I have just finished a book by John Grisham entitled The Broker, published in 2005. “The Broker” in question is not a real estate or stock-broker, but rather one of an ilk that when I was a boy many years ago was called an “influence peddler.” They now go by the more polite name of “lobbyist.” Anyway, this larger-than-life Jack Abramoff-type had been caught dabbling in some very highly sensitive security-stuff (which Abramoff himself was apparently smart enough never to have done). The plot revolves around the determination of the CIA to have him dead, for a variety of reasons. They have two problems. A) he is in Federal prison and B) US government agencies cannot, under the law, just go around murdering US citizens. And so, the CIA arranges to have him paroled by a neer-do-well outgoing President and then ships him off to Italy where, they hope, one of several nations interested in achieving the same end will find him and do the job themselves.
The story is told with Grisham’s usual panache, but if he were to try to write it today he could not use the same plot. For, as is now well-known, the US can, and does, go around murdering (or executing or assassinating [from the Arab word for political murder]) US citizens that it has in its sights. And it does this without the benefit of physical capture, indictment, trial, or what-have-you, as prescribed under the fourth and sixth Amendments to the Constitution. The death of Mr. Anwar el-Awlaki at the hands of a US drone aircraft in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011 is just one piece of evidence that what might be called “Cheneyism” has triumphed over traditional constitutional democracy in our nation.
Dick Cheney, self-nominated for the position and accepted, apparently without question, for it, was easily the most powerful Vice-President the U.S. has ever had. His hand, either openly with is name on it, or covertly without, was on virtually every major foreign and domestic policy decision made during the Presidency of George W. Bush. And many of them, in one way or another, continue to be followed under the presidency of Barack Obama. But the essence of cheneyism is its assault on U. S. Constitutional government. Let us count the ways.
1. The famous “Energy Task Force.” Despite his claim in his recent memoir that one of the reason he was writing it was he wanted “to be clear” and “to set the record straight,” he did not discuss its deliberations and to this day its minutes, official government papers though they may be, have remained secret. Thus we can only guess what was decided but surely the agenda included: as much de-regulation of the extractive industries as possible; as much expansion of domestic oil drilling as possible; a total shut-down of research on energy alternatives; and perhaps a guarantee that war would be declared on Iraq with the objective of getting hold of its oil reserves. Then there is the unconstitutional bit that has followed Cheney’s departure from office: the claim that the Vice-Presidency is not part of the executive branch and therefore his papers are not subject to public disclosure. That Article II of the Constitution, on the executive branch, is the one that describes the office, to the extent it is described, is apparently of no consequence. That it is mentioned in passing in article I, to Cheney is.
2. The declaration of full-fledged war on Iraq without engaging in the bothersome step of securing it from the Congress is major element of cheneyism. There is no way that this could be fit under the Presidential War Powers Act, as the Republicans never failed to point out about Clinton’s actions in the former Yugoslavia (which happened to have been carried with no “boots on the ground” and no US casualties, but was still of dubious constitutionality. Of course there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which the Bush Regime knew full well because the UN WMD inspector on the ground, Hans Blix, told them so, over and over again. But Presidential/Vice-Presidential lying, done over and over again, by both Democrats and Republicans, is not unconstitutional.)
3. And then there is the whole use-of-torture thing. Cheney set up the policy, despite the fact that virtually every intelligence-gathering expert says that it is useless for gathering intelligence from operatives with any training to resist it (1, 2). That means nothing to Cheney who, perhaps influenced by the earlier iterations of “24,” has always insisted that it is effective, and on his recent victory lap for his book continued to do so. It does have many other uses for which it is known to be effective (3). However, both points are irrelevant to the matter of its unconstitutionality. Torture is prohibited by both the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention against Torture, both treaties signed and ratified by the United States. Under Article VI of the Constitution “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land. . .” Thus the use of torture, no matter what contortions Cheney and his henchmen, Woo, Bybee, and Addington, went through to try to redefine what Cheney had authorized, is a violation of the Constitution.
4. Finally, since Guantanamo is functionally part of the United States (no US government would ever claim that it is part of Cuba), the whole operation there, for persons not prisoners of war (and since the US never declared war, they couldn’t be) violates the fourth and sixth Amendments.
There are of course many governmental policies of Cheney that stay with us, for example: the creation of permanent war; the creation of what can be called the Resource-Based Economy (the increasing reliance on the discovery, use and export of fossil fuels for fueling capitalist profits); the creation of the Patriot Act which, on paper at least, justifies the creation of a total authoritarian state; and refining and expanding the use of the big lie technique, which now underlies all of GOTP policy and politics. A number of these governmental policies remain very much alive, in one form or another, under the current administration. But the principal legacy of cheneyism is to make a reality of George W. Bush’s claim that the Constitution is “nothing but a piece of paper.” To the extent that the Obama Administration follows them, it is saying the same thing.
. Jonas, S. “A Torturous Debate,” http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/jonas/081
. Jonas, S. “The Torturous Debate, Revisited,” http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/12725
. Jonas, S. “Why Torture?” http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/jonas/082
. Jonas, S. “Why ‘It Doesn’t Work’ Doesn’t Work,” http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/156
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.
Previously published Nov. 3, 2011 on Buzzflash.