On April 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case known as Cheney vs. U.S. District Court, involving the secrecy of the vice president's task force that brought together government officials with energy industry representatives to craft the nation's energy policy in 2001. Cheney has fought the release of his task force-related documents all the way to the high court. (Follow the trail of legal briefs here.) But why so secretive? Is this just part of an administration secrecy fetish, or is there something really damaging in those papers? Say, revelations about a link between military plans in Iraq and the task force's mission of increasing sources of foreign oil for the United States?
For a glimpse of what might be in those sealed energy task force documents, let's revisit Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece on Cheney from last month. This explosive excerpt didn't get too much press elsewhere, but it could, in the end, be what this task force legal drama is all about. "For months there has been a debate in Washington about when the Bush Administration decided to go to war against Saddam. In Ron Suskind's recent book 'The Price of Loyalty,' former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill charges that Cheney agitated for U.S. intervention well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Additional evidence that Cheney played an early planning role is contained in a previously undisclosed National Security Council document, dated February 3, 2001. The top-secret document, written by a high-level N.S.C. official, concerned Cheney's newly formed Energy Task Force. It directed the N.S.C. staff to covperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the 'melding' of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: 'the review of operational policies towards rogue states,' such as Iraq, and 'actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.'"
"A source who worked at the N.S.C. at the time doubted that there were links between Cheney's Energy Task Force and the overthrow of Saddam. But Mark Medish, who served as senior director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs at the N.S.C. during the Clinton Administration, told me that he regards the document as potentially 'huge.' He said, 'People think Cheney's Energy Task Force has been secretive about domestic issues,' referring to the fact that the Vice-President has been unwilling to reveal information about private task-force meetings that took place in 2001, when information was being gathered to help develop President Bush's energy policy. 'But if this little group was discussing geostrategic plans for oil, it puts the issue of war in the context of the captains of the oil industry sitting down with Cheney and laying grand, global plans.'"
In a January 2004 piece in Foreign Policy in Focus, Hampshire College professor Michael Klare wrote that the very goal of Cheney's energy plan was to find external sources of oil for the United States. And the Persian Gulf was an obvious oil-rich target, one the United States has long used military force to protect. By pursuing foreign oil there and elsewhere, the United States will inevitably find its energy and military policies colliding, Klare notes, although Cheney's energy report did not acknowledge this. Klare added: "However, the architects of the Bush-Cheney policy know that ensuring access to some oil sources may prove impossible without the use of military force Whether or not the administration consciously linked energy with his security policy, Bush undeniably prioritized the enhancement of U.S. power projection as he endorsed increased dependence on oil from unstable areas."
If Cheney's task force records are ultimately unsealed -- despite the vote of Cheney's hunting buddy Justice Antonin Scalia -- we may get crucial insight into this question: Whether energy policy and military policy toward Iraq were inextricably connected from the early days of the Bush administration, long before 9/11 and long before we were told the Iraq war was about WMDs.