TOPICS: Cheney’s vice-like grip
After shooting Harry Whittington, Dick Cheney’s immediate impulse was to control the intelligence. Rather than call the president directly, he ordered an aide to inform the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, that there had been an accident — but not that Cheney was its cause. Then surrogates attacked the victim for not steering clear of Cheney when he was firing without looking. Cheney tried to defuse the furore by giving an interview to Fox News.
His most revealing answer came in response to a question about something other than the hunting accident. Cheney was asked about court papers filed by his former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the inquiry into the leaking of the identity of the undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. In the papers, Libby laid out a line of defence that he leaked classified material at the behest of “his superiors.’’ Libby said he was authorised to disclose to members of the press classified sections of the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Cheney explained he has the power to declassify intelligence.
On March 25, 2003 President Bush signed executive order 13292, a hitherto little-known document that grants the greatest expansion of the power of the vice-president in US history. It gives the vice-president the same ability to classify intelligence as the president. By controlling classification, the vice-president can control intelligence and, through that, foreign policy. Bush operates on the radical notion of the “unitary executive’’, that the presidency has inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances. Never before has any president diminished his power.
The unprecedented executive order bears the earmarks of Cheney’s former counsel and current chief of staff, David Addington, the most powerful aide within the White House. To advance their scenario for the Iraq war, Cheney and Co. either pressured or dismissed the intelligence community when it presented contrary analysis. On domestic spying conducted without approval of the foreign-intelligence surveillance court, Addington and his minions crushed dissent.
On torture policy, Alberto Mora, recently retired as general counsel to the US navy, opposed Bush’s abrogation of the Geneva conventions. Addington et al told him the policies were being ended, while pursuing them on a separate track.
The first US vice-president, John Adams, called his position “the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived”. When Cheney was defence secretary, he reprimanded Vice-President Dan Quayle for asserting power he did not possess by calling a meeting of the National Security Council when the elder President Bush was abroad. Since the coup d’etat of executive order 13292, the vice-presidency has been transformed. Perhaps, for a blinding moment, Cheney imagined he might classify his shooting party as top secret. — The Guardian