Adam Ash

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

US Diary: Cheney calls Iraq War an unfortunate “shooting accident”

Highlights from a transcript of an interview with Dick Cheney.

Brit Hume: “Mr. Vice-President, in your own words, tell us how this whole Iraq thing started.”

Cheney: “I was in the desert with a few Texas hunting buddies of mine. I had maybe one beer at an oasis.”

Hume: “You had been drinking?”

Cheney: “Maybe two beers at the oasis. Three tops. An hour later, we go hunting. I had me a bazooka, and my friends had rocket launchers and such. We were hunting for crocodiles.”

Hume: “I didn’t know there were crocodiles in Iraq.”

Cheney: “Saddam had crocodiles. The British thought so. The Germans thought so. The French thought so. They all said Saddam had crocodiles. So we had our bazookas and rocket launchers, and we were ready for them to fly up in front of us at any moment.”

Hume” “Flying crocodiles?”

Cheney: “Saddam had crocodiles with wings. Everybody thought so. Great big gnarly-skinned crocodiles with wings.

“Suddenly there was this movement. I unloaded. Huge crater in the desert. And then I saw what it was.

“Not a crocodile. A little Iraqi girl. Low on the ground. Easily mistaken for a crocodile.”

Hume: “Then what happened?”

Cheney: “Her brothers and her Dad, they took it the wrong way. Got in my face. Said I had to tell the media without delay. Me talk to the media? Can you imagine the arrogance of those dudes?”

Hume: “What did you do?”

Cheney: “You know my style. First I said, ‘go fuck yourself.’ Then I opened fire. That’s how it went down. A shooting accident.”

Hume: “If, at the time, you knew Saddam had no crocodiles, would you still have shot the little girl?”

Cheney: “Of course. You don’t want to give a guy like Saddam a chance to think you’re weak.”

Hume: “Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.”

Cheney: “Thank you, Brit. Stuff happens.”

2. The Buckshot Comes Full Circle -- by Mike Carlton

Picasso, it is said, could dash off a geometrically perfect circle with a stick of charcoal. There is a similar exquisite perfection in the act, the effortless achievement, the languid artistry, the soaring triumph, of Vice-President Dick Cheney shooting his lawyer with a blast of birdshot. It has warmed me all week.

Not that I wish the unfortunate attorney any ill. We all hope he recovers, although America has lawyers the way dogs have fleas. One less can only be to the good. But I am delighted to see Cheney go down.

The symmetry is this: here is a metaphor, an allegory, for all that is rotten about this Bush Administration. At the White House, as at the ranch where the shooting happened, a rarefied clique of Texan Republican aristocrats and their sidekicks lurches from impulsive folly into grim farce, with disastrous consequences.

When it all goes horribly pear-shaped - in Iraq, or New Orleans, or the south Texas brush country - there are, at first, the furtive efforts to conceal the truth and then, when some facts inevitably emerge, to concoct the most favourable version that the black arts of White House media management can devise.

Days after the shooting, the waters are now so muddied that the truth might never be known. Bush's political svengali, Karl Rove, had about 24 hours to spin the story before it was released, not to the inquisitive White House press corps, but to a friendly reporter on a backwater Texas local newspaper.

There are conflicting reports on whether Deadeye Dick had been drinking, or whether anybody else in the shooting party had. It was four days before Cheney volunteered for a sympathetic interview with the Administration's favourite media poodle, Rupert Murdoch's Fox television network. Confusion reigns.

BACK to the perfect circle. Of all the Bush cronies, it was Cheney, the chicken-hawk who dodged service in Vietnam, who was most avid for war with Iraq, most fervent in the fantasy that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

It was Cheney who ran hardest with the fraudulent line that Saddam was seeking nuclear weapons, and his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who attempted to destroy the American diplomat who had found otherwise. It was Cheney, as Vice-President, who was pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his old employers, the Halliburton corporation, even as that company was awarded uncontested US Government contracts in the billions for work in Iraq.

But, above all, unforgettably, it was Cheney, who assured American soldiers headed for Iraq that they would be welcomed as liberators.

What an irony that a wayward blast of birdshot completes the circle and destroys his credibility forever.

3. From Hunter to Hunted – by Joan Vennochi

Forget about quail. If you're Dick Cheney, your eye should be on Scooter.

While quail-hunting last weekend, the vice president accidentally shot a friend and fellow hunter, 78-year-old Harry M. Whittington. This unfortunate event came a few days after a piece of Cheney-related news that might rattle any marksman's aim.

According to a Feb. 9 report posted by the National Journal, the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby, told a federal grand jury he was ''authorized" by Cheney and by ''superiors" to disclose classified information about Iraq's nuclear weapons capability. A president can declassify information and a vice president has some legal leeway to do so as well. No one is suggesting any crime was committed. The implication is that information was declassified for political gain, so Libby could defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence.

Last October, Libby was indicted on criminal charges involving the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was basically accused of lying about how and when he learned that Wilson was a CIA agent. The indictment specifically states that Libby ''was advised by the vice president of the United States" that Wilson worked at the Central Intelligence Agency and that ''the vice president had learned this information from the CIA."

At the time, Libby's indictment raised questions about what he would give up about Cheney and others, including Bush senior adviser Karl Rove. Would he make it easier for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to charge someone in the Bush administration with the specific crime of leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent? Those questions remain relevant and potentially troubling for the Bush White House.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan easily dodged an inquiry about the National Journal report, saying, ''I heard about this story . . . but I think you know our policy when it comes to this ongoing legal proceeding and it hasn't changed."

It has been much harder to dodge questions about Cheney's hunting accident. Long after the hunting jokes grew stale, the vice president left it to the White House to handle the increasingly hostile media barrage.

Cheney gave his first interview on the hunting mishap four days after it took place, and after Whittington suffered a minor heart attack. Cheney told Fox News Channel yesterday: ''You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."

From the start, the White House press corps focused on the usual: itself. Why, White House reporters wanted to know, did the vice president, through an intermediary, put out belated word about the shooting, first to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, instead of to the White House press corps? The question should have been: Why did it take so long for Cheney to inform the public?

But whatever the level of media haughtiness, the level of Cheney's haughtiness is hard to beat. In this case, Cheney's legendary arrogance turned into an easy metaphor for the generic arrogance of the Bush administration. Never explain, never apologize, until you are forced to, whether the matter at hand is a war gone wrong or a shot gone wrong.

In this case, Cheney also displayed contempt for President Bush, along with his well-documented contempt for the press. By stonewalling, the vice president turned a bird hunting mishap into a political albatross for the White House. That, in turn, reinforced the recurring theme of a president who is not in control of his own administration or its policies. Who's the boss? Cheney, not Bush. It gave Democrats a new line of attack, linking Cheney's penchant for secrecy to an overall pattern of secrecy in the Bush administration.

Cheney, the hunter, is now Cheney, the hunted. The media have him in their sights, with fresh ammunition thanks to the shots he accidentally fired at Whittington. As a political lame duck, he can dodge the press as he sees fit. But what about the special prosecutor? Fitzgerald's investigation is not as easily sidestepped.

When Libby was indicted, the Washington media predicted he would be too loyal to turn on his former boss. But an ex-chief of staff facing jail time and disgrace can redirect loyalty from an ex-boss to his family and himself. Libby's case is not scheduled to go to trial until January 2007. Cheney has plenty of time to find out whether Libby's loyalties run as deep as he believed or hoped.

For Cheney, ducking questions about a hunting accident could be preferable to ducking questions about Scooter Libby.

(Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

4. Connecting the Dots of Cheney's Crimes – by John Nichols

Goodness gracious! Could it be that comedians are doing a better job of connecting the dots regarding Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors than are the unintentionally ridiculous members of the White House press corps?

Huntergate is certainly worthy of coverage, especially now that the vice president has admitted to shooting while intoxicated. But the on-bended-knee "reporters" who hang around the briefing room waiting for a presidential spokesman to feed them their daily diet of spin look pretty absurd chasing after this particular story with so much gusto while they continue to ignore the big picture of Cheney's misuse of intelligence data before and after the invasion of Iraq and his role in schemes to punish critics of the administration.

If the Bush administration's court reporters are not quite up to the job of holding the vice president to account, however, the nation's fearless comedians are up to the task.

"Good news, ladies and gentlemen," announced David Letterman after news of the vice presidential shooting spree finally came out, "we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It's Dick Cheney." Letterman scored another direct hit when he observed: "It turns out now that Dick Cheney did not have a license to hunt, and coincidentally, turns out we didn't have a license to go into Iraq."

Jay Leno was equally on target when he explained that: "You can't blame [Cheney]. Bush says you can spy on people without warrants, you can torture people, you can hold people without a trial, so Dick Cheney thinks, 'Oh what the hell, I can shoot a few guys.'"

Ultimately, however, it was "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Corddry who hit the bullseye, when he reported that: "The Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now, according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78- year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Wittington's face."

All seriousness aside, there is a good deal of humor to be found in the fact that members of the White House press corps have finally been roused to mount the journalistic barricades by a hunting accident. While they cannot be counted on to go after the big stories, they are unrelenting in their determination to get to the bottom of every tale of celebrity folly -- be it Britney Spears failure to place her baby in a carseat or Dick Cheney's inability to shoot straight after he's downed a cold one.

But, as in the days when Pravda and Tass could not be relied upon to go after the big stories of Soviet shenanigans, Americans now know that, for the full story about this administration, they must turn to the comedians and the satirists who understand that Cheney's abuse of beer and guns cannot compair with his abuse of the most powerful vice presidency in American history.

(John Nichols's is the author of The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press). Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney.")


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