tweens/teens as he is released. God bless them and make them happy. But what we did to Boumediene is illegal and wrong and beneath America.

But of course, some detainees are guilty — and our system of justice can handle that, too. (Why am I more patriotic than Liz and more trusting in our institutions of law, punishment and justice?) On Tuesday we saw charges brought against one Guantánamo prisoner, Ahmed Ghailani. He was charged in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and he pleaded not-guilty in a New York courtroom today. Four of Ghailani's colleagues were already tried and convicted in the same district court, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. So, clearly, Liz: We can and we should try Guantánamo prisoners, wherever possible. And if they're convicted, lock them up.

Finally, there's a category of people Obama says we don't have the goods on for a trial, but they're too dangerous to be released. We don't know if there are five or 15 or 50. Campbell wanted to start with them, but I told her I'd rather fight over them later. I will never support Obama's preventive detention, but I assume the bad cases are a minority, and I'd rather watch whom they try and convict, or not, and then later figure out these odd, sad cases that don't fit into our justice system. I won't lead with that; but I'll get to it if Obama does the wrong thing. Trust me, and trust Glenn Greenwald. Please.


In the end, according to the standards of CNN's Great Debate, we were asked what we might possibly have in common. Shockingly, to me, Liz Cheney argued hard: Absolutely F'ing Nothing! I was hurt! I said I thought we had a love for our fathers (easy); a desire to keep our country safe (also easy); happiness that the March 14 Coalition won in Lebanon vs. the Hezbollah group (maybe not so easy) and finally, a desire for Ahmadinejad to lose to the moderate forces in Iran (not easy at all!).

Surprisingly, Liz disagreed on the last point: She doesn't think it matters who wins in Iran. MSM writers, if you bother to cover this issue: Man, that's news. The Cheney faction doesn't think there's any hope in Iran; the Obama and majority human faction thinks there's hope. That's my position, and I'm sticking to it, and Lord, I hope I'm right.

I thank CNN for bringing this clash of opposites to the fore.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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Barack Obama Dick Cheney Terrorism Torture