It used to be that Wyoming had only one politician to be ashamed of for his despicable, un-American support of torture.

Dick Cheney, who has spent many days since the end of his vice presidency lying about the supposed value of waterboarding and other cruel punishments euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation methods,” is now joined by Sen. John Barrasso.

Last week, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to a defense appropriation bill that would codify President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order against using torture. Barrasso was one of 21 Republican senators who voted against the amendment, which makes it much tougher for a future president to blatantly disregard the prohibition on torture already contained in the Geneva Convention and other treaties signed by the U.S.

Fortunately, 38 Republicans, including Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, joined all of the Senate Democrats to pass the amendment. Our nation has once again repudiated the war crimes Cheney and his cronies callously continue to crow about.

Cheney’s attempt to justify the use of torture by American intelligence agencies is laughably self-serving, and it requires him to frantically try to rewrite his role in the Iraq War. On the front end, he pushed the nation into war by shamelessly lying about the presence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, which has been totally discredited.

On the back end, Cheney erroneously asserts that the banned torture techniques were used to obtain intelligence the U.S. could not get any other way. The only thing this administration proved was that someone who is being tortured will say anything his captors want him to say so the pain will stop. Last December, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd interviewed Cheney in the wake of the Senate committee’s damning report. He noted one prisoner, Gul Rahman, was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water and froze to death in CIA custody — all due to a case of mistaken identity.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page report categorically states there is no possible justification for the waterboarding, sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other torture techniques Bush and Cheney authorized the CIA to use against enemy combatants post 9/11.

Barrasso’s vote essentially backs Cheney’s view of torture as a reasonable tool in America’s arsenal against terrorism. It is remarkable for several reasons, the foremost being Barrasso is a physician who has sworn to heal the sick, not condone methods that could either seriously injure fellow humans physically and mentally or outright kill them.

When the senator is presenting one of his medical reports to Wyoming, he should explain to his audience why he believes making a person think he is drowning is an appropriate interrogation technique to use against a prisoner who has never even been charged with any crime. It could provide some fascinating insight into how Barrasso views his dual role as a federal lawmaker and doctor.

To vote against the anti-torture amendment, Barrasso and 20 of his GOP colleagues had to totally ignore the mountains of evidence compiled by the Senate’s own investigators or pretend it wasn’t truthful. Either way, it’s frightening that one of Wyoming’s two U.S. senators could take a position on our nation’s treatment of foreign captives that not only condones obviously cruel and unusual punishment, but champions it.

Barrasso had a much better role model and adviser than Cheney to look to when contemplating his vote on this critical amendment. He could have made the right, honorable decision on behalf of his constituents by listening to what Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) learned first-hand about torture from his North Vietnamese captors.

McCain, who co-sponsored the bipartisan anti-torture amendment with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, bluntly said the Bush-Cheney interrogation policies “compromised our values, stained our national honor and did little practical good.”

The former P.O.W. said captured enemies are protected by basic human rights. Those rights were upheld until the Bush administration had its lawyers write memos that claimed interrogation tactics that have always been illegal were suddenly justified in the “war on terror.”

“This amendment provides greater assurances that never again will the United States follow that dark path of sacrificing our values for short-term security needs,” McCain said.

McCain has remained steadfast in his opposition to the green light Bush and Cheney gave to torture. It’s the reason he remains a valuable asset in the Senate, and colleagues like Barrasso did him a great disservice by not listening to a veteran leader of their own party.

McCain and Feinstein don’t hold many common political views, but they were right to both warn of the damage a future president could do by following the same path Bush did in approving  torture. Their successful bipartisan effort is refreshing to see in an era of almost unrelenting partisan discord, but at the same time, Barrasso’s vote appears to be just another in the GOP’s many attempts to discredit Obama on any issue.

Make no mistake — while the president deserves credit for his executive order revoking the interrogation techniques employed under Bush and Cheney, he blew it big time early in his administration when he refused to allow prosecution of those who allowed torture practices to be routinely used by the CIA.

By insisting on “moving forward” and not revisiting the illegal action of the past, Obama effectively condoned what the previous administration did. Yes, it would have been a wrenching decision to prosecute former American officials, but ultimately our nation would have been seen throughout the world as an honorable country not afraid to admit its mistakes.

Barrasso and like-minded conservative senators like to pour on the partisan rhetoric when they claim Obama has cost America the respect of the rest of the world. They either have really short memories about what Bush and Cheney did to ruin our reputation, or they just don’t care if other world leaders see us as honorable people.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. What else would you expect from Barrasso. His goal in life is to continue to build his personal wealth. He doesn’t care about Wyoming or its citizens.

    Frank Coldrick

  2. Well said, Kerry. Thank you. As with Carol Mathia, I hope this essay is widely reprinted.

    Dave Throgmorton