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St. Louis Post-Dispatch June 29, 2005

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Veep Throat

By Eric Mink

Dreaming of a Caribbean vacation? Consider a sunny little patch of America on the southeast coast of Cuba! Officially, she's the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, but you can call her Gitmo!

Visitors ("detainees," technically) are having the time of their lives at Gitmo, says Richard B. "Dick" Cheney, who, besides being vice president of the United States, recently appointed himself chief spokesman for the Guantanamo Bay Department of Travel and Tourism.

"They got a brand new facility down at Guantanamo," Cheney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer last Thursday. "We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well-treated down there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want."

I kind of wish the ever-dizzy Blitzer had asked a couple of follow-ups: "Everything they could possibly want, Mr. Vice President? Like a fair and impartial process to see if they even belong there? Like freedom and reunion with their families, if they don't? Like not being stripped naked, smeared with fake menstrual blood, urinated on, chained to the floor and worse?"

Ah, well. Not being an actual travel writer, Blitzer can be forgiven for not knowing what's important to tourists.

Cheney's endorsement of the American-plan, three-hots-and-a-flop resort at Gitmo was not the only bizarre moment in the interview. Asked earlier about a new classified CIA report suggesting that Iraq has become the central training ground for Islamic extremists, Cheney seemed untroubled that aspiring terrorists were flocking to Iraq for instruction and practical experience murdering American troops.

"Again, I think it's important to remember that an awful lot of the jihadists don't ever leave Iraq," he told Blitzer. "They go in and literally strap themselves into a carload of explosives or put on a vest full of dynamite and blow themselves up."

Oh. No sweat, then.

A previous off-the-wall remark by Cheney got more attention. In a Memorial Day interview with CNN's Larry King, Cheney said he expected U.S. forces to complete their mission and leave Iraq by the end of the second Bush term. As to the opposition, Cheney said, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

Gen. John Abizaid begs to differ. In testimony last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the head of U.S. Central Command cited political progress in Iraq, but "in terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was" six months ago, he said.

Last Thursday, Blitzer gave the vice president a chance to explain the contradiction, and Cheney responded by invoking, of all things, World War II. "If you look back at World War II," he said, "the most difficult battles, both in Europe and in the Pacific, occurred just a few months before the end: the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 and Okinawa in the spring of 1945. And I see this as a similar situation, where they're going to go all out."

It's an unseemly comparison at best. According to figures from GlobalSecurity.org, the Battle of the Bulge involved some 900,000 men; 76,000 American service members either were killed, wounded or captured. Another 12,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors died at Okinawa, with 38,000 wounded. It's also worth noting that in World War II, the United States and most of the world were united in the fight against fascist, genocidal aggressors bent on global domination.

Besides this string of odd comments, there's Cheney's peculiar tendency toward misstatement. Cheney got a pretty good laugh, you may recall, at the Oct. 4 vice-presidential debate last year when he looked at opponent Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and declared, "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."

Except that it wasn't true. In fact, Cheney had met Edwards three different times before. One of those occasions, recorded on videotape, was a prayer breakfast at which Cheney and Edwards sat next to each other.

A much more worrisome lapse involved national security. As evidence of the connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, Cheney touted a supposed meeting in the spring of 2001 between hijacker Mohamed Atta and one of Hussein's intelligence officials. Yet intelligence agencies and, later, the 9/11 commission had discredited the account.

On June 17, 2004, CNBC's Gloria Borger asked Cheney why he had insisted that the meeting had been "pretty well confirmed." "I never said that," Cheney replied. "I never said that. Absolutely not."

Not true. Cheney said exactly that, word for word, on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Dec. 9, 2001; the proof of his misstatement is his own image and voice on videotape.

Back on Memorial Day, Cheney told Larry King that he starts each work day with the president in the Oval Office, where they receive a briefing from the national director of intelligence. "I spend, I would guess, 30 to 40 percent of my time in the national security area: foreign policy, defense, intelligence and so forth," Cheney said.

Given the vice president's feckless approach to information, maybe that's not such a good idea.


Copyright 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch