Monday, July 02, 2007

Cheney and the Power Behind the Throne

In my last post, I concluded that Vice President Cheney morally deserves to be impeached for failing to live up to even his own vile principles, but that his disobedience of an executive order is not sufficient legal grounds. This post is devoted to describing a 4-part series the Washington Post recently ran about Cheney's role in the Bush Administration. What the Post described is certainly unsavory, but is it impeachable?

Part 1 addresses Cheney's role in early decisions in the War on Terror. His closest legal advisors following 9/11 were David Addington, Alberto Gonzales (then White House Counsel) and Timothy Flanigan, deputy White House Counsel, with John Yoo as a "supporting player." On September 18, following the attack, Flanigan and Yoo drafted the Authorization to Use Military Force to be as broad as possible, and Yoo prepared a memo arguing that it authorized warrantless surveillance. Members of the administration who might object were not informed of this development, nor was Congress informed that by passing the AUFM it was authorizing warrantless surveillance. Only later did Cheney (not Bush) inform the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of the warrantless wiretaps.

The next major development took place two months later, after the US invaded Afghanistan. The Administration had to decide how to try captured terrorists. On November 6, 2001, John Yoo prepared a memo stating that the President did not require Congressional authorization to prepare closed military commissions for such trials. He reached this opinion without consulting either State Department lawyers or his nominal superior, Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft was outraged that the Justice Department would also be cut out of the processs and took his objections to the White House, where Cheney (not Bush) met with him and rejected his arguments. On November 13, Cheney took the order to the President to sign, concealing his role in the formulation, bypassing staff review and not informing either Secretary of State Colin Powell or National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice. Powell and Rice learned about the order on CNN.

The next development began on the very next day when Cheney sought to force the Administration's hand by publicly proclaiming the next day that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners. Debate ensued as to what protections, if any, terrorists had. Cheney had Addington prepare a memo, which Gonzales then signed as his own, arguing that the Geneva Conventions did not apply. (Apparently he concealed his involvement even from the President in this case).

Part 2 continues the story of Cheney's role on the issue of interrogation. Shortly after the first prisoners reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, CIA members began expressing concern that they would not be able to get any information from them if they were required to observe the Geneva Convention. It was then that Cheney and his team of lawyers formulated the argument that only "torture" was forbidden, and that mere "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment was allowed. They further argued that the President could disregard statutes and treaties on the subject. The infamous Torture memo was written shortly after (March 28, 2002) in response to a question from the CIA as to how far they could go in interrogating the newly captured Abu Zubaida. Powell and Rice learned of the Torture Memo two years later, from an article in the Washington Post. When these doctrines were challenged in court, Justice officials urged the Administration not to make such radical arguments that would almost certainly be rejected. Cheney overruled them. When Congress passed a ban on "cruel" and "inhumane" treatment by a veto-proof margin, Bush's advisors prepared a signing statement that would endorse the ban. Addington, on Cheney's directive, replaced that with the notorious signing statement that the law would be interpreted "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief." Even the CIA opposed this provision.

Part 3 is less outrageous and descibes Cheney's role in domestic policy, which is considerable. He played a major role in pushing tax cuts. He plays a major role in managing domestic crises and is very active in the policy-making process. But he does not always win; for instance, he opposed the No Child Left Behind Act. Part 4 is about Cheney's role in environmental policy. Unsurprisingly, Cheney is no fan of most environmental laws, and is eager to grant breaks in favor of business or constituents. His hostility to environmental regulations led Christine Todd Whitman, head of the EPA to resign. He tends to bypass official channels. And he is suspected of rigging scientific reports to get the results he wants, although this is not proven.

Next post: Is it impeachable?

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