Martin Schram: What a bitter irony it would be if the neo-torture technique favored by Cheney makes it impossible to sentence the confessed 9/11 mastermind to the punishment that fully fits his crime.
One of the grand things about the way politics is played in America these days, is that you can be born and raised in Wyoming or even Alaska and be right at home in playing the game the Washington way.
Which is to say: Down and dirty. Also: deceptively and dishonestly.
Ever since the Vietnam War, the one overarching image of political discourse has been that Republicans are America's only true patriots, defenders of our nation and fighters of our foes; and Democrats are squishy soft on war and naïve dream-merchants on peace.
Wyoming's own Dick Cheney pushed those old buttons again by saying, in reference to the government's handing of the Christmas Day underwear bomber who tried to blow up a jetliner: "It is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend that we are not at war."
And Alaska's Sarah Palin spouted the refrain to the Tea Party's gathering of far right independents: "We need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern."
Their one-rant-fits-all seemed to work for them as excellently as it did for their Grand Old Pachyderm antecedents in the flower-power era. On ABC News' "This Week," Sunday, Cheney was in attack mode because the Obama administration charged in federal court -- not a military proceeding -- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah, the Nigerian who was allegedly outfitted with an explosive-packed underpants pouch by al Qaeda handlers in Yemen. "I think the proper way to deal with it would have been to treat him as an enemy combatant," said Cheney.
Cheney also objected to the Obama administration's original plan to try in New York City federal court Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Obama is rethinking that, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., protested security costs would be humongous.
"(T)here are key members in the administration, like Eric Holder, for example, the attorney general, who still insists on thinking of terror attacks against the United States as criminal acts as opposed to acts of war," proclaimed Cheney.
But there is a truth Palin may be clueless about - but Cheney knows well. Namely: Cheney is willfully attacking the wrong president and attorney general. Because it was President George W. Bush who ordered prosecutions of terror suspects in federal court, recommended by Attorney General John Ashcroft and opposed in meetings by Cheney. Obama and Holder continued Bush's policy that saw civilian court proceedings for suspects including 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
Reid was read his Miranda rights (that he didn't have to talk to interrogators and was entitled to consult an attorney) in the first hour of his interrogation. Yet Cheney and congressional Republicans including Sens. Lindsay Graham, S.C., and Mitch McConnell, Ky., attacked Obama, claiming the Christmas Day attacker was read his rights just "50 minutes" after his interrogation began, alleging that's why he stopped talking.
But the Obama White House's greatest failing, yet again, was in delivering its own clear message. Days later we learned it was nine hours after his arrest that Abdulmutallah was read his Miranda rights -- and he'd already stopped talking by then. He has since been talking, after the FBI flew his parents here from Nigeria.
Vice President Biden worked the Sunday talk show circuit Sunday rebutting Cheney's attacks. While Cheney staunchly championed "water-boarding" terror suspects (to simulate drowning sensations) Biden said they should never be used.
The issue may be crucial in the trial of 9/11 suspect Mohammed, who was subjected to water-boarding at least 86 times. Legal experts speculated that information and a confession that occurred after the first water boarding may be ruled inadmissible in a civilian court. That may explain why Obama is now involved -- and why Biden left open the possibility that Mohammed might be tried in a military proceeding, after all.
What a bitter irony it would be if the neo-torture technique favored by Cheney makes it impossible to sentence the confessed 9/11 mastermind to the punishment that fully fits his crime.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.