by Andrew Sullivan / The Daily Dish – The Atlantic / Dec. 21, 2008
One thing you have to concede to Dick Cheney. He says what he thinks. And so we get this:
WALLACE: This is at the core of the controversies that I want to get to with you in a moment. If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?
CHENEY: General proposition, I’d say yes. You need to be more specific than that. I mean — but clearly, when you take the oath of office on January 20th of 2001, as we did, you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The irony seems lost on him. How can the suspension of all laws into the power of the executive branch in wartime be seen as a defense or protection of the Constitution? Perhaps for a brief amount of time in a dire emergency, after which there would be a thorough accounting to the Congress and the Courts. But indefinitely? As inherent in the office? And with jurisdiction over the entire United States as well as the world? With “enemy combatants” defined as anyone the president calls an “enemy combatant” and no distinction between citizen and non-citizen? Including the right to torture? Indefinitely?
What Cheney has advanced is that the president has the right to dissolve the constitution permanently. That he has the right to commit war crimes with impunity. That there is no legal authority to which he is ever required to pay deference in a war that is his and his alone to declare and end. Now when you consider that, in Cheney’s view, these war-powers are limitless, and that war is declared not by the Congress but by the president, and can be defined against a broad, amorphous enemy such as “terrorism”, and never end, you begin to see what a dangerous man he is, and how much danger we have all been in since he seized control of the government seven years ago.
And Cheney’s colorful explanation of this theory is also extremely revealing:
The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.
He could launch a kind of devastating attack the world’s never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.
What Cheney is saying is that if the president of the United States has the power to destroy all civilization alone, he has the power to do anything up to and including that. Chris Wallace asks the right questions, but it is very telling that he didn’t ask about torture. I presume that was agreed by Fox and Cheney in advance. I can see no other reason for the lacuna.
But what we know with real clarity is the following: the vice-president long ago became an enemy to the Constitution and to all it represents. He should have been impeached long ago; and the shamelessness of his exit makes prosecution all the more vital. If we let this would-be dictator do what he has done to the constitution and get away with it, the damage to the American idea is deep and permanent.
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)