Cheney's Shocking Admissions on How Close He Came to Nearly Destroying the Country
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As Vice President Dick Cheney goes public in exit interviews about his vision of expansive executive powers, it's getting clearer how close the American Republic came to suffering major deformity – if not destruction – in the past eight years.
It is also apparent that the risks to the Republic are not over, unless incoming President Barack Obama repudiates many of the executive powers that Cheney and his boss, George W. Bush, made central to their governing style.
In a revealing Dec. 21 interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Cheney disclosed that he briefed congressional Republican -- and Democratic -- leaders about the administration’s program of warrantless wiretapping inside the United States and that the leaders, presumably including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsed the spying.
This so-called “terrorist surveillance program” fit with the Bush-Cheney view that the President wields virtually unlimited powers during wartime, even a conflict as vaguely defined as the “war on terror.”
Though Cheney cited constitutional precedents from the Civil War and World War II to justify his position, what has made the “war on terror” such an insidious basis for asserting the broadest presidential powers is that it is amorphous both in time and space.
Unlike conventional wars that have beginnings and ends -- as well as battlefronts -- this “war” is theoretically everywhere and never-ending. That means that the principles of a Republic -- with constitutional limits on executive power and “unalienable rights” for everyone -- would not just be suspended during a short-term emergency but essentially be eliminated forever.
In the interview, Cheney argued that the bridge to this new paradigm of an all-powerful Executive was crossed with the de facto granting to the President of the authority to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.
“I think that what we've done has been totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for,” Cheney told Wallace. “The President of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.
“He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody; he doesn't have to call the Congress; he doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in. It's unfortunate, but I think we're perfectly appropriate to take the steps we have.”
In Cheney’s view, it is now the threat of terrorism that justifies other executive powers -- everything from spying on Americans and ignoring habeas corpus to torturing detainees and launching military strikes around the world.
“I think in wartime, when you consider [the President’s] responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief, clearly that means command of the Armed Forces. It also, when you get into use of forces in wartime, means collecting intelligence.
“And therefore, I think you're fully justified in setting up a ‘terrorist surveillance program’ to be able to intercept the communications of people who are communicating with terrorists outside the United States. I think you can have a robust interrogation program with respect to high-value detainees.
“Now, those are all steps we took that I believe the President was fully authorized in taking, and provided invaluable intelligence, which has been the key to our ability to defeat al-Qaeda over these last seven years.”
Cheney also argued that the President’s wartime powers trump laws passed by Congress.