Dick Cheney's Shadow Government

By Eric Alterman, The Daily Beast - July 14, 2009

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Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images For centuries, the vice president had no official role, says Eric Alterman, and this weekend's revelations make it clear that Dick Cheney took advantage of that to launch a personal, unaccountable branch of government.

John Adams once called the vice presidency, “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.” FDR’s VP, John Nance Garner, said the job wasn’t “worth a pitcher of warm piss."

It’s quotes like these that make Dick Cheney—who pretty much ran his own separate government from the VP’s office—all the more impressive, not to mention terrifying. For not only was Cheney out of control, he was out of control in a job that had no controls attached to it. No one had ever thought them necessary before.

Give the man credit for creativity. Cheney found even more ways to overturn the Constitution, undermine the separation of powers, and possibly make the U.S. government an accessory to murder many times over.

The New York Times broke half the story in Sunday’s paper as Scott Shane explained that “the Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney.” Congress finally found out eight years after Cheney gave the order, when CIA Director Leon E. Panetta informed the House and Senate intelligence committees upon learning of the program himself.

What was it? The Times—and its copycats—didn’t appear to know; but in a Wall Street Journal followup, Siobhan Gorman informs us “one former senior intelligence official” said the program was an attempt to carry out assassinations against top al Qaeda agents. Another former agent said the situation “was straight out of the movies...It was like: Let's kill them all."

We’ve had an inkling about this program before. As Gorman reports, in September 2001, U.S. officials drafted cables that would have authorized assassinations of individuals if captured during the course of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. While various drafts were proposed and then killed, Bush’s “finding” eventually authorized the murder of some top al Qaeda personnel, should an attempt to capture them prove too risky.

Philosophers and theologians have argued for centuries over the morality of targeted assassinations—a technique that the Israelis use with some frequency—without ever reaching anything approaching consensus. What is beyond argument, however, is that it is illegal for the CIA to carry out such an operation without specifically informing Congress.

According to current law, when a U.S. intelligence agency is involved in a covert action, at least eight members of Congress—the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress and of their intelligence committees—must be informed in order for the program to be legal.

CIA defenders insist compliance with the law is actually a gray area because “this program never went fully operational” as one official put it. And Panetta terminated the program as soon as he learned of it. But given the history of both Cheney and many in the CIA’s contempt for both Congress and the Constitution, it’s entirely possible that we still don’t know the full story.

Remember, Nancy Pelosi insisted the CIA lied to her about waterboarding during autumn of 2002. (Regardless of whether the agency did in fact tell her, it would have happened, according to its own calendar, only after Abu Zubaydah had already been waterboarded 83 times.)

View as Single Page 12 Back to Top July 13, 2009 | 6:48am EmailsEmails |   | print Print Al Qaeda, Dick Cheney, Politics, Iraq  (–) Show Replies Collapse Replies Sort Up Sort Down sort by date: Danbury

I'll believe it when I see it. Democrats are (still) as spineless and pathetic as Republicans are thuggish and criminal. Diane Feinstein frames the issue as though it's an inconvenience, that "it doesn't work if you work outside of the law", as though acting outside the law is a minor matter. Obama wants to "move forward". What I've seen is a resistance to investigating actual serious crimes like torture and lying to start a war, not to mention the criminal negligence by Bush leading up to 9/11, and an eagerness to pretend to care about the law and look busy by trying to impeach a president over a fib about sex that never even occurred. The only thing Bush got right was in saying that the UN and acting like Congress are useless bodies that can be steamrolled right over.

that's why dems always fight our wars in history, while the Repubs. get their rich dad's to arrange a deferment.

Perhaps an unprecedented expansion of V.P. powers requires an unprecedented response. An unprecedented response would be something other than sticking our collective head in the sand. So, we had a rogue band running the big show these past many years. We had Karl Rove, who resigned in disgrace, as part of an "understanding" that the resignation would exempt him from being held accountable for stepping outside the rule of law. - disclosing the name of an active intelligence officer, a guy named "scooter" was handy for the fall guy - firing those who run the prosecution branch of the guv'mint (can I get an Attorney General anyone? can I get another, and another?). Why these are just a few of Karl's fun tricks; there were many more, undisclosed, unprosecute-ables, but we will never know the full extent of his shenanigans. We had Donny Rumsfeld resign for undisclosed reasons, but can safely assume that someone had the goods on him for stepping outside the lines. And now we have Mr. Sneer himself, for whom Congress and the Courts are simply irritations, mere mosquitos to be swatted aside. Laws? Don't make me laugh, laws are for the little people. So, do we ask our leaders to punish these guys? Or do we simply wink, make a little noise, and go about our "bidness as usual"? Afterall, the CIA was set up as an independant entity that answers to no one, whose activities are "off the books", invisible, and one with unlimited funding, and zero, ZERO, oversight, not to mention accountability. I doubt if this, or any other administration will ever prosecute anyone related to this sordid stuff. Afterall, as many fellow bloggers have and will testify, we need our black ops. We need someone to do our dirty work, our wet work, we need a specific entity that is above, behind, underneath, outside of the constraints of little things like laws. Whatever direction is taken by the Obama administration regarding this can of worms, it may turn out to be more important even, than all the money being squandered in lining the pockets of the Goldman boys. The military in Honduras took over their show. What makes us different?

This is total nonsense. During our war for independence, we routinely assassinated British officers when the opportunity presented itself. Throughout recent history both the Russians and Israelis have employed a policy of covert wet work to rid themselves of enemies. Our leaders are morally and legally responsible to protect this country's citizens. Mr. Clinton chose to lob missiles at Bin laden to keep his both his hands and conscience clean, but this unfortunately didn't work as evidenced by 9/11. We should hunt these terrorist down, employ the most skilled practitioners of torture to ply their skills then kill these people in the most public and gruesome manner ,sending a very clear message to our enemies. The program should be as black as possible ,to keep these holier than thou liberal writers out of the loop.

absolutely! and then we can change our country's name to "the taliban states of america". and don't forget to wiretap our citizen's, because even though it's against the constitution, we need to break the law in order to keep it!

"Mr. Clinton chose to lob missiles at Bin laden to keep his both his hands and conscience clean, but this unfortunately didn't work as evidenced by 9/11" How did the Bush administration do with the same task? I believe that Bin Laden is still on the loose the last I checked. The Clinton analogy is a pretty lame one perzb. Sounds purely partisan to me.

perezb - the case for assassinations is a reasonable one - unfortunately this is not about whether they are a good idea. Our leaders do not have a free hand in protecting us, we are a nation of laws. And let's not forget that apparently we've been kept safe without using this program, since it was never operationalized.

I was told of your kind's existence, but did not believe it until now. "We should hunt these terrorist down ... sending a very clear message to our enemies." Really? Why not go to war with every country that doesn't support us in every way? Why stop there, let's preemptively eliminate any individual that dares question our superiority and righteousness? With all due respect to the constitution, what's stopping us? Those pesky laws.

"In other words, Cheney acted very much like an unelected dictator of the kind of banana republic that past U.S. presidents used to enjoy overthrowing" Honduras, Guatemala, Chile, Iran, Cuba, etc. For most of the cold war we used the same shifty covert methods and secrecy that Cheney employed to overthrow democratically elected governments and install the dictators. The sad thing about Cheney's actions is that they represent a return to a particularly shameful part of America's own past, not that they imitate foreign dictators.

Very little is known about this program - how far it went from the conceptual stage to actuality. Alterman, one of the most biased of Daily Beast writers, is certain it was illegal, simply because he hates Cheney. btw I'm sorry it apparently didn't get very far.

Cheney's ruse of "anything to protect America" is just another attempt to line his pockets. It's always about money with these types.

what planet do you write from? All I care about is the basic security of the United States and I am a house painter. I don't care if they killed anyone in gitmo, at least we weren't attacked again.

Cheney should be charged with treason. He committed treason! The 535 must also go. Dump the 535. e quills the vehicle for World Peace.

Assassinations are a defensible tactic. Unfortunately for those that seem eager to defend Cheney, the issue is whether it's legal for the VP to use the tactic without Congressional oversight. It's not. If Cheney did these things, he broke the law. If he didn't, he didn't. I don't understand why so many Republicans, who historically distrust the government and believe in personal accountability, are so eager to trust the government and not hold people accountable.

More Dick Cheneys; fewer liberal whiners. Yeah, that's the ticket.

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