Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cheney May Have Been Covering Up Illegal Assassination Ring

Hi Everyone,

In an earlier thread we talked about revelations that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to lie to Congress despite being obligated by the laws that established the CIA in the first place to subject itself to Congressional oversight. In that thread Dr S suggested that this wouldn't amount to much because it didn't seem to involve either wiretapping or torture. Well, the Wall Street Journal has a story that suggests it was about something even worse than both...assassination. Even planning such a program has been illegal since 1975. Cheney knew that if he told even the most secretive and sympathetic members of Congress about his plans, they would shut it down. So he ordered the CIA people he was working with to lie about it to Congress. It was a classic coverup. That it never got off the ground will likely prove to be the result of suitably patriotic foot-dragging by right thinking CIA people.

So to sum up:

1) The Vice President (an office with no executive authority at all) inserted himself into the chain of command for the conduct of intelligence and covert operations.
2) The VP used that self appointed authority to order the planning of operations that were illegal - namely assassinations.
3) The VP then ordered CIA officials to lie about his illegal plans in order to prevent them being shut down by the responsible oversight authorities in Congress (this despite the fact that he has no real authority to order anything).

This stinks. I know LTG says that there is some sort of statute of limitations that says that if you don't catch him before he leaves office, a VP is not liable for this kind of stuff but I don't believe him.

I expect that this will hang over his head until after the health care vote then Democrats in Congress will act.


Pombat said...

If there is some sort of statute of limitations, there damned well shouldn't be. You don't get away with any other crime just by losing your job, the same should be true of all politicians. And Cheney needs to be pursued as hard as possible on this, to set an example to all others if nothing else.

(and if that pursuit could involve Jesse Ventura and a waterboard, that'd be great. Ta)

Raised By Republicans said...

I agree Pombat - except for the waterboard bit (I know you were kidding though, as was Ventura).

A democracy must be able to defend itself against subversive elements. And I can't think of anything more subversive to a democracy than someone in elected office abusing their powers (or in the case of Cheney - abusing someone else's powers).

Dr. Strangelove said...

Actually, RbR, in the earlier thread you already indicated it was an assassination program. The main reasons I had suggested these revelations would not amount to much were that the program never left the planning phase and apparently the law did not clearly require the CIA to report it.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal article you link to in this follow-on thread confirms what I wrote. WSJ quotes the unnamed source as saying that it was more like, "many ideas suggested over the course of years," than an actual program, and it had not even come close to being operational.

You say in this post that "even planning" assassinations has been illegal since 1975, but I noticed neither the NY Times nor the WSJ happened to mention that, nor did any of the Democrats quoted assert that the program itself was illegal. On the contrary, the unnamed sources quoted in a Washington Post article today said the program fell under legal guidelines. As one put it, "Everything we did fell under the [authorizations] of both administrations, Democratic and Republican."

The real scandal here, as I said before, is that the VP dared interpose himself between the CIA and Congress. There is plenty of evidence that Cheney shaped the information coming out of the CIA to bolster the case for war, and these revelations confirm that he was knee-deep in deciding what Congress did and did-not hear. And that matters because even the Republicans will concede that faulty intelligence is what got us into the Iraq mess in the first place.

The Law Talking Guy said...

NO, it's not a statute of limitations. It's "act of state" doctrine and/or executive privilege. You have to get all the way to provable crimes before we get out of this, and we're quite far from this. Even with crimes of this kind, the general principle is that the punishment is impeachment and removal from office. Crimes unrelated to public office may be different.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. Note: "everything we did fell under ..." WE did. Do you think that they are giving you an indisputable statement of fact about what is legal and what is not or do you think - in the broader context of Cheney's other statements about executive discretion/authority in security matters - that they are simply asserting the position they intend to argue in their own defense?

The 1975 date I keep referring to and that you point out correctly has not been mentioned much in the current coverage is a reference to the Church Commission in Congress and an executive order by President Ford. Both clearly intended to outlaw assassination - most especially assassination programs that were conducted beyond the reach of Congressional oversight.

I also dispute your rather generous interpretation of the oversight requirements. If I understand your logic, you seem to regard the phrase "with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters." as a kind of get out oversight free card. In practice, it has been used to allow notification of selected members of the oversight committee instead of the entire group. Cheney was ordering the avoidance of both.

LTG, do you have any idea of how this phrase in the law might be interpreted? Does it - as Dr. S. seems to suggest - allow the executive branch to determine on its own whether or not this or that program is going to be subjected to oversight?

As for the argument that its not a big deal if the program was not fully activated. I heard a great take on this by a former CIA agent and former prosecutor being interviewed on MSNBC or something. He pointed out that planning to commit illegal actions is - in many circumstances - illegal in itself. Certainly, for the CIA to dedicate resources (financial and human) to a program that would likely be ruled to be illegal by oversight authorities and then falsify reports about the allocation of those resources is illegal.

Here is why I think this different point of view between myself and Dr. S is important. In the Dr. S version of this brewing scandal, Cheney is guilty of stepping over the line of what for most people will amount to a rather arcane boundary of job descriptions in the executive branch. In my version of this, Cheney was not only overstepping his authority he was doing so to engage in a conspiracy to commit political murder in the name of the United States without the knowledge of those government officials under who's authority this actually falls and while also violating the basic principals of the constitution.

Dr. Strangelove said...

The reporters who wrote the Washington Post article explicitly indicate that they obtained additional information beyond what was in the original Wall Street Journal report. Here are the first two paragraphs from the Washington Post today:

"The CIA ran a secret program for nearly eight years that aspired to kill top al-Qaeda leaders with specially trained assassins, but the agency declined to tell Congress because the initiative never came close to bringing Osama bin Laden and his deputies into U.S. cross hairs, U.S. intelligence and congressional officials said yesterday.

The plan to deploy teams of assassins to kill senior terrorists was legally authorized by the administration of George W. Bush, but it never became fully operational, according to sources briefed on the matter. The sources confirmed that then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney had urged the CIA to delay notifying Congress about the diplomatically sensitive plan -- a bid for secrecy that congressional Democrats now say thwarted proper oversight."

If the Washington Post is correct, then we really should be focusing on Cheney's role, rather than the substance of the program itself.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. You and the Washington Post are implicitly accepting that the President (or his agent, Cheney) have the authority to "legally authorize" assassinations without notifying appropriate authorities in the legislative branch. This is not true. They do not have this authority.

The claim that notifying either the Intelligence Committee or the "Gang of 8" in closed, secret session would undermine the program just as it was "bringing bin Laden...into U.S. crosshairs" is idiotic on the face of it. If it is legal and OK, then the only possible excuse for hiding it from Congress is that you think Congressional leaders would maliciously tip off bin Laden about it.

Remember, Dr. S., we're not talking about a televised hearing or an announcement on the floor. Oversight in these cases is itself carried out in a fairly closed and secretive manner.

This is more analogous to lying to the FISA Court than it is to taking appropriate steps to protect a legitimately secret program.

Pombat said...

Yes, I was pretty much kidding. If it wasn't for the fact that I am totally against subjecting any human being to torture such as waterboarding - regardless of what they have done or may know - I'd be all for wiping that smirk off Cheney's face. However, I believe that none of us should ever commit acts such as that, as it would damage our humanity, as well as everyone else's (caveat: if/when I have children, if anyone threatens them, I may cease to care about retention of humanity for a brief while). Which, bizarrely, is why I'm so close to the line when it comes to Cheney - his actions have damaged the humanity of all of us.

Raised By Republicans said...

At least a strong public humiliation is called for here if not actual incarceration.

USwest said...

I am still wondering what responsibility Bush has here. He was ultimately in charge and is there any negligence involved on his part since he failed to control his VP?

There is a bigger issue here . . .did Cheney overstep his role vis-a-vis the President?