Piecing together the story of the weapons that weren't there
Associated Press Special Correspondent
Beneath the giant dome of a Baghdad palace, facing his team of scientists and engineers, George Tenet sounded more like a football coach than a spymaster, a coach who didn't know the game was over.
"Are we 85 percent done?" the CIA boss demanded. The arms hunters knew what he wanted to hear. "No!" they shouted back. "Let me hear it again!" They shouted again.
The weapons are out there, Tenet insisted. Go find them.
Veteran inspector Rod Barton couldn't believe his ears. "It was nonsense," the Australian biologist said of that February evening last year, when the then-chief of U.S. intelligence secretly flew to Baghdad and dropped in on the lakeside Perfume Palace, chandelier-hung home of the Iraq Survey Group.
"It wasn't that we didn't know the major answers," recalled Barton, whose account matched that of another key participant. "Are there WMD in the country? We knew the answers."
In fact, David Kay, quitting as chief of the U.S. hunt for WMD, or weapons of mass destruction, had just delivered the answer to the world. The inspectors were 85 percent finished, Kay said, concluding: "The weapons do not exist."
The story of the weapons that weren't there, the prelude to war, was over, but a long post-mortem is still unfolding - of lingering questions in Washington, of revelations from investigations, leaks, first-person accounts. Some 52 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration deliberately misled them about the presence of banned arms in Iraq, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in June.
Hans Blix, U.N. inspector, says Washington's "virtual reality" about Iraq eventually collided with "our old-fashioned ordinary reality." Now, drawing from findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other official investigations, from U.N., U.S., Iraqi and British documents, from Associated Press interviews and on-scene reporting, from books by Blix and others, it's possible to reconstruct much of the "ordinary reality" of this extraordinary story, one that has changed the course of history.
The story could begin behind the creamy stone walls of another palace, the hilltop Hashemiyah outside Amman, Jordan, where in August 1995 a prize Iraqi defector was pouring out for interrogators whatever they wanted to know about Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction.
Hussein Kamel, son-in-law of President Saddam Hussein, had headed Iraq's advanced arms programs during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, when Baghdad's Baathist regime unleashed chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Iraqi civilians in rebellious Kurdish areas.
What the U.N., American and other debriefers learned from Kamel led to headline-making successes for U.N. inspectors as they tracked down banned arms-making gear inside Iraq.
But an interrogation transcript shows he told them something else as well, something they questioned and kept to themselves: All Iraqi WMD were destroyed in 1991.
The defector Hussein Kamel, soon to be killed by fellow clansmen as a traitor, was telling the truth.
The U.N. experts had entered Iraq in 1991, after U.S.-led forces drove Iraq's invasion army from Kuwait in a lightning war, and the U.N. Security Council required the defeated nation to submit to inspections and destruction of its unconventional arms.
The inspectors withdrew in late 1998, in a dispute over access to sites. By then, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) teams could report that Iraq's nuclear program, which never built a bomb, had been dismantled. As for chemical and biological weapons, only scattered questions remained about possible hidden stockpiles.
In fact, as President George W. Bush took office 25 months later, the CIA was reporting, "We do not have any direct evidence" Baghdad was rebuilding its WMD programs.
But Baghdad was on Bush's mind.
The new president quickly called an inner Cabinet meeting to discuss Iraq as a destabilizing force in the Mideast, ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recalls in the book "The Price of Loyalty." Tenet unrolled a grainy satellite photo of an Iraqi factory, suggested it was making banned weapons, but said his CIA didn't really know, O'Neill said.
Washington and Baghdad had glowered at each other throughout Bill Clinton's presidency, but for a decade it was largely a cold war. Now Bush was ending this White House meeting by ordering Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to study possible military action, O'Neill said. Soon U.S. policymakers began hearing more about Iraq.
In April 2001, Pentagon intelligence said [PDF page 218, Footnote 55] satellites spotted construction at old nuclear sites. Was Iraq resuming bomb research? That same month a CIA report [PDF page 98] told of another "indicator": Iraq was shopping for thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes, said to be useful as cores of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the stuff of atom bombs.
Then a shipment of the tubes was intercepted in neighboring Jordan, news that annoyed Baghdad's military industry chief. Abdel Tawab Huweish needed those tubes - 3 feet long, 3 inches wide - to make standard artillery rockets. He now ordered another metal be found, one that wouldn't arouse U.S. suspicions, Huweish later told U.S. arms investigators. [PDF page 161]
On April 11, 2001, a day after the classified CIA report was distributed, the Energy Department filed a swift dissent. [PDF page 215, footnote 32] Energy, home of U.S. centrifuge specialists, said the tubes' dimensions weren't well-suited for centrifuges, and were more likely meant for conventional weapons. The U.N. nuclear agency, the Vienna-based IAEA, told U.S. officials the same. [PDF page 72]
Evidence now shows Iraq in 2001 had little interest in nuclear "reconstitution." In one captured document [PDF page 148] from that May, Iraqi diplomats in Kenya reported to Baghdad that a Ugandan businessman had offered uranium for sale, but they turned him away, saying U.N. sanctions forbade it.
Meanwhile, other supposed WMD "indicators" were surfacing.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for months had been receiving reports [PDF page 99] from German intelligence about an Iraqi defector, code-named "Curveball," who claimed to have worked on a project to build concealed bioweapons labs atop truck trailers.
Around this time, in June 2001, the trailers that U.S. officials later thought confirmed his account were ordered built at the al-Kindi factory in northern Iraq, inspectors would learn. Contract No. 73/MD/RG/2001 [PDF page 212] called not for secret weapons labs, however, but for two trailer units to make hydrogen for weather balloons. By this time, too, U.S. intelligence had been had been informed [PDF page 107] that Curveball was a possible alcoholic and "out of control."
The tubes tale, Curveball's account and other questionable stories about Iraqi WMD would survive for two more years, in presidential speeches and newspaper headlines, on the road to war.
For now, in the summer of 2001, Iraq was back-page news. But Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, assured an interviewer, "Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen." By summer's end, in the traumatic aftermath of Sept. 11's terror, he was in the crosshairs.
On the day after Sept. 11, the talk in the White House Situation Room was of "getting Iraq," says former White House antiterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke. Clarke's memoir says an insistent Bush ordered him to look for "any shred" to tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks - even though U.S. agencies knew al-Qaida was responsible and Iraq wasn't linked to the terror group.
The immediate target was Afghanistan, however, invaded by U.S. forces in October 2001, and as 2002 began, the WMD case also remained unimpressive. In his annual unclassified review, Tenet didn't even cite evidence of an imminent Iraqi nuclear threat. But Vice President Dick Cheney apparently thought he'd found such evidence, in a DIA report. [PDF page 37]
It told of a deal in 2000 in which Iraq bought 500 tons of uranium concentrate from Niger in central Africa. The information came from Italian intelligence, based on what it said was an official Nigerien document. Because of Cheney's interest, the CIA dispatched a seasoned Africa hand, ex-diplomat Joseph Wilson, to Niger to check it out.
After dozens of interviews, Wilson reported back that the story appeared unfounded. The State Department's intelligence bureau also deemed it implausible. [PDF page 46] In addition, the text of the supposed Niger document [PDF pages 213-214, footnote 214], transcribed for the Americans by the Italians, contained misspellings and mistaken titles for people that should have been easily detectable.
It was a forgery. But "Niger uranium" had won a place in the case against Iraq.
In Iraq itself, the government was far from resurrecting a bomb program: In April 2002 workers in the western desert were busy smelting down the last gear from a long-defunct uranium-enrichment project, U.S. inspectors later learned. [PDF page 184]
Around this time, U.S. satellite reconnaissance was doubled over suspected Iraqi WMD sites, and analysts soon reported stepped-up activity, suggesting renewed production, at possible chemical weapons factories. What they apparently didn't realize [PDF page 183], however, was that activity was being photographed more frequently - not that there necessarily was more activity.
The White House, meanwhile, worked on a political plan.
Leaked British documents show that Prime Minister Tony Blair told Bush at his Texas ranch in April 2002 that London would support military action to oust Saddam. But the British set conditions: Washington should seek re-entry of U.N. inspectors - which Saddam was expected to refuse - and then Security Council authorization for war.
Blair's Cabinet fretted. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in the secret minutes of a July 2002 meeting observed that the case for war was "thin" but Bush had made up his mind. Intelligence chief Richard Dearlove, fresh from high-level Washington talks, also told the 10 Downing St. session that war was now inevitable, and said U.S. intelligence was being "fixed" around this policy.
Blair and U.S. officials now deny war was predetermined and intelligence "fixed" to that end. From midsummer 2002 on, however, the Bush administration sharply stepped up its anti-Iraq rhetoric, along with U.S. air attacks on Iraqi defenses, done under cover of patrols over the "no-fly zones," swaths of Iraqi airspace denied to Iraqi aircraft. It also stepped up its citing of questionable intelligence.
As early as July 29, Rumsfeld spoke publicly of reports of Iraqi bioweapons labs "on wheels in a trailer" that can "make a lot of bad stuff."
A second Iraqi exile source had echoed Curveball's talk of such trailers. He was judged a fabricator by the CIA [PDF pages 100-101] in early 2002, but by July his statements were back in classified U.S. reports. As for Curveball, whose veracity was never checked by the DIA, within three months his German handlers would be telling the CIA [PDF page 95] he was unreliable, a "waste of time."
As the summer wore on, Cheney struck an urgent, unequivocal tone in public.
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," the vice president told veterans assembled at an Opryland hotel in Nashville.
In an unusual move, Cheney shuttled to the CIA through mid-2002 to visit analysts - 10 times, according to Patricia Wald, a member of the presidential investigative commission headed by Judge Laurence Silberman and ex-U.S. Sen. Charles Robb. The commission concluded [PDF page 27] the analyists "worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."
That conventional wisdom took on more urgency on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, when the lead article in The New York Times, citing unnamed administration officials, said Iraq "has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb."
The "tubes" story had been resurrected. Condoleezza Rice went on the TV talk circuit that morning saying the tubes were suited only for uranium centrifuges. Four days later in New York, President Bush was at the marble podium of the U.N. General Assembly, demanding the world body take action on Iraq or become "irrelevant." He, too, cited the aluminum tubes - proof of danger.
But neither the Times story nor administration officials hinted at the background debate over whether the tubes, in reality, were meant for Huweish's rockets. In fact, a CIA officer recently suggested [PDF page 84] tracking down dimensions of an Italian rocket on which the Iraqi design was based, to compare them with the tubes. His idea was rejected.
As U.S. officials built up the threat, Saddam handed them a surprise: Iraq would allow Hans Blix's U.N. inspectors back unconditionally.
Bush promptly labeled the Sept. 16 announcement a "ploy." But Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, told the General Assembly his country was "totally clear'' of banned arms.
Democratic senators, wary as war momentum built in Washington, demanded a comprehensive intelligence report on Iraq. The CIA and other agencies patched together a classified National Intelligence Estimate, made available to lawmakers in early October.
Its unclassified version, a 25-page White Paper, was packed with "probablys," "mays" and "coulds," uncertainties that somehow led to certainties: "Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction programs," and "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons."
It would eventually emerge that the DIA, a month before the White Paper, had reported there was "no reliable information" on Iraqi chemical weapons production, and it didn't know the nature, amounts or condition of any biological weapons.
Across the Atlantic, Blair's government issued an assessment like the U.S. estimate, with conclusions unsupported by evidence.
"We were told there was other intelligence that we, the experts, could not see," senior British analyst Brian Jones has since said. It later became clear such intelligence never existed, Jones said.
The Australian biologist Barton, a 1990s weapons inspector who by 2002 was a top Blix aide, was amazed at the British report's unexplained claim that Iraq could "deploy" chemical or biological weapons "within 45 minutes" - a claim soon picked up by Bush in a radio address.
Over an Irish-pub dinner in New York, Barton asked old friend David Kelly, a British bioweapons specialist, how he could have allowed something "so silly" in the report. "He just shook his head and said something like, `People put in what they want to put in,'" Barton recalled.
Months later Kelly would commit suicide, caught in a political furor as a source for news reports that the WMD dossier was ``sexed up.''
The 93-page classified U.S. report had more qualifiers than the White Paper. But Wald says her commission learned that only 17 Congress members read the lengthier estimate. On Oct. 10-11, the two houses voted overwhelmingly to authorize Bush to use military force against Iraq.
Then the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Nov. 8 to send Blix's inspectors to Iraq with expanded powers. It denied Washington "trigger" authority, however, to attack if the Americans deemed Iraq in violation of the resolution.
But Blix knew U.S. leaders were impatient. Meeting with Cheney at the White House, he writes, he was told inspections could not go on forever, and Washington "was ready to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament" - that is, forcible disarmament.
On Nov. 27, 2002, the U.N. teams returned to Iraq. Springing surprise inspections across the countryside, the experts soon were debunking U.S. claims. At the Fallujah II chemical plant, for example, caught in a satellite's camera lens in the October U.S. estimate, they found the production line long broken-down.
By December, Saddam was informing senior generals [PDF page 94] in secret meetings that Iraq truly had no chemical or biological arms, U.S. investigators later learned. Baghdad's troops would have to fight without them.
Back in Washington, WMD "indicators" were being further undercut. "The Administration will ultimately look foolish - i.e. the tubes and Niger!" an Energy Department analyst told a colleague in an e-mail [PDF page 70] later uncovered by Senate investigators.
Preparing for Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, and sensing the weakness, Rice's national security staff asked the CIA for more. [PDF page 94] It responded with the report of a Niger uranium sale.
That story had grown still more dubious since Wilson's Niger visit 11 months earlier.
In October 2002, the State Department had obtained [PDF page 93] a copy of the original "Niger document." Its analysts told sister agencies they suspected forgery, and in mid-January alerted all that it "probably is a hoax." [PDF page 72] In October, too, Tenet had warned Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, against using the alleged uranium sale in a Bush speech.
This time, however, Hadley accepted [PDF page 510] the uranium nugget - though attributed to the British - to bolster the State of the Union speech.
The tubes story also had slipped deeper into murkiness. State Department intelligence was siding [PDF page 73] with Energy in viewing them as likely rocket casings. The CIA arranged for centrifuge-like testing of the tubes [PDF page 86] in January, and they seemed to fail, only to supposedly pass after a "correction" was made.
On Jan. 28, 2003, with the world listening, Bush delivered his annual address.
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," he said. "Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
He also claimed Iraq had mobile bioweapons labs, but this story of Curveball's would fall further apart in the coming days.
On Feb. 3, 2003, word went up the CIA ladder [PDF page 119] that this Iraqi informant's German handlers "cannot vouch for the validity of the information." The next day, Senate investigators found, [PDF page 259] a CIA superior e-mailed a worried analyst that "this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say."
The timing was critical - the eve of a pivotal presentation by Colin Powell.
That next morning, at the U.N. Security Council's horseshoe table, with CIA chief Tenet behind him, the secretary of state delivered an 80-minute indictment of Iraq, complete with aluminum tubes, up to "500 tons of chemical weapons agent," and artist's conceptions of Curveball's questionable "mobile labs."
Powell's sources went unidentified, tapes of intercepted conversation were cryptic, claims made about satellite photos were uncorroborated.
It turned out [PDF page 434] the State Department's own analysts had warned, futilely, against saying vehicles in spy photos were chemical "decontamination trucks," since they might be simple water trucks. And a senior CIA officer has told investigators [PDF page 120] he raised the Curveball concerns with Tenet the night before the speech, something Tenet denies.
After watching the performance on CNN in Baghdad, Amer al-Saadi, Iraqi liaison for the inspections, lamented that "the fiction goes on. It goes on and on."
But Powell's sober authority worked in America, where support for tough action soared.
On the ground in Iraq, meanwhile, Blix's inspectors grew frustrated at the Iraqis' failure to explain leftover discrepancies from the 1990s. The chief inspector emphasized, however, that "unaccounted for" didn't necessarily mean weapons existed.
In one example, former Iraqi bioweapons specialists would eventually tell U.S. arms hunters [PDF page 195] they never documented destruction of one batch of their anthrax in 1991 because it was dumped near a Saddam palace. They feared the dictator's wrath.
By January 2003, the experts from Blix's U.N. commission and Mohamed ElBaradei's IAEA had inspected 13 major "facilities of concern" from the previous fall's U.S. and British reports, many repeatedly, and found no signs of weapons-making. The IAEA publicly exposed [PDF page 94] the Niger document as a forgery, and found the aluminum tubes poor candidates for centrifuges. Checking supposed sites for manufacturing mobile labs, Blix's teams debunked [PDF page 235] Curveball's tale at the Iraq end.
Washington was unmoved. Administration loyalists dismissed the "so-called inspections." In late February 2003, a Powell aide sternly told Blix nothing would suffice short of Iraq's unveiling its "secret hide sites." Most significantly, Bush ordered no reassessment of his government's collapsing claims.
Blix told the Security Council he could complete the work within months. The White House wasn't interested. "More time, more inspectors, more process, in our judgment, is not going to affect the peace of the world," Bush told reporters on March 6, as the Pentagon counted down toward war.
Cheney at one point even told a TV audience - without challenge from the host - that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. Of ElBaradei, whose IAEA refuted the claims about uranium and tubes, Cheney said, "I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong." But the CIA had already accepted [PDF page 80] ElBaradei's judgment on the Niger uranium document.
On March 17, in New York, U.S. diplomats gave up trying to win Security Council backing for war. That evening, on television, Bush told the American people there was "no doubt" that Iraq had "some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
The bombing began two days later, and as U.S. troops swept up the Tigris and Euphrates plain to easy victory, they searched for the WMD. "We know where they are," Rumsfeld claimed on March 30. But despite a flurry of false "finds" by eager troops, they weren't there.
Finally, on April 19, U.S. weapons hunters celebrated: An equipment-packed truck trailer had been seized in northern Iraq.
Just before the war, al-Kindi company technicians had tested the unit [PDF page 226] and it worked, its tubes spewing hydrogen for weather balloons. They could finally deliver on the 2001 contract. To empty-handed U.S. analysts, however, the vehicle and a second trailer looked like the artist's conception of Curveball's mobile labs, ready to concoct killer germs.
The White House embraced this illusion. "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories," President Bush assured Polish television on May 29. By then, however, experts had tested a trailer [PDF page 224] and found no trace of pathogens or toxins.
"They have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about," spokesman Ari Fleischer said on April 10. But soon the Washington line shifted to claims that Iraq had not weapons, but WMD "programs" - also untrue, inspectors later certified. Then the war was framed as one to democratize Iraq.
Through 2003, Iraqis watched their land slip into a chaos of looting, terror bombings and anti-American insurgency. "A country was destroyed because of weapons that don't exist!" Baghdad University's president, Nihad Mohammed al-Rawi, despaired to an AP reporter.
Month by month, David Kay and his 1,500-member Iraq Survey Group labored over documents, visited sites, interrogated detained scientists and came to recognize reality. But when he wanted to report it, Kay ran into roadblocks in Washington.
"There was an absolutely closed mind," Kay tells the AP. "They would not look at alternative explanations in these cases," specifically the aluminum tubes and bioweapons trailers.
In December 2003, Kay flew back to Washington and met with George Tenet and CIA deputy John McLaughlin. "I couldn't budge John, and so I couldn't budge George," he says. Kay resigned, telling the U.S. Congress there had been no WMD threat.
Ex-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, speaking for Tenet, points out that Kay himself, in Senate testimony at the time, said the tubes remained an "open question," although it was "more than probable" they were rocket casings.
The Bush administration then sent Charles Duelfer - like Kay a senior U.N. inspector from the 1990s - to take over the arms hunt. He arrived in time for Tenet's secret visit and palace pep talk on Feb. 12, 2004, but like Kay before him, Duelfer could find no sign of WMD.
Still, the pressure continued. Barton, recruited as a Duelfer adviser, told AP the American chief inspector received an e-mail that March from John Scarlett, head of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee, urging that nine "nuggets," past allegations, be dropped back into an upcoming interim report by Duelfer's group.
Those "sexy bits," as the Australian called them, are believed to have included, for example, baseless speculation that Iraq worked to weaponize smallpox. Duelfer called the nuggets "fool's gold" and left them out.
Asked about this, the British Foreign Office said Scarlett contacted Iraq Survey Group leaders as part of his job, but that the report's content was Duelfer's responsibility alone.
Barton said CIA officers in the Iraq Survey Group insisted its reporting should not discredit the mobile-labs story "because that contradicts what Tenet has said." They also wanted the report to suggest the tubes might have been for centrifuges, even though Duelfer's experts concluded otherwise.
Duelfer's interim testimony to Congress in March 2004 said nothing about mobile labs and said the tubes remained under study.
As late as Sept. 30 last year, in an election debate, President Bush stuck to his views.
"Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming," Bush maintained.
A week before, Duelfer had conveyed his 1,000-page final report to the CIA, saying Saddam had disarmed 13 years earlier.
Labels: Lies about WMD
Senate subpoenas White House, Cheney's office
WASHINGTON — The Senate subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's office Wednesday, demanding documents and elevating the confrontation with President Bush over the administration's warrant-free eavesdropping on Americans.
Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee is summoning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to discuss the program and an array of other matters that have cost a half-dozen top Justice Department officials their jobs, committee chairman Patrick Leahy announced.
Leahy, D-Vt., raised questions about previous testimony by one of Bush's appeals court nominees and said he wouldn't let such matters pass.
"If there have been lies told to us, we'll refer it to the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney for whatever legal action they think is appropriate," Leahy told reporters. He did just that Wednesday, referring questions about testimony by former White House aide Brett Kavanaugh, who now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The escalation is part of the Democrats' effort to hold the administration to account for the way it has conducted the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The subpoenas extend the investigation into the private sector, demanding among other things documents on any agreements that telecommunications companies made to cooperate with the surveillance program.
The White House contends that its search for would-be terrorists is legal, necessary and effective — pointing out frequently that there have been no further attacks on American soil. Administration officials say they have given classified information — such as details about the eavesdropping program, which is now under court supervision — to the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress.
Echoing its response to previous congressional subpoenas to former administration officials Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor, the White House gave no indication that it would comply with the new ones.
"We're aware of the committee's action and will respond appropriately," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."
The Judiciary Committee's three most senior Republicans — Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa — sided with Democrats on the 13-3 vote last week to give Leahy the power to issue the subpoenas.
The showdown between the White House and Congress could land in federal court.
Also named in subpoenas signed by Leahy were the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The four parties — the White House, Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the National Security Council — have until July 18 to comply, Leahy said.
He added that, like House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., he would consider pursuing contempt citations against those who refuse.
Gonzales, in Spokane, Wash., on Wednesday to discuss gang issues with local officials, said he had not seen the subpoena documents and could not comment on them directly.
"There are competing institutional interests," Gonzales said.
The Judiciary committees have issued the subpoenas as part of a look at how much influence the White House exerts over the Justice Department and its chief, Gonzales.
The probe, in its sixth month, began with an investigation into whether administration officials ordered the firings of eight federal prosecutors for political reasons. The Judiciary committees subpoenaed Miers, one-time White House legal counsel, and Taylor, a former political director, though they have yet to testify.
Now, with senators of both parties concerned about the constitutionality of the administration's efforts to root out terrorism suspects in the United States, the committee has shifted to the broader question of Gonzales' stewardship of Justice.
The issue concerning Kavanaugh, a former White House staff secretary, is whether he misled the Senate panel during his confirmation hearing last year about how much he was involved in crafting the administration's policy on enemy combatants.
The Bush administration secretly launched the eavesdropping program, run by the National Security Agency, in 2001 to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspected of having terrorist links. The program, which the administration said did not require investigators to seek warrants before conducting surveillance, was revealed in December 2005.
After the program was challenged in court, Bush put it under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established in 1978. The president still claims the power to order warrantless spying.
The subpoenas seek a wide array of documents from the Sept. 11 attacks to the present. Among them are any that include analysis or opinions from Justice, NSA, the Defense Department, the White House, or "any entity within the executive branch" on the legality of the electronic surveillance program.
Debate continues over whether the program violates people's civil liberties. The administration has gone to great lengths to keep it running.
Interest was raised by vivid testimony last month by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey about the extent of the White House's effort to override the Justice Department's objections to the program in 2004.
Comey told the Judiciary Committee that Gonzales, then-White House counsel, tried to persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft to reverse course and recertify the program. At the time, Ashcroft lay in intensive care, recovering form gall bladder surgery.
Ashcroft refused, as did Comey, who temporarily held the power of the attorney general's office during his boss' illness.
The White House recertified the program unilaterally. Ashcroft, Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller and their staffs prepared to resign. Bush ultimately relented and made changes the Justice officials had demanded, and the agency eventually recertified it.
Fratto defended the surveillance program as "lawful" and "limited."
"It's specifically designed to be effective without infringing Americans' civil liberties," Fratto said. "The program is classified for a reason — its purpose is to track down and stop terrorist planning. We remain steadfast in our commitment to keeping Americans safe from an enemy determined to use any means possible — including the latest in technology — to attack us."
Labels: White House Subpoenaed
Is Dick Cheney Trying to Create His Own 4th Branch of Government?
This post, written by Naomi Seligman, originally appeared on CREW
The Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, is trying to create a new legal status for himself. This latest development raises serious new questions about Cheney -- and who, if anyone, has authority over his actions. In Cheney's mind, it seems no one does.
CREW just issued this news release asking these new questions that need to be answered about Dick Cheney:
In light of new revelations that Vice President Cheney is claiming that his office is not subject to an executive order governing the handling of classified information because as president of the Senate he has both legislative and executive duties, CREW asks if Vice President Cheney is attempting to create a fourth branch of the government?
Under his argument, if Mr. Cheney is not subject to executive branch security requirements, surely he must be subject to Senate rules.
To safeguard sensitive information, in 1987 the Senate created the Office of Senate Security, which is part of the Secretary of the Senate. The Security Office's standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate.
So, if Mr. Cheney is a member of the Senate, he must adhere to the following:
* a requirement that any of his staff needing access to classified information undergo a security clearance and complete written non-disclosure agreements;
* physical security requirements, that the Security Office is empowered to implement, including any necessary inspections; and
* investigations of suspected security violations by employees, such as the security violation committed by Scooter Libby when he unlawfully disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, then a covert CIA operative.
In addition, Mr. Cheney and his staff would be subject to investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, which has the responsibility to investigate allegations of improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate, including violations of law and the rules and regulations of the Senate.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said Mr. Cheney's arguments raise new questions:
Since there is no fourth branch of government to which Mr. Cheney could belong, by claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?
Mr. Cheney's office refused to describe its 2003 classification activities to the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), but is he now willing to describe them to the Senate Security Office?
If Mr. Cheney does not believe that NARA's Information Security Oversight Office can conduct on-sight inspection of Mr. Cheney's office to see how sensitive material is handled, does he agree that the Senate Security Office can conduct such an inspection?
We'd really like some answers.
Tagged as: cheney
Naomi Seligman Steiner serves as CREW's Deputy Director and Communications Director.
Labels: Cheney Fourth arm of Government
Labels: cheney - focus
Dick Cheney is a "Rogue Nation" [VIDEO]
In the video above, Keith Olbermann deduces that since Dick Cheney insists that he is not subject to the laws of the Executive Branch and since he is not a legislator or a judge, that he must be a "rogue nation" and we should "invade him". While this recent Cheney attempt to prove ,he is above the law is so ridiculous that it's amusing at first, until you realize that he's completely getting away with it.
Adam Howard is the editor of PEEK.
Cheney's decision on secrecy order riles Democrats
WASHINGTON — Democratic senators today chided Vice President Dick Cheney for declaring his office exempt from sections of a presidential order involving matters of national security. Republicans, more cautiously, said the matter deserves review
At issue is a requirement that executive branch offices provide data on how much material they classify and declassify. That information is to be provided to the Information Security Oversight Office at The National Archives
The White House contends that Cheney is complying properly. They say the presidential order was not intended to treat the vice president's office as an executive branch "agency," and therefore Cheney's office is exempt from the reporting requirement
"The vice president is saying he's above the law, and the fact of the matter is, legal scholars are going to say this is preposterous," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called Cheney's move "the height of arrogance." She said it might not be a bad idea — as some other Democrats have suggested — that money for Cheney's office be held up until he decides whether or not he's in the executive branch.
"I find this just amazing," she said.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., countered that conflicts between the White House and Congress over jurisdictional bounds are not unusual.
"Let the courts decide if there's something wrong here," he said
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was asked in January to resolve the legal dispute, but he has not yet ruled on the issue. [WA: Would anyone want to bet how he'll rule?]
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, is investigating the matter.
"I don't think that the vice president, with all due respect to everyone, is saying that the law doesn't apply to him or that he's above the law," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "I think there are some legal interpretations. We have to look at those.
Wyden and Hutchison spoke on CNN's "Late Edition." Feinstein and Lott appeared on "Fox News Sunday."
Labels: Cheney- Rogue Nation
This post, written by Faiz Shakir, originally appeared on Think Progress
The Washington Post's four-part series on the influence and power of Dick Cheney reveal the tactics of a stealthy operator who prizes secrecy, kneecaps opponents, stifles dissent, and dogmatically pursues a rigid hard-right agenda.[ Darn Right I Complain: four part series published directly below]
Cheney has argued that his quest for war in Iraq, pursuit of torture, denial of due process to detainees, and advocacy for illegal wiretaps were all precipitated by the events of 9/11:
CHENEY: In a sense, 9/11 changed everything for us. 9/11 forced us to think in new ways about threats to the United States, about our vulnerabilities, about who our enemies were, about what kind of military strategy we needed in order to defend ourselves. [12/23/03]
CHENEY: I think 9/11 changed things to the point where we could no longer afford to ignore what was going on in Iraq. [2/23/07]
This morning on Washington Post radio, Barton Gellman -- the co-author of the Cheney series -- argued that based on his research of Cheney, he found "no evidence" that "9/11 exerted a profound psychological change on the Vice President." Instead, Gellman argued, "[Cheney] has not changed his views very much over the years. What has changed is he has a greater opportunity to put them into action."
GELLMAN: It's been often speculated that 9/11 exerted a profound psychological change on the Vice President. But we did not find evidence that that's true.
There's a moment in the story in which we've got witnesses who are watching him watch the World Trade Center collapse. Everyone else in the room is groaning. And he doesn't blink his eyes. He turns around and starts working the phones again.
And what he's doing is he's finding that 9/11 confirms some long-held beliefs of his. And it gives him the opportunity to press through some long-desired changes. He has not changed his views very much over the years. What has changed is he has a greater opportunity to put them into action.
Faiz Shakir is the Research Director for The Progress Report and ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress.
The Ignorance Of The Highly Educated
Wealth, Empire And The Future Of America
Click on url to view video
Prof. Peter Dale Scott presents a condensed version of the two chapters from his forthcoming book, "The Road to 9/11", that deal with the actions of Dick Cheney on the morning of 9/11, and a host of troubling contradictions on that day, in lecture form
Labels: 9/11 Cheney's Opportunity
A master of bureaucracy and detail, Cheney exerts most of his influence out of public view.
Convinced that the "war on terror" required "robust interrogations" of captured suspects, Dick Cheney pressed the Bush administration to carve out exceptions to the Geneva Conventions.
Sidebar: Cheney on Presidential Power
Working behind the scenes, Dick Cheney has made himself the dominant voice on tax and spending policy, outmaneuvering rivals for the president's ear.
Sidebar: Expanding Authority for No. 2 Spot
Sidebar: Taking on the Supreme Court Case
Dick Cheney steered some of the Bush administration's most important environmental decisions -- easing air pollution controls, opening public parks to snowmobiles and diverting river water from threatened salmon.
Sidebar: Maintaining Connections
Read about the important people in and out of government who have had an impact on Vice President Dick Cheney's career.
Starting as a junior aide on Capitol Hill, Dick Cheney built an unmatched Washington resume as White House chief of staff, House minority whip and secretary of defense.
Dick Cheney's colleagues, friends, and acquaintances shared stories with Post reporter Bart Gellman.
The remaining articles in this series:
• Monday: Convinced the war on terror required robust interrogations to extract information from suspects, Cheney pressed to carve out exceptions to the Geneva Conventions.
• Tuesday: Working behind the scenes, Cheney made himself the dominant voice on tax and spending policy, outmaneuvering rivals.
• Wednesday: Cheney has steered some of the White House's most important environmental decisions.
|[Perusing this expose reveals how Cheney is responsible for many of the events that has destroyed American credibility and respect around the the world, helped destroy our nation and robbed citizens of their rights. WA]|
WASHINGTON — Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Dick Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.
In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.
Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court — civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."
"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.
The episode was a defining moment in Cheney's tenure as the 46th vice president of the United States, a post the Constitution left all but devoid of formal authority.
"Angler," as the Secret Service code-named him, has approached the levers of power obliquely, skirting orderly lines of debate he once enforced as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford. He has battled a bureaucracy he saw as hostile, using intimate knowledge of its terrain. He has empowered aides to fight above their rank, taking on roles reserved in other times for a White House counsel or national security adviser.
And he has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert.
Over the past six years, Cheney has shaped his times as no vice president has before. This series draws on interviews with more than 200 men and women who worked for, with and in opposition to Cheney's office. Many of those interviewed recounted events that have not been made public until now, sharing notes, e-mails, personal calendars and other records of their interaction with Cheney and his senior staff. The vice president declined to be interviewed.
Cheney's reputation and, some say, his influence, have suffered in the past year and a half. Cheney lost his closest aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to a perjury conviction, and his onetime mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, in a Cabinet purge. A shooting accident in Texas, and increasing gaps between his rhetoric and events in Iraq, have exposed him to ridicule and approval ratings in the teens.
Cheney expresses indifference, in public and private, to any verdict but history's, and those close to him say he means it.
He is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore. Bush has set his own course, not always in directions Cheney preferred. The president seized the helm when his No. 2 steered toward trouble, as Bush did, in time, on military commissions. Their one-on-one relationship is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Cheney's impact on events. The two men speak of it seldom, if ever, with others. But officials who see them together often, not all of them admirers of the vice president, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Cheney is serving Bush's aims.
Before the president casts the only vote that counts, the final words of counsel nearly always come from Cheney.
Waxing or waning, Cheney holds his purchase on an unrivaled portfolio across the executive branch. Bush works most naturally, close observers said, at the level of broad objectives, broadly declared. Cheney, they said, inhabits an operational world in which means are matched with ends and some of the most important choices are made. When particulars rise to presidential notice, Cheney often steers the preparation of options and sits with Bush, in side-by-side wing chairs, as he is briefed.
"I said, 'Dick, you know, you're going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you're going to be doing all this political fundraising ... you'll be going to the funerals,' " Quayle said in an interview earlier this year. "I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, 'We've all done it.' "
Cheney "got that little smile," Quayle said, and replied, "I have a different understanding with the president."
"He had the understanding with President Bush that he would be — I'm just going to use the word 'surrogate chief of staff,' " Quayle said, whose membership on the Defense Policy Board gave him regular occasion to see Cheney privately over the following four years.
Cheney, 66, grew up in Lincoln, Neb., and Casper, Wyo., acquiring a Westerner's passion for hunting and fishing but not for the Democratic politics of his parents. He wed his high school sweetheart, Lynne Vincent, beginning what friends describe as a lifelong love affair. Cheney flunked out of Yale but became a highly regarded PhD candidate in political science at the University of Wyoming — avoiding the Vietnam War draft with five deferments along the way — before abandoning the doctoral program and heading to Washington as a junior congressional aide.
He went on to build an unmatched Washington resume as White House chief of staff, House minority whip and secretary of defense. An aversion to political glad-handing and a series of chronic health problems, including four heart attacks, helped derail his presidential ambitions and shifted his focus to a lucrative stint as chairman of Halliburton, an oil services company. His controlled demeanor, ranging mainly from a tight-lipped gaze to the trademark half-smile, conceals what associates call an impish sense of humor and unusual kindness to subordinates.
Cheney's influence in the Bush administration is widely presumed but hard to illustrate. Many of the men and women who know him best said an explanation of his influence begins with the way he defined his role.
As the Bush administration prepared to take office, "I remember at the outset, during the transition, thinking, 'What do vice presidents do?' " said White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, who was then the Bush team's policy director. Bolten joined Libby, his counterpart in Cheney's office, to compile a list of "portfolios we thought might be appropriate." Their models, Bolten said, were Quayle's Council on Competitiveness and Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
"The vice president didn't particularly warm to that," Bolten recalled dryly.
Cheney preferred, and Bush approved, a mandate that gave him access to "every table and every meeting," making his voice heard in "whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in," Bolten said.
Cheney has used that mandate with singular force of will. Other recent vice presidents have enjoyed a standing invitation to join the president at "policy time." But Cheney's interventions have also come in the president's absence, at Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels where his predecessors were seldom seen. He found pressure points and changed the course of events by "reaching down," a phrase that recurs often in interviews with current and former aides.
Mary Matalin, who was counselor to the vice president until 2003 and remains an informal adviser, described Cheney's portfolio as "the iron issues" — a list that, as she defined it, comprises most of the core concerns of every recent president. Cheney took on "the economic issues, the security issues ... the energy issues" — and the White House legislative agenda, Matalin said, because he became "the go-to guy on the Hill." Other close aides noted, as well, a major role for Cheney in nominations and appointments.
As constitutional understudy, with no direct authority in the executive branch, Cheney has often worked through surrogates. Many of them owed their jobs to him.
While lawyers fought over the 2000 Florida ballot recount, with the presidential election in the balance, Cheney was already populating a prospective Bush administration. Brian McCormack, then his 26-year-old personal aide, said Cheney worked three cellphones from the round kitchen table of his townhouse in McLean, Va.,"making up lists" of nominees beginning with the secretaries of state, defense and the Treasury.
"His focus was that we need to prepare for the event that (the recount) comes out in our favor, because we will have a limited time frame," McCormack recalled.
Close allies found positions as chief and deputy chief of the Office of Management and Budget, deputy national security adviser, undersecretary of state, and assistant or deputy assistant secretary in numerous Cabinet departments. Other loyalists — including McCormack, who progressed to assignments in Iraq's occupation authority and then on Bush's staff — turned up in less senior, but still significant, posts.
In the years that followed, crossing Cheney would cost some of the same officials their jobs. David Gribben, a friend from graduate school who became the vice president's chief of legislative affairs, said Cheney believes in the "educational use of power." Firing a disloyal or poorly performing official, he said, sometimes "sends a signal crisply." Cheney believes he is "using his authority to serve the American people, and he's obviously not afraid to be a rough opponent," Gribben said.
A prodigious appetite for work, officials said, prepares Cheney to shape the president's conversations with others. His Secret Service detail sometimes reports that he is awake and reading at 4:30 a.m. He receives a private intelligence briefing between 6:30 and 7 a.m., often identifying issues to be called to Bush's attention, and then sits in on the president's daily briefing an hour later. Aides said that Cheney insists on joining Bush by secure video link, no matter how many time zones divide them.
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."
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.
All those methods would be on clear display when the "war on terror" began for Cheney after eight months in office.
Previous accounts have described Cheney's adrenaline-charged evacuation to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center that morning, a Secret Service agent on each arm. They have not detailed his reaction, 22 minutes later, when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
"There was a groan in the room that I won't forget, ever," one witness said. "It seemed like one groan from everyone" — among them Rice; her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley; economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey; counselor Matalin; Cheney's chief of staff, Libby; and the vice president's wife.
Cheney made no sound. "I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed," said the witness, reading from a notebook of observations written that day. Cheney closed his eyes against the image for one long, slow blink.
Three people who were present, not all of them admirers, said they saw no sign then or later of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney. What they saw, they said, was extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of "first responders," Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies.
In the months to come, Cheney supplied the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department and the Pentagon. More than any one man in the months to come, Cheney freed Bush to fight the "war on terror" as he saw fit, animated by their shared belief that al-Qaida's destruction would require what the vice president called "robust interrogation" to extract intelligence from captured suspects. With a small coterie of allies, Cheney supplied the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department and the Pentagon.
The way he did it — adhering steadfastly to principle, freezing out dissent and discounting the risks of blow-back — turned tactical victory into strategic defeat. By late last year, the Supreme Court had dealt three consecutive rebuffs to his claim of nearly unchecked authority for the commander in chief, setting precedents that will bind Bush's successors.
Yet even as Bush was forced into public retreats, an examination of subsequent events suggests that Cheney has quietly held his ground. Most of his operational agenda, in practice if not in principle, remains in place.
In expanding presidential power, Cheney's foremost agent was David Addington, his formidable general counsel and legal adviser of many years. On the morning of Sept. 11, Addington was evacuated from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House and began to make his way toward his Virginia home on foot. As he neared the Arlington Memorial Bridge, someone in the White House reached him with a message: Turn around. The vice president needs you.
Down in the bunker, according to a colleague with firsthand knowledge, Cheney and Addington began contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?
Before the day ended, Cheney's lawyer joined forces with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, linked by secure video from the Situation Room. Flanigan patched in John Yoo at the Justice Department's fourth-floor command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joined later.
Thus formed the core legal team that Cheney oversaw, directly and indirectly, after the terrorist attacks.
Yoo, a Berkeley professor-turned-deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, became the theorist of an insurrection against legal limits on the commander in chief. Addington, backed by Flanigan, found levers of government policy and wrote the words that moved them.
"Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate," recalled Bradford Berenson, then an associate White House counsel. Yoo, he said, "was a supporting player."
Gonzales, a former Texas judge, had the seniority and the relationship with Bush. But Addington — a man of imposing demeanor, intellect and experience — dominated the group. Gonzales "was not a law-of-war expert and didn't have very developed views," Yoo recalled, echoing blunter observations by the Texan's White House colleagues.
In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception — without a warrant — of communications to and from the United States. Forbidden by federal law since 1978, the surveillance would soon be justified, in secret, as "incident to" the authority Congress had just granted. Yoo was already working on that memo, completing it on Sept. 25.
It was an extraordinary step, bypassing Congress and the courts, and its authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object. Among the excluded was John B. Bellinger III, a man for whom Cheney's attorney had "open contempt," according to a senior government lawyer who saw them often. The eavesdropping program was directly within Bellinger's purview as ranking national security lawyer in the White House, reporting to Rice. Addington had no line responsibility. But he had Cheney's proxy, and more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good "public relations" or bureaucratic consensus.
Addington, who seldom speaks to reporters, declined to be interviewed.
"David is extremely principled and dedicated to doing what he feels is right, and can be a very tough customer when he perceives others as obstacles to achieving those goals," Berenson said. "But it's not personal in the sense that 'I don't like you.' It's all about the underlying principle."
Bryan Cunningham, Bellinger's former deputy, said: "Bellinger didn't know. That was a mistake." Cunningham said Rice's lawyer would have recommended vetting the surveillance program with the secret court that governs intelligence intercepts — a step the Bush administration was forced to take five years later.
On Oct. 25, 2001, the chairmen and ranking minority members of the intelligence committees were summoned to the White House for their first briefing on the eavesdropping and were told that it was one of the government's most closely compartmented secrets. Under Presidents George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton, officials said, a conversation of that gravity would involve the commander in chief. But when the four lawmakers arrived in the West Wing lobby, an aide led them through the door on the right, away from the Oval Office.
"We met in the vice president's office," recalled former senator Bob Graham, D-Fla. Bush had told Graham already, when the senator assumed the intelligence panel chairmanship, that "the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House." Cheney, the president said, "has the portfolio for intelligence activities."
Cheney's staff did not reply to invitations to join the interagency working group led by Pierre Prosper, ambassador at large for war crimes. But Addington, the vice president's lawyer, knew what his client wanted, Berenson said. And Prosper's group was still debating details. "Once you start diving into it, and history has proven us right, these are complicated questions," one regular participant said.
The vice president saw it differently. "The interagency was just constipated," said one Cheney ally, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Flanigan recalled a conversation with Addington at the time in which the two discussed the salutary effect of showing bureaucrats that the president could act "without their blessing — and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing."
Throughout his long government career, Cheney had counseled against that kind of policy surprise, insisting that unvetted decisions lead presidents to costly mistakes.
When James A. Baker III was tapped to be White House chief of staff in 1980, he interviewed most of his living predecessors. Advice from Cheney filled four pages of a yellow legal pad. Only once, to signify Cheney's greatest emphasis, did Baker write in all capital letters:
BE AN HONEST BROKER
DON'T USE THE PROCESS TO IMPOSE YOUR POLICY VIEWS ON PRES.
Cheney told Baker, according to the notes, that an "orderly paper flow is way you protect the Pres.," ensuring that any proposal has been tested against other views. Cheney added:
"It's not in anyone's interest to get an 'oh by the way decision' — & all have to understand that. Can hurt the Pres. Bring it up at a Cab. mtg. Make sure everyone understands this."
In 1999, not long before he became Bush's running mate, Cheney warned again about "'oh, by the way' decisions" at a conference of White House historians. According to a transcript, he added: "The process of moving paper in and out of the Oval Office, who gets involved in the meetings, who does the president listen to, who gets a chance to talk to him before he makes a decision, is absolutely critical. It has to be managed in such a way that it has integrity."
Two years later, at his Nov. 13 lunch with Bush, Cheney brought the president the ultimate "oh, by the way" choice — a far-reaching military order that most of Bush's top advisers had not seen.
According to Flanigan, Addington was not the first to think of military commissions but was the "best scholar of the FDR-era order" among their small group of trusted allies. "He gained a pre-eminent role by virtue of his sheer ability to turn out a draft of something in quick time."
That draft, said one of the few lawyers apprised of it, "was very closely held because it was coming right from the top."
Attorney General John Ashcroft was astonished to learn that the draft gave the Justice Department no role in choosing which alleged terrorists would be tried in military commissions. Over Veterans Day weekend, on Nov. 10, he took his objections to the White House.
The attorney general found Cheney, not Bush, at the broad conference table in the Roosevelt Room. According to participants, Ashcroft said that he was the president's senior law enforcement officer, supervised the FBI and oversaw terrorism prosecutions nationwide. The Justice Department, he said, had to have a voice in the tribunal process. He was enraged to discover that Yoo, his subordinate, had recommended otherwise — as part of a strategy to deny jurisdiction to U.S. courts.
Raising his voice, participants said, Ashcroft talked over Addington and brushed aside interjections from Cheney. "The thing I remember about it is how rude, there's no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president," said one of those in the room. Asked recently about the confrontation, Ashcroft replied curtly: "I'm just not prepared to comment on that."
According to Yoo and three other officials, Ashcroft did not persuade Cheney and got no audience with Bush. Bolten, in an October 2006 interview after becoming Bush's chief of staff, did not deny that account. He signaled an intention to operate differently in the second term.
"In my six months' experience it would not fall to the vice president to referee that kind of thing," Bolten added. "If it is a presidential decision, the president will make it. ... I think the vice president appreciates that — that his role is in support of the president, and not as a second-tier substitute."
Three days after the Ashcroft meeting, Cheney brought the order for military commissions to Bush. No one told Bellinger, Rice or Powell, who continued to think that Prosper's working group was at the helm.
After leaving Bush's private dining room, the vice president took no chances on a last-minute objection. He sent the order on a swift path to execution that left no sign of his role. After Addington and Flanigan, the text passed to Berenson, the associate White House counsel. Cheney's link to the document broke there: Berenson was not told of its provenance.
Berenson rushed the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart W. Bowen Jr., bearing instructions to prepare it for signature immediately — without advance distribution to the president's top advisers. Bowen objected, he told colleagues later, saying he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever bypassing strict procedures of coordination and review. He relented, one White House official said, only after "rapid, urgent persuasion" that Bush was standing by to sign and that the order was too sensitive to delay.
In an interview, Berenson said it was his understanding that "someone had briefed" the president "and gone over it" already. He added: "I don't know who that was."
The president had not yet made that decision. Ten weeks passed, and the Bush administration fought one of its fiercest internal brawls, before Bush ratified the policy that Cheney had declared: The Geneva Conventions would not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield.
Since 1949, Geneva had accorded protections to civilians and combatants in a war zone. Those protections varied with status, but the prevailing U.S. and international view was that anyone under military control — even an alleged war criminal — has some rights. Rumsfeld, elaborating on the position Cheney staked out, cast that interpretation aside. All captured fighters in Afghanistan, he said at a news briefing, are "unlawful combatants" who "do not have any rights" under Geneva.
At the White House, Bellinger sent Rice a blunt — and, he thought, private — legal warning. The Cheney-Rumsfeld position would place the president indisputably in breach of international law and would undermine cooperation from allied governments. Faxes had been pouring in at the State Department since the order for military commissions was signed, with even British authorities warning that they could not hand over suspects if the U.S. government withdrew from accepted legal norms.
One lawyer in his office said that Bellinger was chagrined to learn, indirectly, that Cheney had read the confidential memo and "was concerned" about his advice. Thus Bellinger discovered an unannounced standing order: Documents prepared for the national security adviser, another White House official said, were "routed outside the formal process" to Cheney, too. The reverse did not apply.
Powell asked for a meeting with Bush. The same day, Jan. 25, 2002, Cheney's office struck a pre-emptive 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. 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-Qaida 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.
The next morning's Washington Times carried a front-page article in which administration sources accused Powell of "bowing to pressure from the political left" and advocating that terrorists be given "all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens."
Though the report portrayed Powell as soft on enemies, two senior government lawyers said, Addington blamed the State Department for leaking it. The breach of secrecy, Addington said, proved that William H. Taft IV, Powell's legal adviser, could not be trusted. Taft joined Bellinger on a growing — and explicit — blacklist, excluded from consultation. "I was off the team," Taft said in an interview. The vice president's lawyer had marked him an enemy, but Taft did not know he was at war.
"Which, of course, is why you're ripe for the taking, isn't it?" he added, laughing briefly.
Labels: Cheney Expose - pt. one
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