Vice President Richard Cheney

the man behind the throne

"That means by 2010 we will need in the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day"
-- Vice-President Dick Cheney 1999, while Chairman of Halliburton
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
VP Tells America To Expect 40 Years Of War
Washington D.C. - In what may qualify as the most depressing sound bite to ever come out the White House, Dick Cheney is bracing the nation for a conflict that may span generations. "It (Iraq) is the kind of conflict that's going to drive our policy and our government for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. We have to prevail and we have to have the stomach for the fight long term," he said on a Jan.14 FOX NEWS interview.

note: this means that "we" will be at war for the rest of the petroleum era

The most indepth analysis of Cheney and the 9/11 war games is Michael Ruppert's book "Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil" available at

An excellent summary of the main points in the book is:
Crossing the Rubicon:
Simplifying the case against Dick Cheney
by Michael Kane

There has been virtually no mass media coverage of the issues of the 9/11 war games, the "amazing coincidence" of a "plane into building" exercise being conducted that morning, or the alleged role of Vice President Richard Cheney in overseeing the war games that morning.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks during his keynote address to the U.S. Labor Department's 2006 National Summit on Retirement Savings at the Willard Hotel in Washington March 2, 2006.
REUTERS/Larry Downing



Reining In Cheney

Quick! Anyone! Who can put the brakes on Vice President Dick Cheney before we have another war on our hands? Current and former intelligence analysts are reacting with wonderment and apprehension to his remarks last week on the nuclear program of Iran and his resuscitated spinning on why attacking Iraq was the prudent thing to do.
There he goes again, they say-trifling with the truth on Iraq and now taking off after Iran. Does he really have the temerity to reach into the same bag of tricks used to convince most Americans that Iraq was an immediate nuclear threat? Will his distinctive mix of truculence and contempt for the truth succeed in rationalizing attacks on Iran on grounds that US intelligence may have underestimated the progress in Iraq's nuclear weapons program 15 years ago?
At this point the focus is no longer on the bogus weapons of mass destruction (WMD) rationale used to promote the attack on Iraq, intelligence analysts say. It's the claims the vice president is now making regarding Iran's nuclear capability...and, given the deliberate distortions on Iraq, whether anyone should believe him.
Appearing Thursday on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Cheney warned that Iran has "a fairly robust new nuclear program." And besides, it sponsors terrorism. Sound familiar?
In a not-so-subtle attempt to raise the alarm on Iran, the vice president adduced his favorite analogy-the one he used in 2002 to beat intelligence analysts into submission in conjuring up phantom weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Cheney continues to underscore his claim that before the Gulf War in 1991, US intelligence had erred in assessing how close Iraq was to having a nuclear weapon:
"We found out after we got into Iraq [in 1991], in fact, that he [Saddam Hussein] probably was less than a year away from having a nuclear weapon...the intelligence community had underestimated how robust his nuclear program was."

That "Robust" Word Again

Forget the fact that few nuclear engineers agree on that time frame. The question is what relevance Cheney's claim has for today? In view of the evolving debate on how "robust" Iran's nuclear program is, we are sure to be hearing more from the vice president on this subject in the months ahead. How much credence are we to put in what he says?
With the final report on the search for Iraqi WMD now delivered, Cheney is still trying to exculpate himself from his false claims regarding Iraq's nuclear capability, by equating Iraq's nuclear posture before 1991 with its much weaker capability in the months preceding the US/UK attack in March 2003.

Needed: Enriched Uranium

For Iraq to possess the nuclear weapons program Cheney claimed it had in March 2003, it needed-first and foremost-highly enriched uranium. But events in the 1990s had eviscerated its capacity to obtain it. After the 1991 Gulf War, all highly enriched uranium was removed from Iraq. UN inspectors destroyed Iraq's centrifuge and isotope separation programs. And from 1991 on, Iraq was subjected to an intrusive arms embargo and sanctions regime, which made it much more difficult than during the pre-Gulf War years to import material for a nuclear weapons program.
Thus, for Cheney to invoke what Iraq may have been capable of doing in 1991 and apply that to the very different situation in Iraq in 2002 is, at best, disingenuous. There are huge differences between the situations in 1991 and 2002. In 2002, the Iraqis lacked highly enriched uranium and the necessary infrastructure. American inspectors working for the UN team knew that-and reported it-from their hands-on experience in early 2003.

Chutzpah, Confidence, Naiveté-a Noxious Mix

Cheney's chutzpah on this key issue has been particularly striking. On March 16, 2003, just three days before the war, he zoomed far beyond the evidence in telling NBC's Meet the Press, "We believe he [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Asked about ElBaradei's report just nine days before that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program, Cheney said, "I disagree...I think Mr. ElBaradei is frankly wrong."
"How did they ever think they could get away with it-I mean using forgery, hyperbole, half-truth, malleable house-engineers, and carefully rehearsed émigrés?" asked a government scientist. Well, remember his March 16, 2003 remarks on NBC's Meet the Press just before the war?
"We will be greeted as liberators...the people of Iraq will welcome us as liberators."
The administration's reasoning, it seems clear, went like this: We'll use the forged documents on Iraq seeking uranium in Niger and the strained argument that those famous aluminum tubes were destined for centrifuge application, and that will be enough to get Congress to go along. The war will be a cakewalk. We'll depose a hated dictator and be hailed as liberators. We'll become the dominant world power in that part of the world and, with an infrastructure of permanent military bases in Iraq, we'll be able to make our influence felt on the disposition of oil in the whole region. Not incidentally, we will be in position to prevent any possible threat to Israel. At that point, then, tell me: who is going to make a ruckus over the fact that we used a little forgery, hyperbole, and half-truth along the way!
And so, our Congress was successfully conned into precipitous action to meet a non-existent threat. We deposed Saddam and occupied the country. Everything fell into place. But the Iraqis missed their cue and failed to welcome our troops as liberators. All this brings to mind the old saying, "There is no such thing as a perfect crime."

Concern, Pressure From Abroad

At this point, British officials, who have had a front-row seat for all this, are worried that Cheney is now driving administration policy on Iran, according to a recent article in The Times of London. Adding to London's concern is the fact that the Pentagon seems to be relying heavily on "alarmingly inconclusive" satellite imagery of Iranian installations.
(For those of you who missed it, please know that since 1996 analysis of satellite imagery has been performed in the Department of Defense, not by CIA analysts, as had been the case before. As you can imagine, this has made it much easier for the Pentagon to come up with the desired "supporting evidence" than was the case in the days when CIA had that portfolio and imagery analysts were encouraged to "tell it like it is.")
Complicating the Iranian nuclear issue still more is the hard-nosed attitude of Israel. Its defense minister has warned, "Under no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian possession."
The British are well advised to worry, given the appeal that preemption holds for our vice president and president. In his August 26, 2002 speech, Cheney also became the first senior US official publicly to refer approvingly to Israel's bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. (In a rare instance of US willingness to criticize Israel at the UN, Washington had joined other Security Council members in unanimously condemning Israel's preemptive attack. And, as far as I know, that remains the official US position.)

Cheney and Israel

Cheney, nonetheless, has done little to disguise his admiration for Israel's policy of preemption. Ten years after the attack on Osirak, then-Defense Secretary Cheney reportedly gave Israeli Maj. Gen. David Ivri, then the commander of the Israeli Air Force, a satellite photo of the Iraqi nuclear reactor destroyed by US-built Israeli aircraft. On the photo Cheney penned, "Thanks for the outstanding job on the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981."
Looking again at the Cheney-Imus dialogue last week, Cheney, after expressing deep concern over Iran's "fairly robust new nuclear program," repeated basically what Condoleezza Rice had said earlier in the week-"Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel." Imus then brought up the subject of preempting Iran, asking, "Why don't we make Israel do it?"
Cheney's response should give all of us pause:
"Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked, that if, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant capability, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."
The vice president's nonchalance betrays the apparent equanimity with which he regards such a possibility. His words are bound to endear him further with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but the tone, as well as the words, are poison to 1.3 billion Muslims.
Someone needs to tell Cheney that "diplomatic mess" trivializes the lasting damage to the US that such an attack would inevitably bring. Not only can his attitude be read as a green light for Israeli preemption, but it would undoubtedly be read as proof of US complicity, should the Israelis attack Iran's nuclear facilities. And the queues at al-Qaeda recruiting stations, already lengthened by Abu Graib and Falluja, would now stretch out longer than the lines at the polls in the minority precincts of Ohio.

Restraining Cheney?

And so we are back to the key question: Can anyone put the brakes on the vice president? It would normally be the job of CIA analysts to point out to the president and his senior advisors the manifold problems that would accrue from an Israeli attack (or, worse still) a US, or joint US-Israeli, attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But Seymour Hersh's recent report that the White House is weeding out the apostates from the true believers among CIA analysts, together with the current dearth of courage in senior Agency ranks, suggest that those remaining analysts who still subscribe to the old Agency ethos of speaking truth to power will continue to choose to resign and look for honest work.
This will leave the field to the kind of "slam-dunk" sycophants who conjured up "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq and then passed their reporting off as intelligence analysis. What can we expect of them this time on Iran?

Ray McGovern served as a CIA analyst from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush, chairing National Intelligence Estimates and briefing the President's Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

This article first appeared on

Former CIA agent says Bush to blame for 9/11
By Chris Gardner
September 22, 2004

Former CIA agent Ray McGovern went over what he considers the failures of the intelligence community and current administration over the past few years. He has 27 years of experience as a CIA analyst to draw upon and has dealt with every administration from Kennedy to Bush Sr.
"It's difficult for people to learn the truth about things like Iraq," said McGovern, a member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which is comprised of more than 40 former employees of agencies such as the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Army Intelligence, the FBI and the National Security Agency.
"We have hundreds of years worth of experience in government service and intelligence to draw on so we feel a civic responsibility to do our best to spread as much truth as we can this fall," McGovern said.
He began his lecture by describing the CIA. He explained that the agency is supposed to be the one place in government with no political agenda, and could be very disastrous if it obtains one.
McGovern told a story about CIA officials who gave false information about enemy troop numbers in Vietnam to President Johnson. The lie led to a surprise of U.S. forces by the Tet Offensive in 1968. In this war of attrition, the agency wanted to make it look like the United States was doing better than it really was, McGovern said.
"Picture the Vietnam Memorial in Washington; it's a big 'V' shape. Now picture it with just one side of the 'V'. It might have been that way if some people had told the truth," McGovern said.
He also criticized the 9/11 Commission's final report, saying the committee was comprised of political extremists who couldn't reach a consensus.
"It wasn't a bipartisan commission; it was more like a bipolar commission," McGovern said. "To say that no one could prevent 9/11 was a bold-faced lie. It basically let the president and everyone responsible off the hook."
He went on to talk about the faulty intelligence attorney general John Ashcroft used when he announced that terrorist attacks may occur before or around election time, saying that elections might have to be postponed if the United States is attacked.
"There might be a real or staged terrorist attack in order to postpone the elections," McGovern said. "This might seem outlandish; I hope it is."
He mentioned how the Bush administration wanted to involve the country with the war in Iraq for certain reasons other than fear of weapons of mass destruction, which was just a more media-friendly explanation for the war.
"I have initials for why I think we went to war in Iraq," McGovern said. "O.I.L. O-I-L, O is for oil, I is for Israel and L is for logistics, as in when we have Iraq we have a foothold and a number of bases strategically placed in the Middle East so we can be in control over there and also to protect Israel."
Next he brought up civil liberties in the United States and how they have declined in the past few years.
"I used to say when I was a kid growing up when someone told me not to do something, 'It's a free country,'" McGovern said. "I ask you to think about it now."
In the audience was Nahla al-Arian, wife of imprisoned former professor Sami al-Arian. She explained to McGovern how she and her husband came to America to be free and described their current situation. Then she asked him why the government would target Palestinian activists.
His initial response was just, "I'm sorry," then he paused to collect his thoughts and said that things like that come all the way from the top down.
McGovern had a speaking engagement at the University of Florida later in the afternoon, and will also be lecturing at UCF soon on his and the VIPS's quest to spread the truth.
"No one has a corner on the truth. We don't have a corner on the truth, but it is certain that Fox News does not," McGovern said. "That most people get their 'news' from Fox News is extremely troubling."

The Long March of Dick Cheney
By Sidney Blumenthal
Thursday 24 November 2005

For his entire career, he sought untrammeled power. The Bush presidency and 9/11 finally gave it to him - and he's not about to give it up.

The hallmark of the Dick Cheney administration is its illegitimacy. Its essential method is bypassing established lines of authority; its goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power. When it matters, the regular operations of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department have been sidelined.
Richard Nixon is the model, but with modifications. In the Nixon administration, the president was the prime mover, present at the creation of his own options, attentive to detail, and conscious of their consequences. In the Cheney administration, the president is volatile but passive, firm but malleable, presiding but absent. Once his complicity has been arranged, a closely held "cabal" - as Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, calls it - wields control.
Within the White House, the office of the vice president is the strategic center. The National Security Council has been demoted to enabler and implementer. Systems of off-line operations have been laid to evade professional analysis and a responsible chain of command. Those who attempt to fulfill their duties in the old ways have been humiliated when necessary, fired, retired early or shunted aside. In their place, acolytes and careerists indistinguishable from true believers in their eagerness have been elevated.
The collapse of sections of the façade shielding Cheney from public view has not inhibited him. His former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, indicted on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, appears to be withholding information about the vice president's actions in the Plame affair from the special prosecutor. While Bush has declaimed, "We do not torture," Cheney lobbied the Senate to stop it from prohibiting torture.
At the same time, Cheney has taken the lead in defending the administration from charges that it twisted intelligence to justify the Iraq war and misled the Congress even as new stories underscore the legitimacy of the charges.
Former Sen. Bob Graham has revealed, in a Nov. 20 article in the Washington Post, that the condensed version of the National Intelligence Estimate titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs" that was submitted to the Senate days before it voted on the Iraq war resolution "represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed [WMD], avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version." The condensed version also contained the falsehood that Saddam Hussein was seeking "weapons-grade fissile material from abroad."
The administration relied for key information in the NIE on an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball. According to a Nov. 20 report in the Los Angeles Times, it had learned from German intelligence beforehand that Curveball was completely untrustworthy and his claims fabricated. Yet Bush, Cheney and, most notably, Powell in his prewar performance before the United Nations, which he now calls the biggest "blot" on his record and about which he insists he was "deceived," touted Curveball's disinformation.
In two speeches over the past week Cheney has called congressional critics "dishonest," "shameless" and "reprehensible." He ridiculed their claim that they did not have the same intelligence as the administration. "These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities." Lambasting them for historical "revisionism," he repeatedly invoked Sept. 11. "We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001 - and the terrorists hit us anyway," he said.
The day after Cheney's most recent speech, the National Journal reported that the president's daily briefing prepared by the CIA 10 days after Sept. 11, 2001, indicated that there was no connection between Saddam and the terrorist attacks. Of course, the 9/11 Commission had made the same point in its report.
Even though experts and pundits contradict his talking points, Cheney presents them with characteristic assurance. His rhetoric is like a paving truck that will flatten obstacles. Cheney remains undeterred; he has no recourse. He will not run for president in 2008. He is defending more than the Bush record; he is defending the culmination of his career. Cheney's alliances, ideas, antagonisms and tactics have accumulated for decades.
Cheney is a master bureaucrat, proficient in the White House, the agencies and departments, and Congress. The many offices Cheney has held add up to an extraordinary résumé. His competence and measured manner are often mistaken for moderation. Among those who have misjudged Cheney are military men - Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft and Wilkerson, who lacked a sense of him as a political man in full. As a result, they expressed surprise at their discovery of the ideological hard man. Scowcroft told the New Yorker recently that Cheney was not the Cheney he once knew. But Scowcroft and the other military men rose by working through regular channels; they were trained to respect established authority. They are at a disadvantage in internal political battles with those operating by different rules of warfare. Their realism does not account for radicalism within the US government.
Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal thwarted his designs for an unchecked imperial presidency. It was in that White House that Cheney gained his formative experience as the assistant to Nixon's counselor, Donald Rumsfeld. When Gerald Ford acceded to the presidency, he summoned Rumsfeld from his posting as NATO ambassador to become his chief of staff. Rumsfeld, in turn, brought back his former deputy, Cheney.
From Nixon, they learned the application of ruthlessness and the harsh lesson of failure. Under Ford, Rumsfeld designated Cheney as his surrogate on intelligence matters. During the immediate aftermath of Watergate, Congress investigated past CIA abuses, and the press was filled with revelations. In May 1975, Seymour Hersh reported in the New York Times on how the CIA had sought to recover a sunken Soviet submarine with a deep-sea mining vessel called the Glomar Explorer, built by Howard Hughes. When Hersh's article appeared, Cheney wrote memos laying out options ranging from indicting Hersh or getting a search warrant for Hersh's apartment to suing the Times and pressuring its owners "to discourage the NYT and other publications from similar action." "In the end," writes James Mann, in his indispensable book, "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet," "Cheney and the White House decided to back off after the intelligence community decided its work had not been significantly damaged."
Rumsfeld and Cheney quickly gained control of the White House staff, edging out Ford's old aides. From this base, they waged bureaucratic war on Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, a colossus of foreign policy, who occupied the posts of both secretary of state and national security advisor. Rumsfeld and Cheney were the right wing of the Ford administration, opposed to the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and they operated by stealthy internal maneuver. The Secret Service gave Cheney the code name "Backseat."
In 1975, Rumsfeld and Cheney stage-managed a Cabinet purge called the "Halloween massacre" that made Rumsfeld secretary of defense and Cheney White House chief of staff. Kissinger, forced to surrender control of the National Security Council, angrily drafted a letter of resignation (which he never submitted). Rumsfeld and Cheney helped convince Ford, who faced a challenge for the Republican nomination from Ronald Reagan, that he needed to shore up his support on the right and that Rockefeller was a political liability. Rockefeller felt compelled to announce he would not be Ford's running mate. Upset at the end of his ambition, Rockefeller charged that Rumsfeld intended to become vice president himself. In fact, Rumsfeld had contemplated running for president in the future and undoubtedly would have accepted a vice presidential nod.
In the meantime, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld undermined the negotiations for a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty being conducted by Kissinger. Fighting off Reagan's attacks during the Republican primaries, Ford was pressured by Cheney to adopt his foreign policy views, which amounted to a self-repudiation. At the Republican Party Convention, acting as Ford's representative, Cheney engineered the adoption of Reagan's foreign policy plank in the platform. By doing so he preempted an open debate and split. Privately, Ford, Kissinger and Rockefeller were infuriated.
As part of the Halloween massacre Rumsfeld and Cheney pushed out CIA director William Colby and replaced him with George H.W. Bush, then the US plenipotentiary to China. The CIA had been uncooperative with the Rumsfeld/Cheney anti-détente campaign. Instead of producing intelligence reports simply showing an urgent Soviet military buildup, the CIA issued complex analyses that were filled with qualifications. Its National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet threat contained numerous caveats, dissents and contradictory opinions. From the conservative point of view, the CIA was guilty of groupthink, unwilling to challenge its own premises and hostile to conservative ideas.
The new CIA director was prompted to authorize an alternative unit outside the CIA to challenge the agency's intelligence on Soviet intentions. Bush was more compliant in the political winds than his predecessor. Consisting of a host of conservatives, the unit was called Team B. A young aide from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Wolfowitz, was selected to represent Rumsfeld's interest and served as coauthor of Team B's report. The report was single-minded in its conclusion about the Soviet buildup and cleansed of contrary intelligence. It was fundamentally a political tool in the struggle for control of the Republican Party, intended to destroy détente and aimed particularly at Kissinger. Both Ford and Kissinger took pains to dismiss Team B and its effort. (Later, Team B's report was revealed to be wildly off the mark about the scope and capability of the Soviet military.)
With Ford's defeat, Team B became the kernel of the Committee on the Present Danger, a conservative group that attacked President Carter for weakness on the Soviet threat. The growing strength of the right thwarted ratification of SALT II, setting the stage for Reagan's nomination and election.
Elected to the House of Representatives in 1978, Cheney became the Republican leader on the House Intelligence Committee, where he consistently fought congressional oversight and limits on presidential authority. When Congress investigated the Iran-Contra scandal (the creation of an illegal, privately funded, offshore US foreign policy initiative), Cheney was the crucial administration defender. At every turn, he blocked the Democrats and prevented them from questioning Vice President Bush. Under his leadership, not a single House Republican signed the special investigating committee's final report charging "secrecy, deception and disdain for law." Instead, the Republicans issued their own report claiming there had been no major wrongdoing.
The origin of Cheney's alliance with the neoconservatives goes back to his instrumental support for Team B. Upon being appointed secretary of defense by the elder Bush, he kept on Wolfowitz as undersecretary. And Wolfowitz kept on his deputy, his former student at the University of Chicago, Scooter Libby. Earlier, Wolfowitz and Libby had written a document expressing suspicion of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalizing perestroika and warning against making deals with him, a document that President Reagan ignored as he made an arms control agreement and proclaimed that the Cold War was ending.
During the Gulf War, Secretary of Defense Cheney clashed with Gen. Colin Powell. At one point, he admonished Powell, who had been Reagan's national security advisor, "Colin, you're chairman of the Joint Chiefs ... so stick to military matters." During the run-up to the war, Cheney set up a secret unit in the Pentagon to develop an alternative war plan, his own version of Team B. "Set up a team, and don't tell Powell or anybody else," Cheney ordered Wolfowitz. The plan was called Operation Scorpion. "While Powell was out of town, visiting Saudi Arabia, Cheney - again, without telling Powell - took the civilian-drafted plan, Operation Scorpion, to the White House and presented it to the president and the national security adviser," writes Mann in his book. Bush, however, rejected it as too risky. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was enraged at Cheney's presumption. "Put a civilian in charge of professional military men and before long he's no longer satisfied with setting policy but wants to outgeneral the generals," he wrote in his memoir. After Operation Scorpion was rejected, Cheney urged Bush to go to war without congressional approval, a notion the elder Bush dismissed.
After the Gulf War victory, in 1992, Cheney approved a new "Defense Planning Guidance" advocating US unilateralism in the post-Cold War, a document whose final draft was written by Libby. Cheney assumed Republican rule for the indefinite future.
One week after Bill Clinton's inauguration, on Jan. 27, 1993, Cheney appeared on "Larry King Live," where he declared his interest in running for the presidency. "Obviously," he said, "it's something I'll take a look at ... Obviously, I've worked for three presidents and watched two others up close, and so it is an idea that has occurred to me." For two years, he quietly campaigned in Republican circles, but discovered little enthusiasm. He was less well known than he imagined and less magnetic in person than his former titles suggested. On Aug. 10, 1995, he held a news conference at the headquarters of the Halliburton Co. in Dallas, announcing he would become its chief executive officer. "When I made the decision earlier this year not to run for president, not to seek the White House, that really was a decision to wrap up my political career and move on to other things," he said.


Mr. Cheney's Imperial Presidency
The New York Times | Editorial
Friday 23 December 2005

George W. Bush has quipped several times during his political career that it would be so much easier to govern in a dictatorship. Apparently he never told his vice president that this was a joke.
Virtually from the time he chose himself to be Mr. Bush's running mate in 2000, Dick Cheney has spearheaded an extraordinary expansion of the powers of the presidency - from writing energy policy behind closed doors with oil executives to abrogating longstanding treaties and using the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq, scrap the Geneva Conventions and spy on American citizens.
It was a chance Mr. Cheney seems to have been dreaming about for decades. Most Americans looked at wrenching events like the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the Iran-contra debacle and worried that the presidency had become too powerful, secretive and dismissive. Mr. Cheney looked at the same events and fretted that the presidency was not powerful enough, and too vulnerable to inspection and calls for accountability.
The president "needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," Mr. Cheney said this week as he tried to stifle the outcry over a domestic spying program that Mr. Bush authorized after the 9/11 attacks.
Before 9/11, Mr. Cheney was trying to undermine the institutional and legal structure of multilateral foreign policy: he championed the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow in order to build an antimissile shield that doesn't work but makes military contactors rich. Early in his tenure, Mr. Cheney, who quit as chief executive of Halliburton to run with Mr. Bush in 2000, gathered his energy industry cronies at secret meetings in Washington to rewrite energy policy to their specifications. Mr. Cheney offered the usual excuses about the need to get candid advice on important matters, and the courts, sadly, bought it. But the task force was not an exercise in diverse views. Mr. Cheney gathered people who agreed with him, and allowed them to write national policy for an industry in which he had recently amassed a fortune.
The effort to expand presidential power accelerated after 9/11, taking advantage of a national consensus that the president should have additional powers to use judiciously against terrorists.
Mr. Cheney started agitating for an attack on Iraq immediately, pushing the intelligence community to come up with evidence about a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda that never existed. His team was central to writing the legal briefs justifying the abuse and torture of prisoners, the idea that the president can designate people to be "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely, and a secret program allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants. And when Senator John McCain introduced a measure to reinstate the rule of law at American military prisons, Mr. Cheney not only led the effort to stop the amendment, but also tried to revise it to actually legalize torture at CIA prisons.
There are finally signs that the democratic system is trying to rein in the imperial presidency. Republicans in the Senate and House forced Mr. Bush to back the McCain amendment, and Mr. Cheney's plan to legalize torture by intelligence agents was rebuffed. Congress also agreed to extend the Patriot Act for five weeks rather than doing the administration's bidding and rushing to make it permanent.
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court refused to allow the administration to transfer Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been held by the military for more than three years on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks, from military to civilian custody. After winning the same court's approval in September to hold Mr. Padilla as an unlawful combatant, the administration abruptly reversed course in November and charged him with civil crimes unrelated to his arrest. That decision was an obvious attempt to avoid having the Supreme Court review the legality of the detention powers that Mr. Bush gave himself, and the appeals judges refused to go along.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have insisted that the secret eavesdropping program is legal, but The Washington Post reported yesterday that the court created to supervise this sort of activity is not so sure. It said the presiding judge was arranging a classified briefing for her fellow judges and that several judges on the court wanted to know why the administration believed eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants was legal when the law specifically requires such warrants.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are tenacious. They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues. Still, the recent developments are encouraging, especially since the court ruling on Mr. Padilla was written by a staunch conservative considered by President Bush for the Supreme Court.