Checks and balances? Not even within the administration

Report: Cheney's office crafted military tribunal plan without telling other administration officials.

Published June 30, 2006 6:08PM (EDT)

The Supreme Court held Thursday that Congress never gave George W. Bush authority to have military tribunals try detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay. But it turns out that members of Congress weren't the only ones who weren't consulted on the Bush plan. Senior administration officials were kept out of the loop, too.

As Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker, the president established the military commissions with an executive order on Nov. 13, 2001. Mayer says the order "stunned" Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who were Bush's secretary of state and national security advisor at the time. But they weren't the only ones. Mayer says that neither the highest-ranking lawyer at the CIA, nor many of the top lawyers for the military, nor Michael Chertoff, who was the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, nor John Bellinger, who was legal counsel for the National Security Council, had been consulted about the plan.

So who knew? Dick Cheney, of course, and the man who is now his top aide: former legal advisor David Addington. Mayer says that Addington worked with a few handpicked lawyers to craft the plan for military commissions, and that Rice and others were "incensed" when they learned about it after the fact.

How is the Cheney-Addington model working out? Five years later, Mayer says, "Not a single terror suspect has been tried before a military commission. Only ten of the more than seven hundred men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo have been formally charged with any wrongdoing. Earlier this month, three detainees committed suicide in the camp. Germany and Denmark, along with the European Union and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, have called for the prison to be closed, accusing the United States of violating internationally accepted standards for humane treatment and due process."

Add Thursday's Supreme Court decision, and it's looking like a heck of a job all over again.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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