Secret Cheney Can't Hide
Vice President Dick Cheney isn't part of the executive branch? Next, Prince William will claim that he isn't a member of the royal family.
Yes, Mr. Cheney's antics can be good for a laugh. Before his office dropped the ridiculous claim, Democrats, pretending to take him at his word, winked and said they'd remove financing for the veep's office from the executive-branch budget.
In that case, the vice president's self-evident contradiction was silly. But as revealed last week in a Washington Post series, the vice president's inability to recognize contradictions can be tragic and disastrous. The basic contradiction is this: With pathological secrecy, Mr. Cheney pursues his law-bending (at best) activities in the name of making America and the world safer. The effect has been the opposite.
The series begins with a stunning example of Mr. Cheney's influence. In the fall of 2001, the vice president presented to President Bush a sweeping proposal to give the president the power, on his own say-so, to detain any foreign terrorism suspect indefinitely and without any access to judicial review. From presentation to signed executive order took less than one hour.
The series offers example after example of Mr. Cheney working, often behind the scenes, to get his way on issues from executive power to environmental policy to capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy.
Nowhere is that influence more evident or damaging than in the vice president's relentless effort to give the administration absolute control over suspected terrorists. The series explains how Mr. Cheney and his obedient lawyers co-opted then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and bypassed Gen. Colin Powell and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to allow warrantless wiretaps and to free interrogators from the constraints of the Geneva Conventions: "Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a distinction between forbidden 'torture' and permitted use of 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' methods of questioning."
And when the practice spread from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Abu Ghraib and became public, as it was bound to do, the pictures crushed American prestige already faltering because of Iraq - a debacle for which Mr. Cheney also is due major blame.
Through it all, Mr. Cheney has undermined constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and, in his spare time, worked to weaken protection for the environment. The Post series documents an astonishing range of impacts, from a diversion of water to farms that left 77,000 rotting, endangered salmon on the banks of Washington's Klamath River to noisy frolicking of snowmobilers in national parks.
Mr. Cheney, the former head of energy services giant Halliburton, began his tenure as vice president by conducting closed meetings to let oil and power executives set energy policy. He then led administration efforts to kill all concern about global warming.
Time and again, the courts and the public have rebuked Mr. Cheney's approach. Given the damage he has caused the party as well as the country, many Republicans may wish that Mr. Cheney were not in the executive branch. Mr. Cheney's friends and colleagues explained that the vice president carried on in the face of growing public disapproval - what one former White House ally called "a complete and total indifference to public opinion" - because the only verdict he cares about is history's. If that's the case, may Vice President Cheney live long enough to feel the first, unequivocal condemnations of history.
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