Shoot to Kill

Many of you have probably heard the news: while quail hunting in Texas, Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot prominent Austin attorney Harry Whittington with a shotgun. Cheney was apparently tracking a quail in the sights of his gun and accidentally pulled the trigger when the gun happened to be aimed at Whittington. When I read this, my first thought was that it would make a great Jay Leno joke. My second was that the whole situation serves as an apt metaphor for our current war on terrorism: Bush and Cheney think they are aiming at the terrorists, but when they end up pulling the trigger all they seem to hit are innocent Americans. For example, consider the Joseph Wilson case. In their distorted reality, President Bush and Vice President Cheney see the Iraq War as a critical part of our larger war on terrorism. Thus, when Ambassador Joe Wilson announced in the pages of the New York Times that his mission to link Iraq to uranium from Niger was a failure, George Bush and Dick Cheney saw him as a threat to our war. In effect, they turned the shotgun on one of our own in their misguided effort to hit the quail. Needless to say, they somewhat missed. Similarly, our domestic wiretapping operation has suffered a similar fate. The goal of the operation is to kill the quail and stop terrorists, but all we seem to do is hit the people in the way. And even more importantly, there is no oversight, so we can’t even tell for sure if our targets are quails or prominent attorneys for Austin. Alberto Gonzales defends this domestic weapon as critical to winning our War on Terror, but he mischaracterizes the tool. Gonzales wants us to believe that the weapon is a sniper rifle, precision tuned and able to pick off small targets from hundreds of yards away. However, a system in which the federal government can spy without a warrant is a system that functions more like a shotgun: spraying pellets everywhere, praying some of them will hit their targets. Such a weapon might be effective for hunting quail, but most of the ammunition expended is going to fly far wide of its target. Finally, consider the secret CIA prisons throughout Eastern Europe. Here, our government holds suspected Al-Queda terrorists so they can be legally tortured outside of our borders. However, much like Cheney and his shotgun, we had some accidental crossfire with innocent civilians. In fact, one man that we held for months is now suing the government, claiming that he was taken from his home and his home country and forced to endure months of torture and confinement when he had done nothing wrong. Of course, the United States looks awful in the eyes of the world, just as Cheney does, for tracking the quail, but hitting the friend. In the future, hopefully we can keep our weapons in check and only attack those targets that we are confident we can hit. The passage of John McCain’s amendment to the recent defense spending bill is an excellent start. It bans torture in all its forms throughout the United States and by our agents abroad. However, we can’t possibly rely on John McCain to protect us forever, and thus we need a broader oversight capacity in our government and our intelligence agencies. Especially concerning personal liberties like telephones, e-mail and letters, our government should be sure that it is not shooting with buckshot at anything that moves but rather aiming carefully to insure that it only hits the target. And Dick Cheney should pay more attention when he is hunting.