How Cheney abused his power in war on terror
London Telegraph | July 1, 2007
Vice-President Dick Cheney was personally responsible for American policies that subjected terrorist suspects to cruelty and denied them the right to a fair trial, according to revelations from senior US government officials.
The details have laid bare more than ever before the remarkable influence of Mr Cheney in shaping the prosecution of the war on terror which led to the scandals at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
The claims that Mr Cheney manoeuvred to circumvent both American and international law came as the vice-president last week faced three new congressional demands that he release information on his activities.
Even his supporters admitted that the disclosures have left Mr Cheney looking like a "comic-book villain" whose contempt for process, including within the White House, has undermined public support for President Bush.
A year-long investigation by The Washington Post uncovered details of how in November 2001 - two months after the September 11 atrocities - Vice-President Cheney went behind the backs of the secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to deny foreign terrorist suspects access to a court.
In a private dinner with President Bush, Mr Cheney presented him with an order written by his own lawyer, David Addington, denying suspects a civilian trial or a court martial and ordering that they could be confined indefinitely without charge.
Within an hour of the meal, the document had been signed by the president, having been whisked straight to his desk on Vice-President Cheney's orders, without being seen by senior White House staff. Miss Rice was described as "incensed" and when Mr Powell learnt of the decision from television news he snapped: "What the hell just happened?"
Mr Cheney then ordered his legal team secretly to draw up orders for intelligence agencies to intercept letters, telephone calls and electronic communications to and from America, without a warrant - something forbidden by federal law since 1978.
Last week, the powerful Senate judiciary committee issued subpoenas to Mr Cheney and the White House, demanding access to documents relating to that decision.
Then, in January 2002, Mr Cheney decided that America must abandon the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of enemy prisoners, which outlawed torture.
He personally commissioned legal opinions that would maintain a ban on torture but permit "cruel, inhuman or degrading" interrogation methods. A document drawn up by Mr Addington was adopted, verbatim, by President Bush.
In August that year, the vice-president's lawyer inserted a paragraph into a memo of instructions for the CIA on torture which claimed that laws forbidding any person to "commit torture do not apply" to the president because that would be a restriction of his right to wage war.
The US Supreme Court has since given three rulings contradicting Vice-President Cheney's view of the president's powers, culminating in June with a demand for the Guantánamo inmates to face trial.
But Mr Cheney is accused of continuing to try to bypass international law. When the Senate voted in 2005 to support the Geneva Conventions, Vice-President Cheney - defying opposition from the CIA, the Pentagon, and state and justice departments had a clause inserted into the bill, which meant that the US military is bound by it but not the CIA.
The revelations paint a picture of a man obsessed by secrecy and the accumulation of power. The vice-president keeps even routine papers in a safe in his office, refuses to disclose the names or the size of his staff and has ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs.
He has even created his own security designation, stamping "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI" (special compartmented intelligence) on mundane papers, in an attempt to protect what are in fact unclassified documents. The classification suggests that their disclosure could cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security". He even put the Top Secret stamp on a paper detailing talking points for officials to use with the press - information he actually wanted to be made public.
Mr Cheney also ordered that images of his official residence be pixelated on the Google Earth website, which features satellite photographs, while the White House and Capitol remain fully visible.
He is now under investigation by the House of Representatives committee on government oversight for refusing to follow a long-standing directive ordering his office, among other government agencies, to hand over to the National Archives details of how he uses classified information. When challenged, he recommended abolition of the archive office.
Last week Mr Cheney and Mr Addington tried to argue that he was not bound by the rules, claiming that he is not part of the executive branch of government because he also acts as president of the Senate. They abandoned that position when congressional Democrats threatened to strip him of his executive funding. "He's saying he's above the law," said Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the oversight committee.
Vice-President Cheney has previously claimed executive privilege - the opposite excuse - in refusing to hand over details of which oil companies he consulted when drawing up American energy policy.
The Washington Post series also detailed how he ordered the diversion of a river to irrigate farms in Oregon, in pursuit of farmers' votes, despite scientific evidence that this would endanger two protected species of fish. The move killed 80,000 salmon. Last week that issue became the subject of an inquiry by another House committee.
Allies say Mr Cheney is unrepentant. "The only person in Washington who cares less about his public image than David Addington is Dick Cheney," said a former White House ally.
"What both of them miss is that in times of war, a prerequisite for success is people having confidence in their leadership. This is the great failure of the administration - a complete and total indifference to public opinion."
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