View Full Version : No Man Is Above The Law - Except Cheney

01-24-2007, 09:44 AM
No man is above the law - except Cheney


By Robyn Blumner
Tribune Media Services
Published: January 24, 2007

Don't worry, Dick Cheney says it's all perfectly legal.

The vice president made it a point to go on "Fox News Sunday" last week and declare that the recently reported spying being done on Americans by the military is all just fine and dandy.

As usual, the vice president cut through all the legal niceties with his explanation of why the military's use of an investigative tool known as a national security letter to obtain the banking and credit records of potentially hundreds of Americans was not a violation of the general rule against domestic intelligence gathering by the military.

"There's nothing wrong with it or illegal," Cheney said. "It doesn't violate people's civil rights."

Ah. It's legal because he says it is - just like waterboarding isn't torture because the vice president considers it otherwise.

If only law school had been that easy.

This blithe dismissal of significant legal issues is reminiscent of Cheney's take on Guantanamo, where holding hundreds of men indefinitely without charge was not an outrage against our constitutional heritage but an all-expenses-paid vacation. "They're very well treated down there," Cheney said in a CNN interview. "They're living in the tropics."

Hey, someone pass the sunscreen. Oh, you can't because of the shackles.

The vice president thinks that the constraints on executive power following Watergate led to a tragic reversal of the leviathan presidency. The phrase "no man is above the law" must stick in Cheney's craw like a glass sliver in a festering wound.

He is unconcerned that the military is collecting personal information on Americans because he reviles the very idea of privacy for anyone but his own bunkered self. But there are valid reasons why the armed forces has been traditionally barred from that kind of activity.

Military personnel simply do not have the same sensitivities to individual rights that the FBI does, explains Joseph Onek, special counsel to the Open Society Institute. "And you don't want the same guy running foreign intelligence overseas brought to the United States. Overseas they do things that you don't want them to do here."

The military says that since it has a responsibility to protect its bases, personnel and other assets in the United States, it can investigate any potential threat. But if you read the relevant provisions of Executive Order 12333, on U.S. intelligence activities there is no doubt that its broad intent is for the military to operate overseas, with the FBI left to conduct investigations on American soil.

On Thursday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., stated flatly that the Defense Department "has no authority to investigate American citizens," and Gonzales acknowledged it would be "very troubling" if the Pentagon were engaged in those practices. Even Pentagon spokesman Maj. Patrick Ryder said "the FBI maintains primacy when it comes to investigations within the U.S." Although he adamantly maintains that the military is doing nothing wrong.

Under the claim that terrorism is a ubiquitous threat, the military has embroidered an unwarranted and dangerously expansive view of its own authority. The New York Times found that administrative subpoenas known as national security letters, which are issued internally with no court review, have been used since 9-11 to collect financial information in up to 500 investigations. Which means that thousands of such letters have probably been issued for personal banking and credit data.

The military says all this is OK because the letters it issues are non-compulsory. You know, all those banks volunteered their customers' private information.

The Times also discovered that once the military gets the information, it keeps it even if the suspect is essentially exonerated. And the collected files soon will be added to a vast database.

So what kind of "threats" does the military consider worthy of investigating? How about the Quakers or the Rhode Island Community Coalition for Peace? A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union documents nearly 200 incidents where the Pentagon accumulated and maintained in its "threat" database the activities of peace groups in the United States.

The Defense Department has said it was a mistake to keep tabs on the plans of nonviolent protesters. Still, the ACLU had to sue to compel the department to disclose the extent of what it had done.

This kind of overreaction to ideological opponents doesn't inspire much trust. It is bad enough that the FBI uses these letters by the tens of thousands when it should be getting the approval of a court before prying into our private business. Now the military has elbowed in.

No doubt about it, it's Dick Cheney's world, and we just live in it.