Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Who Is America?' Shows Dick Cheney's Ongoing Enthusiasm for Torture

The latest promo for Sacha Baron Cohen's new Showtime show, Who is America? doesn't quite reveal what new character or characters Cohen will play in his new undercover interview show, but does end on a surprising endorsement, from former Vice President Dick Cheney. "I hope you'll tune in next week, for an interview with me," Cheney said of the July 15 Who is America? series premiere.

A previous promo hinted at another episode involving Trump University, Donald Trump's for-profit education scam designed to defraud "students" with hard-sell seminars costing up to $35,000, which resulted in the President of the United States acquiescing to a $25 million settlement. How Cohen will go after Trump University, which ceased operations in 2017, is unknown, but another clip Cohen released from his Cheney interview point to interview tactics common to his retired characters: Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev and Brüno Gehard. Responding to a request from Cohen, playing an offscreen, accented interviewer, the new clip shows Cheney enthusiastically autographing an empty gallon water jug described as a "waterboard kit."

Completely unflustered by the request, Cheney responds with enthusiasm, telling Cohen, "that's a first, that's the first time I've ever signed a waterboard." It's a startling moment, which raises the question of just how effective Cohen's approach can be in an era where politicians are no longer afraid to openly endorse what they would have once masked under euphemism or subtext.

This isn't the first time Cheney has demonstrated his continued support for the torture program run by the C.I.A. at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other black sites around the world. These programs have included subjecting prisoners to beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, wall-slamming, sexual humiliation, threats to rape or kill family members, coffin boxes, slapping and "rectal feeding," all without trial.

Throughout George W. Bush's tenure in office, his administration euphemized torture techniques under labels like "enhanced interrogation," though their defenses grew more threadbare and disinterested during the presidency of Barack Obama, after it became clear there would be no legal accountability from the new administration.

"I'd do it again in a minute," Cheney said in a 2014 Meet the Press interview, in response to host Chuck Todd pointing out the 22 percent of CIA black site detainees later demonstrated to be wrongfully held without evidence. Cheney's dancing around the nature of torture took on more absurdity than legal caution, particularly when the only example of torture the former vice president would provide was "what nineteen guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to three thousand Americans on 9/11."

His stance has only hardened since. Backing the nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA director—herself a torture overseer, who wrote the cable ordering the destruction of 92 interrogation tapes in defiance of a congressional committee's request—Cheney argued the United States should resume torture. "If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs," he told host Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business. "I'd have them active and ready to go, and I'd go back and study them and learn."

Cheney went on to claim the techniques did not constitute torture. "A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn't deemed torture at the time," he said, inaccurately.

Cheney's waterboarding endorsement on Who is America? pushes the former vice president to a seeming moment of absurdity, as Cohen as done in the past to Newt Gingrich, Andy Rooney and Donald Trump. But Cheney's delight in the contours of the joke suggest it may be harder to find absurdity in 2018.

Who is America? premieres June 15 on Showtime.

Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Who Is America?' Shows Dick Cheney's Ongoing Enthusiasm for Torture | Gaming
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