Water Man Spouts

Saturday, July 01, 2006

On Impeaching Dick Cheney

{1} "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."
-- James Madison to Thomas Jefferson; The Complete Madison; S.K. Padover; 1953; pg 258.
This week's Supreme Court decision against the Bush administration brought to mind the warnings expressed by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his classic "The Imperial Presidency." In a book that may be more important today than when he wrote it in 1973, Schlesinger describes how -- and why -- the Founding Fathers included a "separation of powers" in the federal government.
There are, of course, three co-equal branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The US Constitution outlines the powers that each branch enjoys. There is a built-in system of "checks and balances," which the 51st Federalist Paper states insures the "necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others."
Schlesinger makes clear that the checks and balances are intended to produce a healthy inertia that protects democratic institutions. He quotes Justice Brandeis's saying the goal is "not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power." (Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 293; 1926)
Schlesinger's book focuses on how the executive branch has, throughout the nation's history, attempted to use the threat of, and from, war to justify the grabbing of power. This threatens the balance of power in the federal government. He is clear that he is not addressing the "political balance" that can occur if one political party controls the executive and legislative branches of government. Similarly, the political balance includes when a president attempts to influence the judicial branch by the appointment of federal judges.
Rather, his book concentrates on the "constitutional balance" as defined by the US Constitution. The danger is, as Schlesinger documents from a historical perspective, when a president attempts to do away with the checks and balances that define our democracy. He noted that previous presidents from both political parties had tried to acquire powers reserved specifically for the congress. When he wrote the book, Richard Nixon was making a grab for power that absolutely threatened our Constitutional democracy. He was convinced that future presidents would likely continue the trend leading towards a Revolutionary Presidency.
{2} "Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States, inhabitants of a world in which presidents may come and go, but America always keeps on fighting."
-- James Mann; Rise of the Vulcans; 2004; page 145.
In the 1950s, under the Eisenhower administration, a highly classified program was created to find a way to allow the federal government to continue to function in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The general program has been know for the past 50 years as "continuity of government," or COG. Little is known from the Eisenhower years, except that the plans included having the executive branch hidden in highly secured bunkers, and the suspension of many civil liberties and possible martial law in the rest of the country. The government was to be run by the executive branch, with direct participation by military/intelligence officers and business leaders.
Curiously, the Eisenhower administration did not inform the in-coming Kennedy administration of the program. (James Bamford; A Pretext for War; 2004; page 70.) The COG program remained unexamined through the Johnson years, until the Nixon administration came to power. John Dean mentions being aware of it during his service to the Nixon administration in "Worse Than Watergate." (See page 120, footnote.)
But it was not until the Reagan years that the program that we find the COG program became a central focus of some of Washington's power brokers, including Cheney and Rumsfeld. Vice president George Bush supervised an effort by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ollie North, and James Woolsey to redefine how the US government would function in the case of a nuclear attack.
Mann wites that "Rumsfeld and Cheney were principal figures in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Under it, the administration furtively carried out detailed planning exercises to establish a new American 'president' and his staff, outside and beyond the specifications of the U.S. Constitution ..." (page 138) He notes that because the program was "extralegal and extraconstitutional," it was kept secret from the congress. In fact, he quotes one of the participants as saying, "One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them." (page 142) Instead, the plan included three teams of "leaders" from the executive branch, military/inteligence, and corporate heads who were "practiced in concrete, thorough, and elaborate detail" on how to run the country without Constitutional balance in times of "national emergency."
The COG program was discontinued during the Clinton administration. However, it came back full-force in the Bush2 administration. In "Plan of Attack," author Bob Woodward does not speak specifically about the COG program. However, on pages 29-30, he makes clear that Cheney was in charge of it: "Bush and Cheney agreed on still another role for the vice president. Given Cheney's background in national security going back to the Ford years .... Bush said at the top of his list of things he wanted Cheney to do was intelligence. .... Bush also asked Cheney to study the nation's vulnerability to terrorism, primarily biological and chemical threats. ... With the president's full knowledge and encouragement, Cheney became the self-appointed examiner of worst-case scenarios. Though it was not formalized, he would look at the darker side, the truly bad and terrifying scenarios. By experience and temperament, it was the ideal assignment for Cheney. He felt they had to be prepared to think about the unthinkable."
{3} "Cheney was the dominant figure on September 11."
-- James Mann; Rise of the Vulcans; 2004; page 296.
There were five good books published in 2004 which describe aspects of the COG program. They include Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies"; James Mann's "Rise of the Vulcans"; James Bamford's "A Pretext for War"; Senator Robert Byrd's "Losing America"; and John Dean's "Worse Than Watergate."
On 9-11, CBS News ran footage of Richard Clarke explaining the concept of "continuity of government." The final edition of the Washington Post reported that "Bush flew immediately to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana where he was expected to consult with top advisers, who had already begun outlining backup plans that go by the gim name of 'continuity of government'." Clarke, who was helping coordinate efforts with Cheney, had been the official who announced the COG operations were being instituted. Rumsfeld contacted Paul Wolfowitz, who left Washington to become part of the official COG operation.
Dean notes that Bush became the first US president "to truly employ a secret government" when, within hours of the 9-11 attacks, he and Cheney activated the COG plans. (page 120-124) It is interesting to note that both the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government have similar plans for continuity if the nation is attacked. However, both branches rely upon the executive to notify them before they put their plans in action. There was no notfication following 9-11 to either the Congress or US Supreme Court.
The Sunday following 9-11, VP Cheney appeared on television, giving what Mann described as an "extraordinarily detailed, coherent account both of the events of that day and of the administration's emerging response...." (page 297) Cheney's appearance stood in stark contrast to President Bush's public statements. Cheney then disappeared into a series of "undisclosed locations," causing many to question if it was because of Karl Rove's concerns that the nation -- and indeed, the world -- viewed Cheney as being in charge, rather than Bush. In fact, VP Cheney was the acting head of the COG program, also known as the "shadow government."
From 9-11 until March 1, 2002, the rest of the country was largely unaware that the "shadow government" had been instituted. But then, the Washington Post ran the front-page headline: "Shadow Government is at Work in Secret; After Attacks, Bush Ordered 100 Officials to Bunkers Away From Capital to Ensure Federal Survival."
In his book, Senator Byrd wrote: "Only hours after the September 11 attacks, the administration installed a 'shadow government' of about a hundred senior executive branch officials to live and work secretly outside Washington at two East Coast locations, reportedly run from the White House. White House chief of staff Andrew Card directs the shadow government from the White House, where he is immune from giving testimony to Congress (have we heard this before?). The shadow government is supposed to assume command of the government in case of a national emergency. Of course, this shadow government consists of one branch only, the executive branch. ....the Congress has not sanctioned the shadow government, nor were members of Congress even made aware of its existence until the story was leaked in March 2002. This shadow government has been described as an 'indefinite precaution,' which can mean anything. While a few newspaper stories appeared in March 2002, very little new information has been reported since then. The shadow government is presumed to continue its operation outside of congressional oversight." (pages 78-79)
{4} "No point is of more importance, than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above al shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?"
--George Mason's statement to the Constitutional Convention; quoted by Schlesinger in "The Imperial Presidency; page 414.
On MSNBC's "Countdown," Dana Milbank reported that President Bush's advisers had warned him he was at risk of losing the case in the Supreme Court. However, Bush based his position on advice from VP Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington. This should come as no surprise to the American public: as we look at the actions of the Bush-Cheney administration in their "war on terror," we see that they are much more in line with a "shadow government" than with a constitutional executive.
The fact that the Supreme Court would rule against the administration so strongly on issues involving the legal rights of prisoners of war is telling. We also have glaring examples of the suspension of liberties provided to US citizens under the Bill of Rights. The domestic spying campaigns are the most obvious and illegal examples.
Media reports this week have shown that a growing number of citizens recognize that the Congress should be considering investigations that can lead to impeachment. Apparently, some republican leaders are convinced that if democrats make the possible impeachment of George Bush a campaign issue this year, that it will benefit supporters of the president.
Arthur Schlesinger had pointed out that the need to keep the balance of powers in place should not be mistaken for an excuse to damage the presidency. Rather, the goal should be to keep a strong presidency within the context of the Constitution, along with a strong Congress and Judiciary. The obvious example of the damage congress can do to the presidency was found in the republican attacks on Bill Clinton.
I believe that the best thing for the democratic party, and for the nation, would be to make the potential impeachment of VP Dick Cheney a 2006 campaign issue. Cheney represents the greater danger to our Constitutional democracy. I do not pretend that George Bush is simply a clown fronting for the neoconservative "shadow government." But I think that we should deal with Dick Cheney first.


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