When Dick Cheney appeared at American University on March 28th, students protested outside Bender Arena, including the student government’s comptroller, who stated that he had voted against allowing Cheney to appear and had so far refused to sign a check compensating the former vice-president for his appearance. The protesters brought enough attention to the issue that Cheney felt compelled to defend himself against accusations that he is a war criminal.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney refuted accusations that he is a war criminal during his speech to students and members of the AU community in Bender Arena on March 28. The Kennedy Political Union hosted Cheney as part of a stream of speakers coming to campus.

“The accusations are not true,” Cheney said.

During his vice presidency, three people were waterboarded, Cheney said. Waterboarding refers to either pumping a stomach with water or inducing choking by filling a throat with a stream of water, according to a report by NPR.

“Some people called it torture. It wasn’t torture,” Cheney said in an interview with ATV.

Of course, “some people” includes virtually every disinterested observer, including the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who stated back in July 2012 that “[Cheney] and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.”

Perhaps one could argue that America had some kind of mandate to contain Iraq resulting from the Persian Gulf War and, therefore, our decision to invade that country and remove its leadership cannot be judged by the same type of standard we used to condemn Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait or Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. If you want to try to carve out some of kind of double standard for America arising from our unique capabilities and responsibilities for maintaining the international system, I think we can have that debate. But it’s much harder to even imagine how one might justify our government’s decision to torture people during the Bush-Cheney administration.

This effort to simply call it something other than what it was is never going to fly. And, on that basis, Dick Cheney is unambiguously a criminal violator of human rights. But why do people have such an easy time condemning Cheney, or even Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Rice, and such a hard time condemning George W. Bush?

It seems one of the lasting features of the Bush administration is that people simply don’t think that Bush was calling the shots and, as a result, they are inclined to give him a pass on the decisions he made.

That’s a mistake.

If he and his subordinates were held responsible for what they did, we wouldn’t have to listen to his subordinates mouthing off about how weak the current president is.

You’ll know that the current president is as weak as Bush when students line up to protest former vice-president Joe Biden and completely ignore Obama.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com