Dick Cheney is the most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of vice president. This series examines Cheney's largely hidden and little-understood role in crafting policies for the War on Terror, the economy and the environment.
Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.
In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.
Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."
"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.
Part 2 Wars and Interrogations Convinced that the "war on terror" required "robust interrogations" of captured suspects, Dick Cheney pressed the Bush administration to carve out exceptions to the Geneva Conventions.
Shortly after the first accused terrorists reached the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 11, 2002, a delegation from CIA headquarters arrived in the Situation Room. The agency presented a delicate problem to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, a man with next to no experience on the subject. Vice President Cheney's lawyer, who had a great deal of experience, sat nearby.
The meeting marked "the first time that the issue of interrogations comes up" among top-ranking White House officials, recalled John C. Yoo, who represented the Justice Department. "The CIA guys said, 'We're going to have some real difficulties getting actionable intelligence from detainees'" if interrogators confined themselves to treatment allowed by the Geneva Conventions.
From that moment, well before previous accounts have suggested, Cheney turned his attention to the practical business of crushing a captive's will to resist. The vice president's office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion of prisoners 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.
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.
Air Force Two touched down at the Greenbrier Valley Airport in West Virginia on Feb. 6, 2003, carrying Vice President Cheney to the annual retreat of Republican House and Senate leaders. He had come to sell them on the economic centerpiece of President Bush's first term: a $674 billion tax cut.
Cheney had spent months making sure the package contained everything he wanted. One thing was missing.
The president had accepted Cheney's diagnosis that the sluggish economy needed a jolt, overruling senior economic advisers who forecast dangerous budget deficits. But Bush rejected one of Cheney's remedies: deep reductions in the capital gains tax on investments.
The vice president "was just hot on that," said Cesar Conda, then Cheney's domestic policy adviser. "It goes to show you: He wins and he loses, and he lost on that one."
Part 4 Environmental Policy Dick Cheney steered some of the Bush administration's most important environmental decisions -- easing air pollution controls, opening public parks to snowmobiles and diverting river water from threatened salmon.
Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the 19th-ranking Interior Department official, arrived at her desk in Room 6140 a few months after Inauguration Day 2001. A phone message awaited her.
"This is Dick Cheney," said the man on her voice mail, Wooldridge recalled in an interview. "I understand you are the person handling this Klamath situation. Please call me at -- hmm, I guess I don't know my own number. I'm over at the White House."
Wooldridge wrote off the message as a prank. It was not. Cheney had reached far down the chain of command, on so unexpected a point of vice presidential concern, because he had spotted a political threat arriving on Wooldridge's desk.
In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.
Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.
Don't Misunderestimate Dick Cheney It has long been apparent that Cheney's genius is that he lets George W. Bush get out of bed every morning actually believing he is the President. by John Dean
Thus, beyond the limited constitutional responsibilities, and the few statutory tasks, the Vice President's role comes down to whatever the President assigns him. Vice Presidents can have no role greater than the assignments given by the president -- or in the case of Dick Cheney, whatever he has been able to convince the President he can appropriately handle for him.
I have been arguing for years that Vice President Cheney had done more than any other single person in the government -- including the President of the United States -- to plant acolytes and followers of his throughout the national security bureaucracy. He has had spies and apparatchiks in the Departments of State and Defense, in the Directorate of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency and the CIA, and elsewhere in government.
News stories do not always collide with symbolic resonance--and especially not in close proximity to such an esteemed event as America's Day of Independence--but two particular stories, in the last few days, have conspired to demonstrate the twin extremes of the Bush administration's disregard for the law.
On the one hand, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, close advisor to Dick Cheney and convicted perjuror, had his two and a half year sentence--for covering his boss's ass and lying about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame--conveniently dismissed by the President, who called it "excessive." Libby, sensitive news outlets informed us, will still have to pay a fine of $250,000 and suffer two years of probation, but while his story, which emerged on 2 July, was still dominating the media, Independence Day itself was marked by an Associated Press article which focused on those at the other end of Bush's scale of justice: the "enemy combatants" of Guantánamo Bay, who, we learned from the recently installed prison commander Navy Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, may, after 2,000 days of illegal imprisonment without charge and without trial, be allowed to watch a movie once a week.
For some reason I've never understood, the fireworks show in Freeland is on July 3rd. A friend with a good view invited me over last night. It's put on by the local Christian Taliban and we were far enough away to avoid hearing the patriotic blather. I shot a series with the digital Pentax and one with the 2 1/4 square Hasselbladski on Fuji 160s. Unfortunately there were power lines in the way. I might try to remove them from the film versions if they come out.
I have no idea what we are celebrating this Fourth of July because our fearfull leaders have transformed our country into something else entirely. We now have a King George again. Bob Geiger says it so well that I include the whole thing:
"A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." ~ Declaration of Independence
I've always enjoyed the Fourth of July.
It's summer, it's a festive holiday about celebration -- not mourning or remembrance -- and, as a military Veteran, it has been a time to feel good about whatever miniscule role I've played in maintaining our country's strength and freedom.
But I'm going to skip the barbeques and just go to work today. I do this because the state of my country under the reign of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their entire cabal of crooks and non-patriots, leaves me with a feeling so hollow and barren that I simply cannot use drinking a beer, eating a hot dog or watching fireworks as a soothing balm.
With Bush's effective pardon of Scooter Libby on Monday, he has once again acted on behalf of the American people with no regard for what the people actually want. Poll after poll has shown that Americans still cling to a belief in equal justice under the law and that letting Libby off the hook on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the outing of a covert CIA agent is horribly wrong. But that doesn’t stop Bush from doing whatever he damn well pleases to help his cronies and appease his political benefactors.
The overwhelming majority of the country now also knows the truth of the Iraq occupation and made clear in the last election what is expected of our leaders in ending that disaster. The American people know that the White House cooked the intelligence books to make a bogus case for war against a country that posed no threat whatsoever to the United States and by far most Americans want us out of Iraq as soon as possible.
It is the same thing with the way most of us feel about the promise held in the science of stem cell research and the huge nationwide support for raising the federal minimum wage, which have both been fought tooth and nail by Bush and the Republican party.
No matter how we the people want to be governed or how we decide we want our country to look, Bush sticks stubbornly to what he wants, to what he mandates and what he decides in his delusional world of absolute power and authority over all he surveys.
It's a bitter irony that what we celebrate today is deliverance from just such an absolute power and authority in the form of King George III, about whom the Founding Fathers railed in the majority of the Declaration of Independence and from whom they declared our freedom. We broke away from the colonial rule of a tyrant and, in the preamble to this sacred document, we stated that our leaders are ultimately governed by those for which government is created and that those elected president get "their just powers from the consent of the governed."
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We declared our break from a monarch, an absolute ruler, in 1776 when the 13 colonies risked it all to repudiate that form of government and to say that the leader of what would become the new United States of America should listen to the will of the people and not the other way around.
One has to wonder what Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hancock and the other Founding Fathers would think of where we're at, 231 years later, if they could see the vision of Democracy they cherished so soiled and the 43rd president known not at all for his wisdom and entirely for his outrageous abuse of power.
George W. Bush has taken our country and made us despised throughout the world, ruined our global reputation in a way that may take a generation to salvage and made us far less safe in a dangerous world. Indeed, he has used our nation's wealth and power to make the world a more dangerous place.
His administration has also found a way to diminish a great holiday like our Independence Day, to make us feel less like proudly waving our flag and to even cause many like me, who have worn our country's uniform, to wonder what the hell it was for.
And, for that, every American who voted for Bush, should take time this July Fourth to perform a truly patriotic act and be profoundly ashamed.
The last week and a half had been pretty full. Busy with web work and camera straps. Last Wednesday we visited Zoe's mom, Gerry, and had the Jeep's brakes cease functioning in Tacoma. We had tried going down to visit the Sunday before but we got caught by the weekenders leaving the Island on Sunday afternoon. We are into the tourist season her on Whidbey Island. A lot of people come over for the weekend and leave Sunday making for a long ferry wait getting off the Island. It was a long enough wait to make us late visiting Gerry since visiting hours at Western State Hospital (she has Alzheimer's) ended at 8pm. We tried again Wednesday. The car was running hot on the way down. I ended pulling off an exit early and discovered the front brakes were very hot. They were dragging which was causing the engine to work harder and run warmer. As I was looking forlornly at the engine a bystander camer over and offered assistance. He led us to a Les Schwab (a chain that workes on tires and brakes) and we got there 5 minutes before closing. They determined that the calipers had frozen shut and they could fix it the next morning. Tom, our good samaritan, drove use over to the hospital and we visited Gerry.
That was a disturbing visit. Gerry was in pain and shaking as well as being more incoherent that normal. She ate very little of the food we brought for her. They did bring in some meds for her. She soon fell asleep in the chair. So there we were 2 1/2 hours from home stuck in Tacoma. We called our friends Kim and Doug back on the Island and they immedietly agreed to drive down to pick us up. By now it was past visiting hours but they let us stay with Gerry while we waited. Gerry was dozing and waking. By now the meds had taken affect. She would wake and see Zoe and get this beautific smile on her face. Seeing that was worth all the trouble of getting down there. It was close to 10pm when we went out to wait for Kim and Doug and they were along shortly to take us home. We made the midnight boat.
The next morning we got a call and the Jeep was ready. My daughter Katie, with my grandson Mike, drove me down. She was going to the mainland anyway to see her mom (my ex) who had 5 hours of surgery that morning fusing parts of her spine. (The operation was a great success and she is now home recovering.) I picked up the Jeep and Mike and I drove back to the Island.
There actually is some good news. We may be getting a kitten.
Zoe has been wanting a third (and maybe fourth) cat. It's a Desert Lynx belong to our friend Beverly Graham. There are still some details to work out and it may not happen. Zoe has been in a lot of pain lately and has a post that goes into the kitty as well as visiting Gerry and the pain she's been in. I hope it works out.
And then there was one last disaster. This weekend I went to work on the boat. It's a 19 foot Bayliner she had bought with her Dad before he died. It's needed work, and with her pain and Gerry's Alzheimer's, we haven't used ot for the past couple of years. Last fall Doug (who picked us up in Tacoma) and I did a cleaning and put the cover on it for the winter. I finally took the cover off to find that the waterproof cover had failed and the boat had filled up with water. I'm not a boat person and I had left the drain plug in. There was a two foot deep lake in the boat. Deep enough that it had gotten into the engine. There was nothing else to do but to start draining the boat a bucket at a time. That took all afternoon and into the evening. Doug came by the next evening (he used to work on boats in a marina) and assured me it wasn't as bad as it looked. He's coming over Saturday and we will be cleaning it up and flushing the engine. He said he's seen a lot worse. Maybe we will get the boat into the water after all.
Other things going on but they can wait for later. I hope to resume linkages soon.