Dick Cheney and "Hundreds of Thousands Of Lives"

I’m currently watching two week old episodes of Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld on Hulu. If you like outrageous, off the wall humor in your news, you really can’t do better than this show. While “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” take familiar cable news concepts and parody them, Gutfeld completely deconstructs those concepts. If he wasn’t so libertarian, media professors would call his show a work of surreal genius. The show may not be as consistently funny as some others, but it is far less safe… you never know where they’re going to go and what they’re going to say when they get there.

Anyway… back to the numbers thing. They were talking about Dick Cheney’s interview with Bob Schieffer in which Cheney (in Greg’s words):

…insisted that enhanced interrogation saved a crapload of lives. That’s right, he said ‘crapload’.

OK, he didn’t, but he should have.

They then show the part where Cheney stated that:

“I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Now I don’t want to talk about the morality and ethics of enhanced interrogation, a topic about which I can’t even begin to talk intelligently.

But I do know a little something about numbers and I remember that, on 9/11 we were all terrified (or at least I was) when we heard how many people worked in the World Trade Center buildings. The number “50,000” was tossed around a good bit that morning. I was happily surprised when the final toll was drastically revised downward over the several weeks .

Near as I can make it, the only way the Bush administration could have saved “possibly hundreds of thousands” of lives is if they stopped a nuclear attack in a major city. And I’m going to go ahead and say that the burden of proof on them is pretty heavy for something like that.

If you bust six guys drinking beer and talking about nuking LA, you probably didn’t save that many people. If, however, you bust six guys drinking beer and talking about nuking LA… and they have a dozen gas centrifuges in the basement enriching uranium, they’re still miles away from nuking LA, but at least you can make the case that you saved a crapload of lives by busting them.

Take note, I’m not at all against going after potential terrorists. I’m just against using numbers so carelessly that they lose their meaning. The “hundred thousand lives saved” is, as Kevin Godlington stated on the show, lunacy.

As a side note, Kevin Godlington is one of Red Eye’s best contributors. He is a British veteran who provides remarkable insight on the show and also works with military charities to help British and American soldiers deal with combat stress. I’ve had a couple people ask if they could donate to help my pro bono work here. If you’ve ever thought of doing so, donate to Kevin’s charity instead.


  1. Kuvetli says:

    I love this site, don’t get me wrong, and I love that you go through each topic with sound reasoning and logic. However, I do believe that it’s justified to say “thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives” here. Your way of disregarding this was to look at a single attack on a single city. What if, perhaps, there were multiple attacks on multiple cities planned? Also, the lives saved don’t necessarily have to be people in the United States. Terrorism goes on overseas, they blow up plenty of other people other than US Citizens. Although it’s hard to calculate how many COULD HAVE died had this not gone on (and it was probably an offhand comment), it’s not an unheard of number in my books.

  2. politicalmath says:


    I’m just trying to do the math on the numbers killed in other terrorist attacks. Timothy McVeigh almost completely destroyed a 6 story building and killed fewer than 200 people. The London tube bombings were four separate bombings and killed 56 people.

    It would take hundreds of these kinds of attacks to get to 100,000 lives lost number, so I think it’s an unrealistic number.

    If he has said “thousands” of lives, I could have bought that. It only takes one solidly coordinated terrorist attack to claim thousands of lives (as we saw on 9/11). But “hundreds of thousands” is a number of a totally different scale.

  3. Kuvetli says:

    But of course, if we get information that stops the head leaders from operating (or leads to their capture), that would stop many losses in life for years to come… again, I say it was probably an offhand comment (and a silly one at that) but not entirely unrealistic

  4. […] down.  However, he might have fudged the numbers a bit to it.  Here is a provocative post by PM demonstrating that while Cheney was right to have concerns he clearly  provided […]

  5. James says:

    I applaud your site, as a numbers guy myself, especially the debt road trip, great stuff!

    This article needs some more context though, and please do not take this as anything more than healthy criticism, which based on your tone in your postings I am sure you will take it as just that.

    I am not sure if you are aware of this, or how much you study geopolitical events or history, but the groups and nation states who condone and support acts of violence against the West, and even their own people, are not likened to 6 guys drinking beer or Tim McVeigh. We are talking about entire nation states, and groups of individuals with the money and the means to do unspeakable things, and this has been going on for over 30 years. I am even simplifying the geopolitical landscape saying only that much, but of course books could and have been written on the subject.

    Any chance of doing damage anywhere in the world against perceived enemies and the West really has no bounds in “those peoples” minds and all options are on the table. These are not just a few crackpots, though they may employ some of those types of people.

    Could you posit a biochemical attack? Or infrastructure attacks? How many people would those affect or kill or maim? Could be millions if they did it right.

    Since we never will know exactly how many plots were stopped, this is all conjecture, but I believe Cheney’s comment as most likely valid. Of course who knows, if you believe some people, he and Bush planned 9/11. At any length, it was a glaring failure of government to protect citizens.

    Like you said in your article on the unemployment numbers, your data point of “Actual Unemployment without the Stimulus” is not possible. Neither is “Lives saved due to the actions of the US government under George W. Bush” or for that matter over the decades.

  6. Bill says:

    Okay, here’s the thing on this one. He asked for *a specific* memo to be released and provided the date on which it was written. The release has been refused. So the strength of his assertion cannot be checked.

    There are ways to get to 100,000 that do not involve nukes, for example, If we take 9-11 to have been the “cause” of the wars in iraq and afghanistan, then I think the case can be made that preventing 9-11 would have “saved” “perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives”.

    That said, I suspect that he *was* referring to a foiled nuke attempt, and only future history will know if it was a plot that had any possibility of working. Don’t forget that at the end of the soviet union, they were selling their nukes to the highest bidder. Many of those remain unaccounted for (although they are at or near their sell-by dates).

  7. BillOGoods says:

    We’re all ignoring Cheney’s qualifier “perhaps hundreds of thousands . . . .” Key word “perhaps.” His use of that word alerts the listener that this higher number is more speculative and, therefore, sanctimonious criticism like Gutfeld’s less appropriate.

    Just like Obama’s claim that the stimulus package would hold unemployment to no more than 8%. He made a categorical statement and, therefore, it’s fair game to claim his stimulus plan has failed to meet the expectations he set. But had he said something like “perhaps our plan, if we get a few breaks, can keep unemployment below 8%,” we wouldn’t be justified in claiming failure.

    Having said that, it’s difficult to be critical of anyone toiling to reveal the never ending duplicity of the political class when they have merely failed to strike the right tone, as I think Gufeld did here. My hat is off to this blog for doing the Lord’s work in this regard.