Monday, June 25, 2007

"I've Never Stood That Close to Evil!"

That's how Lewis Black describes his meeting with Dick Cheney, whom everybody knows is powerful, but nobody (until now) really knew how or why.

Thanks to some excellent work by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, we finally get a chance to find out.

(Ignore the boilerplate about "not really being the shadow president"; it was clearly an editorial insertion. Go see Digby and Laura Rozen for more on that. He's not the shadow president, he's pretty much everything else.

Here's two bits that are indicative of just how the "Bush" administration really operates. First, one on how nothing Cheney says or does is transparent:

Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."
A document from the Office of the Vice President is stamped "Treated as Secret/SCI" More Cheney photos...

Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down.
Interesting, that "treated as" stuff. I imagine only somebody whose pets infest half of the senior staff in Washington would possibly be able to get away with it. Since that is exactly who Cheney is, though, it looks like it works.

And that leads into the second bit, which has a direct impact on the things going on right now. Remember that Gonzalez "Geneva is quaint" memo? It was written under his name but, well... it wasn't his.

Powell asked for a meeting with Bush. The same day, Jan. 25, 2002, Cheney's office struck a preemptive blow. It appeared to come from Gonzales, a longtime Bush confidant whom the president nicknamed "Fredo." Hours after Powell made his request, Gonzales signed his name to a memo that anticipated and undermined the State Department's talking points. The true author has long been a subject of speculation, for reasons including its unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that is not a Gonzales hallmark.

A White House lawyer with direct knowledge said Cheney's lawyer, Addington, wrote the memo. Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, and Gonzales sent it as "my judgment" to Bush [Read the memo]. If Bush consulted Cheney after that, the vice president became a sounding board for advice he originated himself.

Addington, under Gonzales's name, appealed to the president by quoting Bush's own declaration that "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war." Addington described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," casting Powell as a defender of "obsolete" rules devised for another time. If Bush followed Powell's lead, Addington suggested, U.S. forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists.

According to David Bowker, a State Department lawyer, Powell did not in fact argue that al-Qaeda and Taliban forces deserved the privileges of prisoners of war. Powell said Geneva rules entitled each detainee to a status review, but he predicted that few, if any, would qualify as POWs, because they did not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. "We said, 'If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you're going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you,'" Bowker said.

Late that afternoon, as the "Gonzales memo" began to circulate around the government, Addington turned to Flanigan.

"It'll leak in 10 minutes," he predicted, according to a witness.
Shortly thereafter, Powell came under intense fire for "coddling terrorists", and Gonzalez is still saddled with responsibility for a memo that he didn't even write. Sure, he's still responsible for it, that's his job, but had the American people known that it was actually written by Dick Cheney's lawyer, the whole situation would have made one hell of a lot more sense.

It would have illustrated something that we've all suspected: that almost everything that is terrible, immoral, unethical and counterproductive about the Bush White House and this current administration traces back to Dick Friggin' Cheney. He's the reason why America's foreign standing is nil, why Iraq is a disaster, why Bush's domestic policy has been a dismal failure, and why most Americans believe that their country is "on the wrong track".

We've never stood this close to evil.

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