12 November 2015

Torturer-in-Chief


by Brian Thornton

This entry is posting on the Thursday following Veterans' Day, but I am writing and submitting it
Dick Cheney showing his "good side"
on Veterans' Day, and since in my previous blog post I expounded at some length what being a veteran means to me, I thought I'd take a different tack in this week's post. 

For me there can be no greater sin committed by any politician than to recklessly and cavalierly place in harm's way the citizens they serve. I think my previous post reflects that sentiment, and so I'd like to build upon both that, and David Edgerley Gates' post from yesterday, wherein he takes down the recently deceased (and, if there is any justice in the afterlife, Hell-bound) Ahmed Chalabi. 

Well, Chalabi, as David rightly points out, would have been just another conman with a "cause," pretty much harmless, were it not for the fact that he was in cahoots with then-Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who actually served two masters: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz's fellow neo-con then-Vice-President Dick Cheney.

And so I've decided, in honor of the nearly 5,000 U.S. service members who have died in Iraq since 2003, that for today's blog entry I would follow up on David's entry by holding up a magnifying glass up to the actions of Cheney, one of the most dangerous politicians of the last half-century.

Scooter Libby's "Who? Me Guilty" face
Wolfowitz and Cheney were personally connected through mutual, long-term friendship with the vice-president's chief of staff, I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby. Libby is perhaps best remembered as the sole Bush Administration casualty in what the press came to call "Plamegate"– the investigation into whether CIA operative Valerie Plame had been outed as a covert operative in retaliation against her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had made public comments critical of the Bush Administration's claims of having proof that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase yellow cake uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

And the dominos just keep falling from there. 

Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife CIA agent Valerie Plame

I realize that it was Bush's administration, with Cheney serving as vice-president. But Cheney's was hardly typical of a vice-president's tenure, especially in recent memory. Hardly a team player, Cheney insisted on having his own special sphere of influence within the administration, and battled repeated attempts at forcing accountability and oversight on the actions of Libby, Wolfowitz, and others of Cheney's creatures such as David Addington, Libby's successor as Cheney's chief of staff, and the point man both in pressing within the Bush Administration for "enhanced interrogation" (e.g. "torture") of terror suspects, and in attempts late in the administration's second term by the Office of the Vice-President to assert that Cheney, as president of the Senate, actually served in the legislative branch of the federal government, thereby shielding the vice-president from oversight by (among other government entities) the National Archives. (More on that in the entry below.)

Addington: Cheney's "Attack Dog"
This resistance to any form of oversight is nothing new where Cheney is concerned. Notoriously secretive and close-mouthed during most of his political career, Cheney was well-known for making blunt statements that the media quickly converted to soundbytes, especially ones such as “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”  He even once publicly told Senate Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont to “fuck off” right on the Senate floor.

And all he's done since he left office is call out his boss's successor as a coward and a traitor, over and over and over again. in fact, in wouldn't be a CPAC conference if you didn't have Cheney somewhere calling for Barack Obama's head.

So without further ado here's an overview of Cheney's tenure as vice-president adapted in part from early drafts of my 2010 book The Book of Bastards: 101 Worst Scoundrels and Scandals from the World of Politics and Power: 

Dick Cheney: long-time politician, former Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff, former U.S. Vice-President.  Dick Cheney: draft-dodger, liar, war-monger, and would-be demolisher of the United States Constitution.

To say that the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 “changed everything” is a gross understatement.  9/11 ushered in a new era of shoeless inspections and pat-down searches at airport checkpoints, and bans on such innocuous items as fingernail clippers and even excessive liquids on flights. 

It also ushered in an era of secret, unaccountable “no-fly lists,” extra-judicial detention and interrogation in secret CIA prisons around the world and at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; “enhanced interrogation methods,” “extraordinary renditions,” U.S. citizens being detained as “unlawful enemy combatants” and held incommunicado on military bases and a host of other atrocities that most Americans would consider anathema to their view of the Constitution.  All of these things have also strained America’s relationships with her allies at a time when she can ill-afford to do so.

And all of them can be laid directly at U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s doorstep.

As bad as these things are, however, none of them can compare to the power that Cheney tried to seize for himself.  It is an understatement to merely say that Cheney tried to circumvent the system of checks and balances put into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the Vice President tried to assume for himself the powers of a dictator, a man accountable to no one, subject to no one’s oversight and who could keep whatever secrets he wanted for as long as he damn well pleased.

Beginning in 2003, Cheney began refusing to disclose to the National Archives what secrets his office was keeping.  This was in direct violation of an Executive Order issued by former President Bill Clinton in 1995 and continued by Bush.  It required all offices within the executive (presidential) branch of the federal government to make its documents available to the National Archives. 

Cheney refused to do so on the grounds that the orders did not apply to him because his dual role as president of the Senate placed him outside of the executive branch.  In other words, if Cheney had his way, records of Cheney’s involvement in many Bush administration scandals, from warrantless wiretapping to the administration’s involvement, if any, in the Enron debacle, would never see the light of day.

Thank GOD for THIS federal judge
Ultimately, an “open government” watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sued in federal court to enjoin Cheney’s office from destroying its records.  U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted the group’s motion for an injunction requiring Cheney’s office to preserve its records and to turn them over the National Archives in due course.  There’s no telling how many government records Cheney had already shredded by before Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling.

When John McCain lost the 2008 election, it was seen in part as a public referendum on Cheney’s actions as vice president, his involvement in the Plame/Libby scandal, and his repeated executive branch power grabs.  Since leaving office the once-hard-to-pin-down Cheney has been all over the news, offering harsh criticism of his boss’ successor, Barack Obama.

After being so incredibly WRONG in THIS pronouncement, it takes real chutzpah to criticize the guy cleaning up your mess.

I'll close with a quote from ultraliberal muckraking journalist Glenn Greenwald, who, for my money pretty much sums up Cheney, his crimes, and his legacy. Like his tool Chalabi, Ol' Dick has much to answer for:

“Dick Cheney is one of the most divisive -- and disliked -- political officials in memory…he just presided over the virtual collapse of the American economy and is directly implicated in severe war crimes and other pervasive criminality.”

                                                                                                                                  -- Glenn Greenwald

7 comments:

Eve Fisher said...

Let us know how you really feel, dear.
Seriously, Cheney was probably the worst of the many draft-dodging hawks who consistently sent soldiers into harm's way with no plan, no exit strategy, no historical knowledge, no information, and nothing but, basically, a dream of total US world domination, with themselves at the top of the food chain.
But I'm not bitter.

Leigh Lundin said...

Draft dodger? I did not know that. I recall a saying to the effect that we should fear leaders who’ve never been to war, because they do not understand its horrors.

Glenn Greenwald, constitutional and civil rights lawyer, and a highly honored journalist, is not so easy to classify as an ‘ultraliberal muckraker’. Besides international, liberal, libertarian, and moderate publications, he also writes for The American Conservative. (Side note: In late 2010, Bank of America, fearing the exposure of highly embarrassing documents and the fact they hadn’t moved far from their mafia roots, Bank of America hoped to conspire with the Justice Department to destroy Greenwald with false evidence and planted stories. After being turned down by Justice, BoA turned to nefarious security firm HBGary in an operation that was exposed by Anonymous.)

It has been noted that during George W Bush’s final year in office, the President’s relations with Cheney were strained. During this time, Cheney bitterly complained W had stopped listening to his counsel. In Mr. Bush’s last day in office at the inauguration of his successor, Cheney and Bush went nowhere near each other. Some observers concluded President Bush belatedly realized he had made a grave mistake relying so heavily on Cheney.

Mr. Cheney is welcome to refute issues mentioned here. But please don't invite us duck hunting.

Eve Fisher said...

From Wikipedia: "when asked about his deferments, Cheney reportedly said, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service". Cheney testified during his confirmation hearings in 1989 that he received deferments to finish a college career that lasted six years rather than four, owing to sub-par academic performance and the need to work to pay for his education."

Anonymous said...

I hope it's safe to mention I voted for Bush the first time out of habit but the second time was a real problem. I didn't like Shrub's performance but I also didn't like Kerry's swift boat issue. And I agree that Cheney and Rumsfield wrecked that administration and much of our national reputation. Thanks for the additional info.

Anonymous said...

I have wished for several years now that Cheney could be tried for the many crimes of which he is so guilty. I will never forget the grim shock I felt when I saw him in a wheelchair at Obama's inauguration, having "hurt himself" the night before moving boxes (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/20/cheney-in-wheelchair-for_n_159361.html). Yeah, right. Shredding incriminating documents as fast his filthy hands could get it done is more like it.

Dale Andrews said...

As I remember the story, Cheney had a student deferment, which, at the time was available to college students. He was then deferred since he was married. When it was announced that deferments for married men without children would be ended, and that only married men with children would continue to be exempted, Cheney's wife became pregnant. I think it was the Washington Post that calculated that fIt was then announced that Elizabeth Cheney's birthday was precisely 9 months, almost to the day, following that announcement.

Don't get me wrong. I was sweating the draft at the same time. I didn't join the service either, nor was I drafted -- my lottery number was 329. So I understand chickens. I am also empathetic enough, I think, to understand hawks. But I absolutely cannot abide a chicken hawk.

David Edgerley Gates said...

Two things about Cheney. First up, he's always been an inside guy, so I think you have to read him from that perspective - in other words, his dynamic is influencing people of influence, he doesn't really give a rat's ass for the good opinion of mankind. Secondly, he believes absolutely in the strong executive - my guess is he disagrees completely with the War Powers Act, say. If you put these together, his mindset is utterly predictable.