By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 7, 2005 1:21 PM
Vice President Cheney is on a passionate, mostly secret and sometimes lonely campaign to prevent Congress from approving prohibitions against torture -- prohibitions that he insists could encumber American intelligence gathering.
Always a hawk, Cheney nevertheless is widely considered to have undergone a radical transformation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. One of the New Cheney's cardinal rules: No holding back.
Cheney publicly embraced the "dark side" within days after the terrorist attacks. Here he is talking to NBC's Tim Russert on Sept. 16, 2001. The U.S. military has "a broad range of capabilities. And they may well be given missions in connection with this overall task and strategy," Cheney said.
"We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."
Arguments against torture -- along both moral and pragmatic lines, from both Democrats and Republicans, and even from inside the White House -- have not dissuaded the vice president. Indeed, he got some apparent support today from President Bush, who had this exchange with a reporter in Panama. From the transcript :
"Q Mr. President, there has been a bit of an international outcry over reports of secret U.S. prisons in Europe for terrorism suspects. Will you let the Red Cross have access to them? And do you agree with Vice President Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture?
"PRESIDENT BUSH: Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. The executive branch has the obligation to protect the American people; the legislative branch has the obligation to protect the American people. And we are aggressively doing that. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.
"And, therefore, we're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it possible -- more possible to do our job. There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans, and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet, we'll aggressively pursue them. But we will do so under the law. And that's why you're seeing members of my administration go and brief the Congress. We want to work together in this matter. We -- all of us have an obligation, and it's a solemn obligation and a solemn responsibility. And I'm confident that when people see the facts, that they'll recognize that we've -- they've got more work to do, and that we must protect ourselves in a way that is lawful."Stopping Congress
Dana Priest and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "Over the past year, Vice President Cheney has waged an intense and largely unpublicized campaign to stop Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department from imposing more restrictive rules on the handling of terrorist suspects, according to defense, state, intelligence and congressional officials. . . .
"Increasingly, however, Cheney's positions are being opposed by other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism. . . .
"Cheney's camp is a 'shrinking island,' said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House. . . .
"Cheney's camp says the United States does not torture captives, but believes the president needs nearly unfettered power to deal with terrorists to protect Americans. To preserve the president's flexibility, any measure that might impose constraints should be resisted. That is why the administration has recoiled from embracing the language of treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Cheney's aides find vague and open-ended."
Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff write in Newsweek: "Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans were winding up their weekly luncheon in the Capitol when the vice president rose to speak. Staffers were quickly ordered out of the room -- what Cheney had to say was for senators only. Normally taciturn, Cheney was uncharacteristically impassioned, according to two GOP senators who did not want to be on the record about a private meeting. He was very upset over the Senate's overwhelming passage of an amendment that prohibits inhumane treatment of terrorist detainees. Cheney said the law would tie the president's hands and end up costing 'thousands of lives.' He dramatized the point, conjuring up a scenario in which a captured Qaeda operative, another Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, refuses to give his interrogators details about an imminent attack. 'We have to be able to do what is necessary,' the vice president said, according to one of the senators who was present. The lawmakers listened, but they weren't moved to act. Sen. John McCain, who authored the anti-torture amendment, spoke up. 'This is killing us around the world,' he said. The House, which will likely vote on the measure soon, is also expected to pass it by a large margin. . . .
"Congress, mindful of the public's turn against the war, is now openly defying his hard-line policies. Powerful figures -- within the West Wing, at the State Department and Pentagon -- who once deferred to him are now peeling away, worried that Cheney may have gone too far. . . .
"The vice president could be forgiven for retreating to his undisclosed location and waiting out the worst of it. Instead, his response has been pure Cheney. He's not budging. If anything -- as the Senate meeting shows -- the veep has become more convinced that he's right and his opponents are wrong."
And Cheney remains a formidable opponent, Klaidman and Isikoff write. "When Bush began his second term in 2004, a group of top administration officials, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, began a quiet campaign to back off some controversial detention and interrogation methods that were damaging U.S. credibility around the world."
But Cheney and top aide David Addington "used their influence afterward to kill the ideas."More About Torture
Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker that administration policies may preclude the prosecution of CIA agents who commit abuses or even kill detainees.
Mayer writes: "The Bush Administration has resisted disclosing the contents of two Justice Department memos that established a detailed interrogation policy for the Pentagon and the C.I.A. A March, 2003, classified memo was 'breathtaking,' the same source said. The document dismissed virtually all national and international laws regulating the treatment of prisoners, including war-crimes and assault statutes, and it was radical in its view that in wartime the President can fight enemies by whatever means he sees fit. According to the memo, Congress has no constitutional right to interfere with the President in his role as Commander-in-Chief, including making laws that limit the ways in which prisoners may be interrogated. Another classified Justice Department memo, issued in August, 2002, is said to authorize numerous 'enhanced' interrogation techniques for the C.I.A. These two memos sanction such extreme measures that, even if the agency wanted to discipline or prosecute agents who stray beyond its own comfort level, the legal tools to do so may no longer exist. . . .
"For nearly a year, Democratic senators critical of alleged abuses have been demanding to see these memos. 'We need to know what was authorized,' Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, told me. . . . . Levin is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to have an oversight role in relation to the C.I.A. 'The Administration is getting away with just saying no.' "
Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek: "We now have plenty of documents and testimonials that make plain that the administration created an atmosphere in which the interrogation of prisoners could lapse into torture. After 9/11, high up in the administration -- at the White House and the Pentagon -- officials and lawyers were asked to find ways to bend and stretch the traditional rules of war. Donald Rumsfeld publicly declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the war against Al Qaeda. Whether or not these legalisms were correct, their most important effect was the message they sent down the chain of command: 'Push the envelope.' . . .
"[T]oday, what angers friends of America abroad is not that abuses like those at Abu Ghraib happened. Some lapses are probably an inevitable consequence of war, terrorism and insurgencies. What angers them is that no one beyond a few 'little people' have been punished, the system has not been overhauled, and even now, after all that has happened, the White House is spending time, effort and precious political capital in a strange, stubborn and surely futile quest to preserve the option to torture."Cheney and Libby
It was just over a week ago that Scooter Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted in the CIA leak investigation. Is that the end of the story? Or just the beginning?
Here's Sam Donaldson on the "Chris Matthews Show" on NBC:
Matthews: "Sam, isn't the vice president going to get drawn into all the problems again as this trial evolves?
Donaldson: "Well, of course the vice president knew what Lewis Libby was doing with reporters. There's an old expression from the Watergate days: 'Whatever Haldeman knew, Nixon knew.' Meaning, 'strong chief of staff, strong principle.' To think that Dick Cheney had no idea what Lewis Libby was doing is just kind of absurd."
On his CNN show, Howard Kurtz asked Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune:
"KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, reporters are just dying to make this about Cheney, aren't they?
"ZUCKMAN: Well, I mean, you know, that this. . . .
"KURTZ: You could admit it.
"ZUCKMAN: Yes, yes, yes, yes. I mean, people are dying to see how far up it goes. And then a lot of people are wondering, well, why would someone just go off and do these some of these things on their own? I mean, didn't -- isn't there somebody at the top telling them what to do?
"Everybody is trying to find out what really happened. And the problem with this White House is, you know, you don't necessarily know what you are being told, whether it's the truth or not and maybe it's going to take a special prosecutor to let you know."
And here's John Dean writing on Findlaw: "Indeed, when one studies the indictment , and carefully reads the transcript of the press conference , it appears Libby's saga may be only Act Two in a three-act play. And in my view, the person who should be tossing and turning at night, in anticipation of the last act, is the Vice President of the United States, Richard B. Cheney."Bush's Role
Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush was asked four times on Friday about Karl Rove and the C.I.A. leak investigation, and four times he refused to answer."
Here's the transcript of his short press conference Friday in Argentina. Bush also ducked the issue this morning in Panama.
Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "The issue now for the White House is how long it can go on deflecting the inquiries and trying to keep the focus away from Mr. Bush. . . .
"Mr. Bush was not mentioned in the indictment. But the fact that so many of his aides seem to have been involved in dealing with the issue that eventually led to the leak -- how to rebut or discredit Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who had challenged the administration's handling of prewar intelligence -- leaves open the question of what the president knew. . . .
"But the Bush White House has always been good at what one close Republican ally refers to admiringly as 'making their own reality,' meaning that the president and his top aides stick doggedly to their political script and agenda, refusing to be knocked off course. What Democrats consider stubbornness and detachment, Mr. Bush's admirers consider determination, and in this case that trait suggests the White House will be in no rush to acknowledge mistakes or to offer detailed explanations that might swamp the president's second-term plans."
Blogger Brad Friedman , writing on Huffingtonpost.com, takes issues with Stevenson's assertion that "there has been no suggestion that Mr. Bush did anything wrong."
Friedman writes: "Okay, then. Let me be the first (as far as Stevenson is apparently concerned) to both 'suggest' and 'hint' that not only did Bush do something wrong, he was also both 'involved' and 'aware' of it."
And here's another exchange from Sunday's "Chris Matthews Show," this one with Newsweek's Howard Fineman:
Matthews: "Was he in the loop, the president? Did he know they're going to basically out this woman, this undercover agent, or otherwise deal with this challenge from Joe Wilson or was he sitting around watching them all do it?
Fineman: "I think he's in the loop the way Tony Soprano is in the loop at the Bada Bing. I mean. . . . "
Matthews: "For those of us without HBO, what does that mean?"
Fineman: "He's the godfather. The godfather doesn't know all the details."Ethics Training
It's the first formal sign of any acknowledgment from inside the White House that maybe somebody did something wrong in the CIA leak case.
Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe.
"According to a memo sent to aides yesterday, Bush expects all White House staff to adhere to the 'spirit as well as the letter' of all ethics laws and rules. As a result, 'the White House counsel's office will conduct a series of presentations next week that will provide refresher lectures on general ethics rules, including the rules of governing the protection of classified information,' according to the memo, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post by a senior White House aide."Karl Rove Watch
Howard Fineman writes in Newsweek: "Beyond the Beltway, voters fret about tangible matters: the war in Iraq, the direction of the economy, the price of a tank of gasoline or heating oil. In the capital, however, the obsession is the Karl Question. If Bush is to rebuild his battered presidency, it is hard to see him doing it without the man he calls 'Boy Genius.' But even if Rove is never indicted, he has some explaining to do. White House aides predict that Rove will talk when the probe is completed. 'There's no one more willing to do that than Karl,' said one aide who requested anonymity because Rove is still in power."
Mike Allen writes in Time: "He's weary. His wife and only child, who is approaching college, miss him. He has monstrous legal bills. His unique bond with the President is under stress. His most important work is done.
"Karl Rove's colleagues don't know exactly when it will happen, but they are already laying out the reasons they will give for the departure of the man President George W. Bush dubbed the architect. A Roveless Bush seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. But that has changed as the President's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff remains embroiled in the CIA leak scandal."
Allen adds: "If he leaves, he will not be alone. Several well-wired Administration officials predict that within a year, the President will have a new chief of staff and press secretary, probably a new Treasury Secretary and maybe a new Defense Secretary."
David Gregory, appearing on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert , said White House officials "told me this week, 'Look, the president knows that as long as Karl Rove is there, the president can't speak out. He can't lift the cloud of this leak investigation.' And at some point, the president has to account for his top officials who were involved in this matter whether they committed a crime or not because it may well have been conduct that he wouldn't normally countenance in his White House."
Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger write in the Los Angeles Times that even though Rove "is under federal investigation for his role in the exposure of a covert CIA officer, the longtime advisor to President Bush continues to enjoy full access to government secrets.
"That is drawing the attention of intelligence experts and prominent conservatives as a debate brews over whether Rove should retain his top-secret clearance and remain in his post as White House deputy chief of staff -- even as Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald mulls over whether to charge him with a crime in connection with the operative's exposure."Pardon Watch
Mike Allen and Michael Duffy write in Time: "Although I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby pleaded not guilty in the CIA leak scandal last week -- and brought on a legal team that specializes in winning high-profile public-integrity cases -- the talk in Washington is already whether George W. Bush might pardon the Vice President's former chief of staff if he is convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice or other charges. Republicans involved in the case say the scenario most conducive to a pardon would be a guilty plea by Libby to head off a messy trial in which Dick Cheney's testimony might be sought."Live Online
I'll be Live Online Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET, happily responding to your questions and comments.Intel Watch
Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "A high Qaeda official in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document. . . .
"Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as 'credible' evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.
"Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that 'we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.' "
Walter Pincus has more in The Washington Post.Impeachment Poll
Back in June, Zogby asked Americans if they agreed or disagreed with the following question:
"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."
An astonishing 42 percent of Americans agreed. (I wrote about that in my July 6 column .)
Since then, no news organizations has expressed any curiosity, and no polling company has decided to ask the question on its own.
But afterdowningstreet.org , a group urging Congress to launch a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war, keeps asking.
In October, they commissioned Ipsos Public Affairs to ask a similar question. That poll found that 50 percent of Americans agreed.
Now, a new Zogby poll commissioned by the group finds that a clear majority -- 53 percent of Americans -- agree with the statement.Damn the Torpedoes
Kenneth T. Walsh writes in U.S. News: "Far from being chastened by recent setbacks, including the indictment of his chief of staff, Vice President Dick Cheney is thumbing his nose at his critics -- and encouraging President Bush to do the same. . . .
"Cheney is described by White House insiders as combative and eager to rally the GOP faithful. As part of that effort, he will continue to ride the Republican fundraising circuit in advance of next year's midterm elections, as he did last Friday, headlining events in Cincinnati and Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
"Behind the scenes, Cheney is feeding Bush's instinct never to give ground when under attack, White House advisers say, despite rising concern among Republicans that the president doesn't realize the depth of his political trouble."