Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
August 2007 Issue
You don’t have to dust for long before finding Dick Cheney’s grimy fingerprints all over the Bush crime scene. It’s becoming clearer by the day that behind every one of Bush’s illegal actions lurks the shadow of the Vice President. Never in our history have we had a Vice President who grabbed so much power. And never have we had a President so lazy that he was willing to divest so much power to such a man.
Cheney has said that it is his mission to aggrandize the Executive Branch. And then he notoriously argued that he was not part of the Executive Branch, placing himself on a new twig all by his lonesome.
This is a man who has no respect for our system of checks and balances. It is high time he was impeached.
Bush, too, should be impeached, for they are partners in crime. But there is a certain logic in impeaching Cheney first. After all, who would want to impeach Bush and be left with Cheney? And secondly, the path of criminality, time after time, leads back to Cheney.
It was Cheney, in the days after 9/11, who insisted that the United States would have to work the “dark side” in the war on terror.
It was Cheney who devised many of the flimsy legal justifications for the torture that U.S. personnel committed. “The Vice President’s office played a central role in shattering limits on coercion in U.S. custody,” Barton Gellman and Jo Becker wrote in The Washington Post on June 25. They showed that the Vice President’s lawyer, David Addington (now his chief of staff), was instrumental in drafting the President’s February 7, 2002, directive, which said that U.S. personnel would abide by the Geneva Conventions “to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity.” Addington also worked on the Justice Department’s infamous “torture memo,” which said that almost any infliction of cruelty that didn’t cause organ failure or death was justifiable. Addington pressed the point that the President was exempt from treaties and laws governing torture, the Post said. Those “do not apply” to the commander in chief, according to the torture memo.
It was Cheney who said he approved of the torture tactic of waterboarding, calling it “a no-brainer.”
It was Cheney, the Post said, who prevailed upon the Administration to declare U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi enemy combatants and to deny them access to U.S. courts.
It was Cheney who insisted that detainees had no due process rights, here or abroad, and who bypassed normal channels—including the State Department and the National Security Council—to get Bush to sign off on this executive order, the Post reported.
It was Cheney who vigorously opposed any moves by Congress to outlaw torture, and got Congress to exempt the CIA from the ban.
It was Cheney who insisted that the Military Commissions Act, which Congress passed, include a section that lets the President decide whether something is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
It was Cheney who initially advocated for detentions in secret CIA prisons around the globe, the Post reported, and who prevailed upon Bush to resume them.
Beyond championing the torture and detention policy, it was Cheney who first hyped the case for the Iraq War, beginning in the spring of 2002.
It was Cheney who leaned all over the CIA in the lead-up to the Iraq War in an unprecedented interference with the intelligence agency’s process of sifting through data. As Seymour Hersh has reported for The New Yorker, Cheney cherry-picked and stove-piped any information that served to buttress his case.
And it was Cheney who, just days before Bush launched the war, went on Meet the Press and uttered the most flagrant lie, saying that Saddam Hussein had actually reconstituted nuclear weapons.
It was Cheney who directed the outing of Valerie Plame and the campaign to smear Joe Wilson. “There is a cloud over the Vice President,” Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the jurors in the Scooter Libby trial. And that cloud hangs even lower after Bush’s shameful grant of clemency to Libby.
It was Cheney who pushed the illegal wiretapping that the NSA conducted on millions of Americans. He sparred with Justice Department officials who didn’t want to go along with the spying at a White House meeting in March 2004, according to the Senate testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey. That meeting took place just one day before then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card went to the hospital room of the ailing John Ashcroft and, in Godfather fashion, tried to get him to sign off on aspects of the NSA spying program. Cheney later blocked the promotion of a Justice Department official who had expressed reservations about the NSA spying.
It was Cheney who exempted his office from the requirement to protect classified information, and who then tried to abolish the executive branch office that was complaining about his self-exemption.
It was also Cheney who was the prime mover behind Bush’s signing statement spree. “The office of Vice President Dick Cheney routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach the President’s desk, searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on Presidential power, according to former White House and Justice Department officials,” wrote Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe last May in a story that won a Pulitzer Prize. “The officials said Cheney’s legal adviser and chief of staff, David Addington, is the Bush Administration’s leading architect of the ‘signing statements’ the President has appended to more than 750 laws.” Two examples: Bush issued a signing statement on the anti-torture law to say that he would enforce it only to the extent that it didn’t interfere with his authority as commander in chief. And he issued a signing statement on an obscure postal bill last fall to give the Executive Branch an expansive right to open first-class mail.
Dick Cheney is a man who has gone way over the line, time and time again.
He is fond of saying he has a constituency of one—Bush—when in fact we are all his constituents. And as his constituents, we must avail ourselves of the only constitutional remedy at our disposal: impeachment. Article 2, Section 4, specifically allows for the impeachment of the Vice President. He clearly has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which our founders construed to mean usurpations of power that subvert our system of checks and balances.
Cheney is a recidivist usurper. We cannot keep letting him get away with his crimes. Nor should we let Bush. But OK, start with Cheney first.
Fortunately, Representative Dennis Kucinich has gotten the ball rolling. This spring, he introduced House Resolution 333, which calls for the impeachment of Cheney. Kucinich’s bill is co-sponsored by Representatives William Lacy Clay, Yvette Clarke, Keith Ellison, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and Albert Wynn.
It is too narrow for my liking. It contains only three articles. The first two say that Cheney “purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive citizens and Congress” in the lead-up to the Iraq War, both about weapons of mass destruction and about the alleged link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. The third one says Cheney “has openly threatened aggression against the Republic of Iran absent any real threat to the United States.” Kucinich notes that such a threat is a violation of the U.N. Charter.
Cheney should be brought up on more charges than these. But the concluding passage of the Kucinich bill is right on the mark:
“Vice President Richard B. Cheney has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as Vice President, and subversive of constitutional government, to the prejudice of the cause of law and justice and the manifest injury of the United States. Wherefore, Richard B. Cheney, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.”
Many people of goodwill raise objections to the idea of impeachment for either Cheney or Bush. Let me attend to those.
But first, can we dispatch with the paternalistic claptrap that the American people somehow wouldn’t be able to endure another impeachment process? We are not so weak that we cannot stand up and fight for our constitutional system. Some of the people who make this argument are the very ones who foisted upon the nation the ludicrous impeachment of Bill Clinton. His petty, personal indiscretion, and even his serious lying under oath, pale in comparison to the crimes against the Republic that Bush and Cheney have been committing.
Still, some progressive allies say that impeachment will never pass. It’s a waste of time, so why try?
Well, we don’t know that.
Now that the Democrats have investigative powers, every time they turn over a new rock, more reptilian facts emerge.
And we may be headed toward a constitutional confrontation, as Bush and Cheney resist subpoenas from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
They are invoking “executive privilege.” That has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?
Patrick Leahy, head of the Senate Judiciary, called it “Nixonian stonewalling” and said, “Increasingly, the President and the Vice President feel they are above the law.”
John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee, added: “This is reckless. It’s a form of governmental lawlessness that is really astounding.”
Conyers should know.
He sat on the Judiciary Committee when it voted to impeach Richard Nixon in 1974.
And let’s remember, one of the three articles that this committee brought forward concerned just such stonewalling.
Article 3 says: Richard M. Nixon “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives . . . and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. . . . In refusing to produce these papers and things, Richard M. Nixon . . . acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government.”
Incidentally, Conyers introduced in the last Congress a bill to explore grounds for impeachment, and that was before many of the Bush crimes surfaced. He explained to Lewis Lapham of Harper’s early last year that he was doing so because he didn’t want people to wonder, years from now, where everybody was and why nobody did anything when “the Bush Administration declared the Constitution inoperative and revoked the license of parliamentary government.”
Ironically, Conyers’s party did not control the House at that time, so he knew his bill would go nowhere. Now, with the Democrats in power, Con yers can move impeachment forward in the Judiciary Committee that he heads. But he’s gone uncharacteristically silent. Why? Because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has muzzled him.
She and other Democratic leaders say that impeachment may distract them from more important legislative duties. But what could be more important than upholding the Constitution? And anyway, the argument doesn’t hold up, since impeaching Cheney or Bush might be the best way to bring the war to an end and to restore some of our civil liberties. That’s what happened after Nixon resigned, as Kucinich adviser Steve Cobble has argued. We got out of Vietnam, we had the Congressional hearings that exposed illegal spying and infiltration, and Gerald Ford’s Attorney General, Edward Levi, issued guidelines prohibiting most domestic spying.
Partisan Democrats make one last argument against impeachment. They say it will hurt their chances in 2008 of solidifying gains in Congress and in winning back the White House. History, here, suggests otherwise. In the Presidential election following the Nixon impeachment hearings, Jimmy Carter won. And in the Presidential election following Clinton’s impeachment, the Republicans won.
The pragmatic argument also collapses under its own light weight. For impeachment is not about partisan payback or political gamesmanship. It’s about something much larger. It’s about whether we will have a democratic form of government or not. Democrats and responsible Republicans alike need to rise to this challenge.
And what message does doing nothing send? It tells Bush and Cheney that they can get off scot-free. And it leaves a loaded gun in the front drawer of the Oval Office desk for the next President to shoot more holes into the Constitution.
“Over the past six years, Cheney has shaped his times as no Vice President has before. . . . 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.”
—Barton Gellman and Jo Becker of The Washington Post
“In grasping and exercising Presidential powers, Cheney has dulled political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III.”
—Bruce Fein, former Reagan Administration lawyer, writing in Slate
“With the support of the leaders of the Progressive Caucus and the leader of the Out of Iraq Caucus, we will see more and more Members of Congress signing on in this effort to save our Constitution and protect the very values that bind us as a nation.”