June 28, 2007

Sidney Blumenthal: The Imperial Vice Presidency

Filed under: Uncategorized — Volt @ 9:09 am

Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, June 28, 2009

When Huey P. Long left the governorship of Louisiana in 1936 to become a U.S. senator, he filled the position with a childhood friend named Oscar Kelly Allen, known as O.K., who gave the OK to whatever the Kingfish wished. The story is still told, perhaps apocryphal, that one day a leaf wafted through an open window and landed on O.K.’s desk and, without hesitation, he signed it.

Two months after 9/11, on the day of the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared in the Oval Office with a four-page executive order designating terrorism suspects as enemy combatants to be held indefinitely, with no right to have their detention reviewed by any court except newly created military commissions, where they would not be permitted to learn the accusations or evidence against them, or be represented by counsel, or even know that their case had been heard and decided.

The secretary of state and the national security advisor were deliberately kept uninformed as the White House staff secretary prepared the order for signature. According to a four-part series published this week in the Washington Post on the extraordinary power of the vice president, “When it [the order] 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.” Colin Powell was stunned when he learned of the fait accompli. “What the hell just happened?” he asked. Condoleezza Rice was described as “incensed.” But neither of them, then or later, effectively challenged Cheney’s usurpation of executive authority. And, as can be gathered inferentially, Bush never bothered to ask Cheney about their opinions on the executive order or to call them; nor did he seem to care.

The Washington Post series, written by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, is an acknowledgment, after more than six years, of the hardly secret scope of Cheney’s unprecedented influence. The articles provide fresh detail of his elaborate network within the federal government and how he pulls its strings. On principle, Cheney and his aides are hostile to regular lines of authority set up to enforce professional standards and a responsible chain of command. Having served as President Ford’s chief of staff, he understood intimately how control of the paper flow meant control of the decision making. In 1999, the Post reported, Cheney explained to a conference of presidential historians: “The process of moving paper in and out of the Oval Office, who gets involved in the meetings, who does the president listen to, who gets a chance to talk to him before he makes a decision, is absolutely critical.”

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