Dick Cheney has publicly confessed to ordering war crimes. Asked about waterboarding in an ABC News interview, Cheney replied, "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared." He also said he still believes waterboarding was an appropriate method to use on terrorism suspects. CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the agency waterboarded three Al Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003.
U.S. courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone's nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies.
Under the doctrine of command responsibility, enshrined in U.S. law, commanders all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief can be held liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.
Why is Cheney so sanguine about admitting he is a war criminal? Because he's confident that either President Bush will preemptively pardon him or President-elect Obama won't prosecute him.
Both of those courses of action would be illegal.
First, a president cannot immunize himself or his subordinates for committing crimes that he himself authorized. On February 7, 2002, Bush signed a memo erroneously stating that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment, did not apply to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the Supreme Court made clear that Geneva protects all prisoners. Bush also admitted that he approved of high level meetings where waterboarding was authorized by Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet.