My thanks to the Foreign Policy Association for inviting me to be here tonight. It is an honor to speak to the members of an organization who have added so much to our nation’s foreign policy debate over the years.
In thinking about how I might try to live up to that tradition, I set out to sum up lessons learned from the war in Iraq and how we’re back on track, focusing on the right enemy – al Qaeda and the Taliban – in the right place – Afghanistan and Pakistan. I had planned to lay before you tonight a vision of a world inspired by a young American president who summons us to look beyond party and politics, to work together here at home, and to engage our allies around the world to confront the threat of religious extremists preaching fanatic intolerance. The power of President Obama’s message – dramatized in Prague and Berlin when multitudes showed up to cheer him – holds the promise of regaining the good will of people around the world. The President’s decision to end torture, to close Guantanamo, to talk to our enemies, and to reduce the threat of nuclear annihilation shows the world that America is willing not only to lead – but to listen.
But then last week, a voice from the recent past reemerged, claiming that America can do what we please, preaching unilateralism again, and embracing the arrogance that for too many years alienated our friends and set back efforts to achieve common goals. Former Vice President Cheney’s world view, which so dominated the Bush years and which so dishonored our nation, gained a little traction last week – enough to persuade me to address it head on here tonight.
I do so as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which recently completed an eighteen month investigation into the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and produced a 200 page bipartisan report which gives the lie to Mr. Cheney’s claims. I do so because if the abusive interrogation techniques that he champions – the face of which were the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib – if they are once more seen as representative of America, our security will be severely set back.
When former Vice President Cheney said last week that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the work of “a few sadistic prison guards” acting on their own, he bore false witness. And when he said last week there was no link between the techniques used at Abu Ghraib and those approved for use in the CIA’s secret prisons, he again strayed from the truth. The seeds of Abu Ghraib’s rotten fruit were sown by civilians at the highest levels of our government.