Were any of us actually shocked by the recent revelation that Lord Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold information about a secret program from Congress for eight years? Given the galactic scale of his malevolence in the Office of the Vice President, ordering the CIA to lie to Congress amounts to a parking violation. Even before young Mr. Bush was elected, Cheney was a proponent of extra-constitutional presidential powers. Most of us are familiar with the unprecedented extent to which Bush exceeded his Article II authorities. Even more horrifying, though, is the way Cheney expanded the powers of his office.
The Constitution gives the vice president one power only: Article I states that “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.” Cheney made himself a vice-commander in chief.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Cheney, from a bunker beneath the White House, called his old pal Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Cheney told Rumsfeld that "pursuant to the president's instructions,” he had ordered fighter pilots to shoot down the airliners involved in the attacks. What’s wrong with this scenario is that the vice president is not in the military chain of command. As delineated in the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, command authority passes directly from the president to the secretary of defense to the four-star unified commanders (Central Command, Southern Command, European Command, etc.)
Young Mr. Bush was alive and conscious throughout that crisis—well, as conscious as he ever was. He had no business passing orders through Cheney, and Cheney had no business ordering anybody to fire on anything. It’s possible that the military commanders he spoke to knew this and didn’t pass the orders along to the pilots in the air. Bush should have gone directly through Rumsfeld who, as it played out, was only informed of Cheney’s illegal orders after the fact.
We know that Cheney cooked the intelligence on Iraq through Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans. Journalist and former CIA officer Philip Giraldi asserts that Cheney was behind the forgery of the Nigergate “Habbush letter” document. Cheney authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to discredit Joe Wilson when Wilson refuted the claim that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger. Cheney also played a key role in revealing Valerie Plame’s undercover role in the CIA. Cheney’s secret White House Information Group, which included Condi Rice, Karl Rove, the nightmarish Mary Matalin and other right wing luminaries, sold the war to the American public through false propaganda echoed by access-poisoned journalists like Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller of the New York Times.
Cheney used the Iranian Directorate to cook intelligence on Iran much as the Office of Special Plans manufactured WMD evidence on Iraq. The Iranian Directorate was located in the same office as the OSP and included OSP veterans Abram Shulsky, John Trigilio, Ladan Archin and Reuel Marc Gerecht.
Cheney has a reach-around relationship with Israel’s hard-right Likudniks. Sidney Blumenthal of Salon.com reported in August 2006 that Cheney and his henchmen were sharing National Security Association intelligence with Israel as part of an attempt to escalate the Iraq war into open hostilities with Iran and Syria. Many are convinced, as am I, that Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon was agreed upon at a meeting between Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu at an American Enterprise Institute conference in Colorado.
Cheney subverted the operations of the entire executive branch by inserting neocon ideologues in key positions. Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and Stephen Cambone strangled dissent in the Defense Department. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley ensured that his boss Condoleezza Rice was nothing more to Bush than a workout partner and an office wife. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton undermined Colin Powell’s efforts at statesmanship. In the second Bush term, when Rice moved to the top State billet, Cheney arranged to have Bolton made U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., ensuring continuation of the administration’s “make them an offer they can’t accept” diplomacy, of which the Iran policy was a perfect example. Insisting that Iran give up its inherent right—as guaranteed by the U.N. Nonproliferation Treaty—to develop nuclear energy as a precondition to direct talks ensured that those talks would never take place.
Senator Pat Leahy (D-Vermont), speaking of the revelation that Cheney had directed the CIA to withhold information from Congress, said that nobody in America, including Cheney, is “above the law.” Where has Leahy been for the last eight years and change? Everybody in the Bush administration except Scooter Libby was above the law.
President Obama has so far been reluctant to investigate the wrong doing of the Bush administration. That’s a mistake. If we let that administration’s major decision makers walk, we leave the door open for the next generation of tyrants to give us a repeat performance.
Cheney will spend the next life roasting in a room at the Robert McNamara Suite of the LBJ Hilton in Hell, but we need to start rebalancing the scales of justice on this side of eternity.