Ten things about Dick

The Washington Post raises the curtain on our extraordinary vice president.


Tim Grieve
June 25, 2007 5:40PM (UTC)

The latest issue of Newsweek tells us about 181 things we need to know now. We're reminded of the opening lines of "Dick is a Killer" : "Mr. Speaker, members of Congress, Mom and Dad: Last month a girl in Lincoln, Rhode Island, sent me a letter. It began, 'Dear George W. Bush, if there's anything you know, please send me a letter.'"

But seriously -- 181 things? Who can deal? If you have the time and the mental capacity to know where the 2008 presidential election will be decided, when your brain stops making neurons and which continents show "American Idol," more power to you.

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Us, we'll be satisfied -- if that's the right word -- with knowing just 10 things from Parts 1 and 2 of the Washington Post's extraordinary four-part series on Vice President Dick Cheney.

1. The vice president's "understanding" with the boss. Just after Cheney took office, former Vice President Dan Quayle warned him about the ceremonial nature of the job. Cheney smirked and told Quayle: "I have a different understanding with the president." Quayle says Cheney saw himself as what Quayle calls a "surrogate chief of staff." Bush's actual chief of staff, Josh Bolten, says Cheney's deal with Bush guarantees him a seat at "every table and every meeting" and the right to make his voice heard in "whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in."

2. How it works. The Post says Cheney "holds his purchase on an unrivaled portfolio across the executive branch." Bush deals at the level of "broad objectives, broadly declared." Cheney, on the other hand, "inhabits an operational world in which means are matched with ends and some of the most important choices are made. When particulars rise to presidential notice, Cheney often steers the preparation of options and sits with Bush, in side-by-side wing chairs, as he is briefed."

3. The secrecy. The vice president's Dracula-and-sunlight-like aversion to transparency is well known, but the Post adds two nice details: The "daily work" of the Office of the Vice President is stored in "man-size Mosler safes," typically used by other government agencies only for classified material. And in Cheney's office, just about everything is classified, or treated that way: The vice president apparently invented a new classification for pseudo secrets to be used even for not-so-secret documents like press talking points: "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI."

4. The power. Even as the twin towers fell on 9/11, Cheney and his then legal aide, David Addington, began planning an expansion of presidential powers. The Post explains: "Down in the bunker, according to a colleague with firsthand knowledge, Cheney and Addington began contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?"

5. Cheney's team. On matters of presidential power, it consisted of John Yoo, Tim Flanigan and Addington. "Gonzales, a former Texas judge, had the seniority and the relationship with Bush," the Post says. "But Addington -- a man of imposing demeanor, intellect and experience -- dominated the group. Gonzales 'was not a law-of-war expert and didn't have very developed views,' Yoo recalled, echoing blunter observations by the Texan's White House colleagues."

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6. The order. In the Post's telling, Cheney and his team pretty much single-handedly came up with the plan to send detainees to military tribunals rather than civilian courts; they shortcircuited a panel that was supposed to be considering the issue, rejected the complaints of Attorney General John Ashcroft, and kept their plan secret from Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. After ordering that the plan be kept out of any staff review, Cheney got Bush to sign it by hand-walking it to him at lunch in the private dining room near the Oval Office.

7. Torture. The Post says Cheney's office "played a central role in shattering limits on coercion in U.S. custody, commissioning and defending legal opinions that the Bush administration has since portrayed as the initiatives, months later, of lower-ranking officials." How they did it: "Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden 'torture' and permitted use of 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' methods of questioning. They did not originate every idea to rewrite or reinterpret the law, but fresh accounts from participants show that they translated muscular theories, from Yoo and others, into the operational language of government."

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8. More torture. Former Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee wasn't the author of the infamous August 2002 memo that smashed through the limits to what the United States could or couldn't do to people in its custody. Although the White House has attributed the work to Yoo, Yoo tells the Post that the other members of the Cheney team contributed. Addington, Cheney's legal advisor, was behind what the Post calls the memo's "most radical claim": If the president authorizes an interrogation method, it can't be illegal because ... the president has authorized it. A second memo, also prepared by Team Cheney, approved of a long list of interrogation techniques the CIA wanted to use -- including, the Post says, "waterboarding."

9. And still more torture. The signing statement in which Bush all but eviscerated John McCain's Detainee Treatment Act by saying its language would be construed "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief"? It came from Cheney's office.

10. Guantánamo. Last week's talk of a high-level meeting and an impending decision to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba? The Post says Cheney is actually in favor of expanding the facility. He's almost alone in that view, the Post says, but he has succeeded so far in keeping Gitmo open.

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Tim Grieve

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

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