Cheney’s coup

A 3-year-old executive order that vastly expanded his powers illuminates how the vice president and his minions led us into war.

Topics: Dick Cheney,

Cheney's coup

After shooting Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, Dick Cheney’s immediate impulse was to control the intelligence. Rather than call the president directly, he ordered an aide to inform White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card that there had been an accident but not that Cheney was its cause. Then a host of surrogates attacked the victim for not steering clear of Cheney when he was firing. Cheney attempted to defuse the subsequent furor by giving an interview to friendly Fox News. His most revealing answer came in response to a question about something other than the hunting accident.

Cheney was asked about court papers filed by his former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the leaking of the identity of an undercover CIA operative, Valerie Plame. (She is the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of disinformation used to justify the invasion of Iraq.) In those papers, Libby laid out a line of defense that he had leaked classified material at the behest of “his superiors” (to wit, Cheney). Libby detailed that he was authorized to disclose to members of the press classified sections of the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. (The NIE was exposed as wrongly asserting that Saddam possessed WMD and was constructing nuclear weapons.) Indeed, Cheney explained, he has the power to declassify intelligence. “There is an executive order to that effect,” he said. Had he ever done that “unilaterally”? “I don’t want to get into that.”

On March 25, 2003, President Bush signed Executive Order 13292, a hitherto little known document that grants the greatest expansion of the power of the vice president in American history. The order gives the vice president the same ability to classify intelligence as the president. By controlling classification, the vice president can in effect control intelligence and, through that, foreign policy.



Bush operates on the radical notion of the “unitary executive,” that the president has inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances. By his extraordinary order, he elevated Cheney to his level, an acknowledgment that the vice president was already the de facto executive in national security. Never before has any president diminished and divided his power in this manner. Now the unitary executive inherently includes the unitary vice president.

The unprecedented executive order bears the earmarks of Cheney’s former counsel and current chief of staff, David Addington. Addington has been the closest assistant to Cheney through three decades, since Cheney served in the House of Representatives in the 1980s. Inside the executive branch, far and wide, Addington acts as Cheney’s vicar, bullying and sarcastic, inspiring fear and obedience. Few documents of concern to the vice president, even executive orders, reach the eyes of the president without passing first through Addington’s agile hands.

To advance their scenario for the Iraq war, Cheney & Co. either pressured or dismissed the intelligence community when it presented contrary analysis. Paul Pillar, the former CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, writes in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, “The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made.”

On domestic spying conducted without legal approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Addington and his minions isolated and crushed internal dissent from James Comey, then deputy attorney general, and Jack Goldsmith, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

On torture policy, as reported by the New Yorker this week, Alberto Mora, recently retired as general counsel to the U.S. Navy, opposed the Bush administration’s abrogation of the Geneva Conventions — by holding thousands of detainees in secret camps without due process and using abusive interrogation techniques — based on legal doctrines Mora called “unlawful” and “dangerous.” Addington et al. told him the policies were being ended while continuing to pursue them on a separate track. “To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values,” Mora said.

The first vice president, John Adams, called his position “the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, said it was not worth “a warm bucket of spit.” When Dick Cheney was secretary of defense under the first President Bush, he reprimanded Vice President Dan Quayle for asserting power he did not possess by calling a meeting of the National Security Council when the elder Bush was abroad. Cheney well knew the vice president had no authority in the chain of command.

Since the coup d’état of Executive Order 13292, however, the vice presidency has been transformed. Perhaps, for a blinding moment, Cheney imagined he might classify his shooting party top secret.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton, writes a column for Salon and the Guardian of London. His new book is titled "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime." He is a senior fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>