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Cheney’s Got a Gun

Cheney’s got a gun 
♪  Cheney’s got a gun 
♫  Harry’s face has come undone 
♪  How’s Karl gonna spin this one? 
♫  What would Kate Armstrong do 
♪  If Cheney popped a cap in you? 

(I realize that this story is now old news, because when the Vice President of the United States shoots someone in the face from close range with a shotgun, it’s only newsworthy for a few days at best. Even so, I didn’t want to be the only irresponsible journalist in the country to fail to weigh in on this non-story.)

While I have never hunted live prey, I have, on one occasion many, many years ago, tried my hand at skeet shooting, which is similar to quail or pheasant hunting, but with inanimate targets. As best I can remember, I managed to make it through that day without shooting anyone in the face – and without actually breaking any clay targets. The latter may have been at least partially due to the fact that I was barely as tall as the gun was long. The photo below, by the way, was snapped just a split-second before the gun’s recoil landed me squarely on my ass, eliciting howls of laughter from various family members. And yes, in case you’re wondering, that is what all the cool kids were wearing that year.

Since I’m not much of a quail hunter myself, I decided to consult with some seasoned hunters to determine if a quail was in fact a bird, and if that was the case, if said birds weren’t normally shot while in flight. They quickly confirmed my suspicions. The normal procedure, according to my resident experts, is to flush out the prey and then shoot at the elusive birds as they attempt to fly away. This will be important later on in our tale, but first let’s have a look at the official story of the Cheney ‘hunting accident.’

That story, which at first placed the blame for the shooting squarely on the victim – because this administration is, lest we forget, all about personal responsibility – holds that Harry Whittington came up behind Cheney unannounced and that Cheney then turned to take a shot at a fleeing bird and, as we all now know, blasted Whittington in the face and chest, causing an injury that – according to the White House and various media talking-heads – is roughly equivalent to stubbing one’s toe.

Now, no one is suggesting that Cheney did anything wrong here, or that this was anything other than an obviously accidental shooting. At least, no one in the media is suggesting any such thing, even though no one in law enforcement or the media has bothered to conduct any sort of a real investigation to verify the official version of events, and even though the official story is laced with very obvious lies and inconsistencies. It is a foregone conclusion, in this case, that taking such rudimentary steps as visiting the scene of the shooting, examining and testing the firearm used, or questioning witnesses (including the shooter and the victim) as soon as possible after the incident occurred, would just be a waste of everyone’s time.

In this country, in case you haven’t heard, we are all about “The Rule of Law.” And The Rule of Law clearly states (Article 7; Paragraph 12): “No investigation shall be necessary when a man occupying one of the highest elected offices in the land shoots another man in the face with a shotgun under questionable circumstances, but a lengthy and costly investigation followed by Articles of Impeachment shall be mandated if someone occupying such an office receives a blowjob from an intern (though other, far more serious crimes committed by said blowjob recipient shall be ignored).” Paragraph 14 goes on to say that “Anyone suggesting that an investigation is in order shall receive a public flogging; if such suggestions persist, repeat offenders shall, under provisions of the USA Patriot Act, be subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment as suspected terrorists.”

Though not readily acknowledged, The Rule of Law also states the following (Article 9; Paragraph 7): “Those dedicated public officials engaged in the noble pursuit of drafting and passing laws to regulate the behavior of the masses shall, at all times, be held above the law, while mere mortals shall be subject to warrantless searches, illegal surveillance, indefinite detentions without access to legal counsel, extra-judicial torture, and, at times, such as when attempting to de-board a plane in the state of Florida, summary execution.”

So clearly Mr. Cheney was in no way criminally negligent in shooting Mr. Whittington, regardless of the circumstances. If it had been a commoner doing the shooting, then things would be different. When my brother was shot in the face, for example (and yes, this is a true story), the working assumption among law enforcement officials was that a crime had been committed. Upon my brother’s admission to the emergency room of the local hospital, the police were immediately contacted, as standard operating procedures dictated. Said officers arrived promptly to question the victim, and then subsequently detained and questioned the shooter. No charges were ultimately filed in the case, since it was, in fact, clearly an accidental shooting. But it was investigated as a potential crime, despite the fact that both the shooter and the victim were minors, the weapon involved was a pellet/BB gun (a real BB gun that is, as opposed to a shotgun disingenuously described as a BB gun), the wound was superficial, and the incident took place some thirty years ago, when the laws of the land were decidedly less Draconian than they are today.

The reality is that all gunshot wounds not inflicted by the Vice President of the United States are, as a general rule of thumb, treated as potential crimes, until proven otherwise. But as previously mentioned, The Rule of Law dictates that completely different rules apply here. Even so, it might be instructive to conduct a sort of citizen’s investigation of the shooting – or at least of the official, apparently hastily constructed, story of the shooting.

The first thing that we can conclude is that all of the key sources of information on the shooting are lying their asses off. For example, the owner of the ranch, Katharine Armstrong, has repeatedly presented herself as an eyewitness to the shooting, despite the fact that her initial statements clearly indicated that she had not seen a thing. Since that fact seems to have slipped down the memory hole, readers are reminded that Armstrong initially claimed that when she saw Cheney’s security personnel rush toward the scene of the crime, “The first thing that crossed my mind was he [Cheney] had a heart problem.” According to her own account, Armstrong was in a vehicle some 100 yards away when the shot was fired.

It goes without saying that if Armstrong had in fact witnessed the shooting, she would certainly have known the reason for the emergency response, and hence we can safely conclude that she has misrepresented her status as a witness. Nevertheless, Cheney himself, during his friendly little chat with Brit Hume of the White House News Network, repeatedly identified Armstrong as not just an eyewitness, but as the authoritative eyewitness to the incident. On no less than four occasions during the brief  ‘interview,’ Cheney held Armstrong up as an unassailable eyewitness:

“I thought [it] made good sense [for Armstrong to put out the story] for several reasons. First of all, she was an eyewitness. She’d seen the whole thing.”
“[W]e were confident that Katherine was the right one, especially because she was an eyewitness and she could speak authoritatively on it. She probably knew better than I did what had happened …”
“We had – she’s the one who put out the statement. And she was the most credible one to do it because she was a witness.”
“I think Katherine was an excellent choice. I don’t know who you could get better as the basic source for the story than the witness who saw the whole thing.”

It would appear then that the only person other than Cheney who has thus far publicly offered an account of how the shooting took place didn’t actually witness the event. That is not to say, however, that Ms. Armstrong is not qualified to serve as the administration’s spokeswoman for this affair. As Cheney noted, “The Armstrongs have been friends for over 30 years,” and “Karl [Rove] has hunted at the Armstrong as well, and we’re both good friends of the Armstrongs and of Katharine Armstrong.” According to the New York Times, Armstrong is also “a lobbyist for Parsons, an engineering and construction firm that has done extensive work in Iraq.” (Anne E. Kornblut and Ralph Blumenthal “No End to Questions in Cheney Hunting Accident,” New York Times, February 14, 2006)

Since Armstrong, by her own initial account, didn’t actually witness the shooting, and since she is a longtime friend of both Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the only logical conclusion that can be reached here is that the story that Armstrong put out is the one that was spoon-fed to her by Cheney and Karl Rove, who Cheney acknowledged “did talk with Katherine Armstrong.” According to the New York Times:

In the end, White House officials said Mr. Bush learned about the shooting accident at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, about an hour after it happened, in a call from Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff. But Mr. Bush did not did not find out that Mr. Cheney fired the shot until about half an hour later in a subsequent call from Karl Rove, his senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, who had called Ms. Armstrong to ask about the incident. (Anne E. Kornblut and Ralph Blumenthal “No End to Questions in Cheney Hunting Accident,” New York Times, February 14, 2006)

In other words, by 8:00 PM Eastern time, or 7:00 PM Texas time – at the very latest – the Bush Administration’s premier spin doctor and damage-control specialist had already been on the phone with Armstrong, gathering the information he would need to weave the official fable. According to Cheney’s account, after tending to Whittington and sending him off to the hospital, the hunting party “loaded up and went back to ranch headquarters, basically. By then, it’s about 7:00 p.m. at night.” So what we find is that, before the hunting party even made it back to the house, Rove was already hard at work writing the official script – nearly a full day before that script was released to the national media. And the script that he ultimately provided to Armstrong was, not surprisingly, filled with the lies, misrepresentations, and blame-shifting that are Karl Rove’s trademarks.

The severity of Whittington’s wounds, for example, was downplayed to the point of absurdity. Armstrong’s depiction, delivered with a chuckle, was that Whittington had merely been “peppered pretty good,” and that “his pride was hurt more than anything else.” Armstrong even went so far as to boldly claim that she had been “peppered pretty well myself” on at least one occasion, the implication being that it is a common occupational hazard that all hunters must deal with “from time to time.” Just as figure skaters know that they will occasionally make painful contact with an unyielding sheet of ice, hunters know that they will occasionally be blasted in the face with a shotgun. It just goes with the territory. Nothing to really be concerned about.

Armstrong also lied about Whittington’s overall condition in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Her ‘eyewitness’ account held that Whittington was alert and communicating with Cheney and others tending to him (“It knocked him silly, but he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open.”). But Cheney himself later acknowledged that Whittington was unresponsive, in a state of shock, and had only one eye open.

Armstrong isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, the only liar in this sordid affair. Cheney, as we have already seen, repeatedly lied about Armstrong’s status as an ‘eyewitness’ to the shooting. Curiously enough, he did at least acknowledged his own status as a known liar – only so that he could then use it to justify his failure to notify the media. “Well, who was going to do that?” asked Cheney, in response to a question from Hume concerning his failure to do so. “Are they going to take my word for it? There is obviously…”

Since Cheney didn’t finish that thought, allow me to do it for him: “There is obviously a credibility issue here.” Indeed, Cheney seems to be such a pathological liar that he can’t even decide on how long he has been a hunting enthusiast. He told buddy Brit that he has been a seasoned hunter “for the last 12, 15 years,” and then later, in the very same interview, claimed that hunting is “part of my heritage, growing up in Wyoming. It’s part of who I am.”

In addition to Cheney lying about Armstrong’s status as an eyewitness, and Armstrong lying about both the source of her story and the details of the shooting, the doctors tending to Mr. Whittington have consistently lied as well – primarily about their patient’s condition. Only in bits and pieces have we learned that, far from being “bruised more than bloodied,” as Armstrong claimed, Whittington was “bleeding profusely” from his wounds – to such an extent that his daughter noted that her father “didn’t know at the time if he was going to the hospital or the mortuary.” Only over time have we learned that the pellets plowed deeply into Whittington’s flesh, penetrating at least two vital organs (his heart and his liver), and that, even now, as many as 200 pieces of shot remain embedded in Whittington’s face, neck, shoulder and chest.

During the brief few days that the media paid attention to this story, reports of Whittington’s condition remained unrelentingly upbeat, though common sense dictated that a 78-year-old man pumped full of birdshot probably wasn’t (and still isn’t) doing as well as we have been led to believe. Of course, prior to Whittington’s brief, tightly choreographed media appearance, no one in the media seemed to make any effort to talk with him, despite the fact that he was allegedly in good spirits and able to regularly receive visitors while fielding phone calls from Cheney. Needless to say, no one has talked to, or about, Whittington since that controlled press appearance.

Am I the only one, by the way, who doubts that Whittington was actually released from the hospital following that prepared statement? Isn’t it more likely that he was prepped and trotted out just as soon as he was physically able to stand and read the statement – for the rather obvious purpose of driving yet another nail into the coffin of this story – and then promptly returned to a hospital bed, most likely at an undisclosed private facility? After all, even if he hadn’t been shot, what is the likelihood that an elderly man with enough money to afford the very best in medial care would be released directly from an intensive care unit so soon after suffering a heart attack? And how quickly, by the way, did the media drop this story following Mr. Whittington’s highly-publicized ‘release’?

In addition to following Armstrong’s lead in grossly misrepresenting the severity of Whittington’s injuries, the medical team tending to the wounded lawyer has refused to release information that is essential to any meaningful investigation of the shooting. Asked, for example, for the results of tests of Whittington’s blood alcohol level upon admission, the only response has been “no comment.” Questions concerning the number of pellets embedded in Whittington’s flesh have been brushed aside with the claim that such concerns are not “medically relevant.” Doctors have also “declin[ed] to say whether Whittington had had surgery.” (Ian Urbina “Cheney Account Questioned,” International Herald Tribune, February 16, 2006, and Nedra Pickler “Experts: Cheney Violated Cardinal Rule of Hunting,” Charlotte Observer, February 14, 2006)

What still remains a mystery is exactly how this shooting occurred. Though there has been little mention of such unpleasant topics in the media, mainstream or otherwise, Mr. Whittington could not possibly have been accidentally shot in the manner described by Cheney and Armstrong. As I mentioned at the top of this post, quail are shot while in flight, which means that in order to actually shoot one, it is generally a good idea to have your gun pointed in an upward direction while firing, as that will greatly increase the chances of scoring a hit. The normal shooting stance can be seen demonstrated by the marksman in white at the top of this page, and can also be seen in these photos of Deadeye Dick himself lining up a shot at a bird in flight.

According to the initial story belatedly put out by Cheney and Rove via Katharine Armstrong, and then repeated by Cheney during his chat with Hume, Whittington was some 30 yards away from Cheney when he was shot. But how could a shot fired in such a manner possibly hit a man who was standing nearly 100 feet away. How could such a shot hit a man standing any distance away? And how, in such wide open terrain, could you fail to see a fellow hunter clad in a bright orange hunting vest and cap?

“Perhaps,” you are thinking, “Whittington was at a higher elevation, possibly standing on a bluff or something of that nature.” By all accounts, however, that does not appear to be the case. Cheney described the area of south Texas where they were hunting as being characterized by “wide open spaces,” with “a lot of brush cover, fairly shallow.” Not unlike, in other words, the field in which Cheney is standing in the photos above — the photos in which Cheney’s hunting partners are clearly visible to his right.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Hunting Accident and Incident Report Form provides a more detailed account of the hunting conditions at Armstrong Ranch the day of the incident. The “topography” is described as “flat,” “visibility” was said to be “fair,” “type of cover” was described as “light,” “lighting” was “sunny,” and the “weather” was “clear.” Again, this description provides no explanation either for the peculiar angle of Cheney’s alleged shot, or for Cheney’s failure to see Mr. Whittington before pulling the trigger.

It should be noted here that Whittington would not have been in Cheney’s peripheral field of view when that trigger was pulled. Contrary to the impression created by initial reports, the diagram included in the Accident Report Form, and more recent medical reports, clearly indicate that Whittington took nearly the full force of Cheney’s shot. In fact, Cheney’s shot was centered in the kill zone, with the tightly-grouped pattern of birdshot covering Whittington’s lower face, neck, shoulder and upper chest. Cheney could not have scored a more well placed kill-shot if he had drawn a bead directly on Mr. Whittington’s upper torso — which in fact is exactly what he did, given that Whittington would have had to be lined up perfectly in the gun’s sights when the shot was fired.

Cheney has rendered this story even more unlikely by claiming that Whittington was actually at a lower elevation than Cheney himself. He told Hume that, “there was a little bit of a gully there, so he was down a little ways before land level, although I could see the upper part of his body.” The Kenedy County Sheriff’s Department report repeats this claim: “the reason Harry Whittington sustained the injuries to his face and upper body was that Mr. Whittington was standing on ground that was lower than the one he [Cheney] was standing on.”

By Cheney’s own account then, he was not holding the gun in a level position, which would be curious enough, but was actually firing in a downward direction. That might be an effective technique for, say, shooting your own hunting dog, but it isn’t a very effective technique for bagging quail.

Terry Erwin, the president of the International Hunter Education Association, criticized Cheney’s alleged actions in the L.A. Times, noting that: “You would never turn around and fire behind you. If the bird comes back over you, you would not take that shot.” But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you would take that shot – or, more accurately, that Dick Cheney would. Because he is, after all, the Vice President of the United States, and if someone of such relatively low stature as the governor of my state can ride a motorcycle without a license and, in doing so, cause an accident, and then suffer no legal repercussions, then by God my Vice President ought to be able to hunt without the proper license and recklessly shoot someone in the face while doing so! (Nicholas Riccardi and James Gerstenzang “Hunter Suffers Setback as Criticism of Cheney Grows,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2006)

But there is, alas, a bit of a problem here, because even if he did take that shot, at a bird that had “come back over” him, he certainly wouldn’t have been shooting in a downward direction. And if the bird had come not over but around him (which is extremely unlikely, but let’s play along), then Cheney, being the seasoned, responsible hunter that we all know him to be, certainly wouldn’t have swung his weapon around while tracking the bird on a horizontal course, since such a reckless action would clearly have endangered his fellow hunters, his security detail, and anyone else who happened to be standing beside or behind him. (As Cheney noted, he hunts with a large “entourage” – which he described as “all the cars and so forth that follow me around when I’m out there.”)

There is yet another problem with the official account of the shooting: both the tightness of the pattern of the shot and the depth of penetration indicate that Mr. Whittington was not, in fact, standing nearly 100 feet from Cheney when he was shot. The “30 yard” figure was apparently initially floated out there to minimize the perceived severity of Whittington’s wounds. It will be recalled that when the story first belatedly broke, countless experts were quoted in the press offering up the opinion that the damage from a 28-gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot would be relatively minor if fired from that distance. This initial report from the Los Angeles Times was typical:

Dr. Marshall Morgan, chief of emergency medicine at UCLA Medical Center, said the severity of shotgun injuries depended on the distance between the gun and the person hit by it. “A shotgun injury to a person, unless it’s at close range, is unlikely to produce a lethal injury that a handgun or a rifle would,” he said. When a shotgun goes off, the pellets are in a relatively tight pattern, able to inflict severe damage within 20 feet, Morgan said. But as they travel, the pellets spread out and slow down. “The really controlling factor is the distance,” he said. (Alan C. Miller and James Gerstenzang “Cheney Shoots Fellow Hunter,” Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2006)

Since Mr. Whittington’s injuries were considerably more severe than originally reported, we are left with two possibilities: either all the experts who weighed in initially to claim that Whittington’s reported injuries were consistent with a shot fired from 30 yards were lying (or simply mistaken), or the shot was actually fired from a much shorter distance. And while it is not uncommon for the government and the media to trot out a series of scripted experts (consider, for example, all the ‘experts’ who have ‘validated’ various aspects of the official 9-11 story), that does not appear to be the case here. According to the gun owners and hunters that I have spoken with, Mr. Whittington’s injuries as initially reported would have been consistent with a shot fired from 30 yards. His actual injuries, however, clearly are not, as was noted by the International Herald Tribune:

Veteran hunters and shooting experts said Thursday that they still don’t understand how the vice president injured his fellow hunting partner so badly if he was actually 30 yards away as Cheney says. “It just doesn’t add up,” said John Kelly, a quail hunter from New York with more than 36 years of experience. “With a shotgun, the pellets spread out the further you get, and for that many pellets to hit such a small part of this man’s body means that Mr. Cheney was far closer” than the 27-meter distance cited. (Ian Urbina “Cheney Account Questioned,” International Herald Tribune, February 16, 2006)

To be continued …