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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Angler – The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman

10. - 523.) Angler – The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman – I should never have waited a year to read this superb biography of the 8 years Dick Cheney was Vice-President.     Jonathan spurred me to read it last Christmas. I had not realized how little I knew of how he functioned during the George W. Bush Presidency. I made 3 pages of notes as I worked through the book.
    I had not known Cheney picked himself for V-P eschewing the rules of selection applied to others. Any he perceives to be wronging him such as Oklahoma Governor Keating, are ruthlessly punished.
    In the book I vacillated between seeing him as a master manipulator and a master of the processes of the U.S. government and the Presidency. He arranges for staff to have co-White House appointments so they will have equally power with White House staffers. He reinforces his connections through the huge number of people on both staffs who have worked with or for him. Bush, not surprisingly, appears happy to delegate authority as he is not into detail. He is satisfied whether his Chief of Staff or Cheney provides him with the recommendations for decisions. Bush always decides but it is unclear how well he understands that his choices are framed by Cheney. I would like to read a Bush biography to see how his biographer would describe the relationship. Bush obviously had an immense trust of Cheney.
    Cheney exploits his position of V-P from which he cannot be fired. Gellman does not address the right of the President to take away the V-P’s authority. The V-P has little inherent authority. Controlling presidents have traditionally given the V-P minimal power.
    Former V-P, Dan Quayle, describes Cheney as the “surrogate Chief of Staff”. Having established a personal network within his office and the White House Cheney puts himself on numerous important committees where his mere presence will have a powerful impact. When Cheney was White House Chief of Staff he made sure information for the President flowed through him. When he is V-P he still controls the flow to the President. It is unclear why Bush’s Chief of Staff let Cheney usurp the role.
    Bush supports a “compassionate conservatism” looking to education reform and drugs for seniors. Cheney pursues his economic goals especially through the budget. In the nuanced world of the U.S. Federal system he is a rarity in determination to achieve his goals without compromise. Alan Greenspan, thinking Cheney will not really try to push through a $1,000,000,000,000 tax cut does not realize that his careful support of a tax cut will simply be used to support tax cuts that reach $1.5 trillion. At the same time Cheney is complaining about senators adding $100 million a year in spending to the budget.
    Cheney will not be threatened. He leads the way in letting Senator Jeffords change parties rather than giving way to blackmail on a special education bill.
    Cheney favoured an expansion of presidential powers. He is a “presidentialist”. I wonder what Cheney’s thoughts are on a Democratic President using the same powers. For Cheney increased presidential power was also greater personal power. At times I thought his principles were focused totally on increasing presidential power to achieve his immediate goals without reflecting on the wisdom of turning that power over to subsequent administrations.
    I had never realized on 9/11 it was Cheney who acted decisively in Washington and, despite all contortions to the contrary, gave the order to shoot down the 4th plane if it had not crashed. Why he was asked the question was a reflection of the authority already assumed by him that morning.
    The pivotal legal issues in which he participated were after 9/11. He led the way casting aside the Geneva Convention, authorizing torture and creating massive surveillance of Americans,. All the actions were based on a claim of absolute executive power in time of war. Even a zealot like Cheney wanted legal affirmation and found it in memos from John Yoo. David Addington asserted the President can order torture as no law, convention or treaty can bind him in waging war. George Washington must have been restless in his tomb.
Yoo’s torture memos were supportive of an ideological view rather than legally objective. Yoo looked to the facts and law that supported the conclusion that was wanted by Cheney. It is hard to tell a client the law does not support his position, especially when you believe in the client’s position. Cheney was satisfied with a legal opinion supporting what he planned to do on security. Had he been seeking actual opinions he would have obtained further opinions from the American military and the State Department.
    When it became clear the legal justification of torture was unsustainable the torture memos were repudiated and there was a dishonest effort to claim the drive to torture came from the bottom rather the top of the decision chain. Where The Torture Team took the story up Angler takes it down. There are no missing links between the V-P and the torturers. (The Torture Team saw the White House but not the V-P connections. It is probable that its emphasis on Rumsfeld’s role in torture would more accurately have flowed to Cheney.)
    It was amazing to read that, with Bush’s blessing, Addington (legal counsel to the V-P) personally prepared and kept the orders of the warrantless surveillance of Americans. Cheney, through his knowledge of who had authority, avoided those who might have interfered. He sought only legal opinions from supportive lawyers.
While Cheney could manipulate the source of supportive legal opinions to achieve a goal such as the surveillance he was ultimately stopped and the illegal actions reversed by lawyers. Lawyers at the Department of Justice, with the requisite legal knowledge and integrity, began the fight back for compliance with the law by refusing to certify the warrantless surveillance despite enormous V-P pressure, applied without Bush’s participation, that they were acting contrary to the national interest. It was clear Cheney pushed without the knowledge of the President. It was part of a paternalistic pattern in which Cheney let Bush know what he felt the President needed to know and the President trusted Cheney was giving him what he needed to know on an issue.
    The process culminated with Bush signing an Addington document that the President had the authority to secretly certify the program legal. It is breathtaking to think the President could turn the illegal to legal by divine right of office. When he signed Bush did not know Justice had not certified the program. The information came to him indirectly months later through Condelezza Rice.
    Bush was blindsided when all of the top staff at the Department of Justice were readying themselves to resign from an Administration that chose to act contrary to the Rule of Law. Cheney would have let them resign. He would have fought publicly for the regal unfettered presidency. Echoes of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre resounded through Washington. Bush, being both a shrewder and better politician than Nixon, backed down from the certification and the mass resignations did not take place. Thereafter, Bush never followed the Cheney line as closely. 
    The judges of America, on detainees, then moved to further reverse Cheney. Cheney and Addington fought hard for the right of the President to be unrestricted in dealing with detainees. When the issue reached the Supreme Court the combination of devotion to principle, relying on selective legal opinions and stubbornness had the Administration send the Solicitor General into Court knowing he had a losing position. I remember thinking the Administration’s position was bound for failure. For such a pragmatic man Cheney had no apparent skill in making decisions on Court actions. The detainee issue was an obvious case to give way on the policy rather than incur what was going to be a losing decision. Cheney appeared to forget he was no longer deciding who wrote the decisions.
    Even ponderous Congress moved to restrict the Administration on detainees.
    Manipulative to the end Cheney and Addington found ways around the legal and statutory restrictions for the CIA. Their adjustments are unlikely to hold.
    In the end, Cheney probably diminished Presidential authority in time of war. Government lawyers outside the administration, the judiciary, Congressmen and Senators will be far more vigilant for the next generation in checking Presidential power having endured the Cheney efforts, open and secret, to increase the President and V-P’s authority.
    Bad legal advice leads to bad results for clients. Every client requires an objective appraisal of the law. Will a court uphold your position? John Yoo was writing a law review article or a text on what the law should be in his opinion. You do not change the law by ignoring the law where it disagrees with your client. Cheney needed a lawyer telling him how far he could go in his decisions. I believe he could have come close to his goals. Courts will defer to most governmental decisions during time of war.
    In law schools future lawyers are taught to respect the Rule of Law as the foundation of our legal society. You accept there will be laws and decisions with which you disagree but are bound to support and uphold as the law of the nation. To change what is wrong requires the pursuit, in public, of new statutes and new court decisions distinguishing or reversing earlier judgments. The lawyers at the Department of Justice who refused to certify an illegal policy were upholding the fundamental principle of the Rule of Law. For Cheney, his personal positions could not be contrary to the law. When shown illegal Cheney would have his positions take precedence over the law He respected the law only as far as it supported his positions. Fortunately, America still has lawyers who support the law above ideology. As vividly demonstrated in Crossing Hitler when Nazi Germany lost its respect of the Rule of the Law the country was lost. (Mar. 1/10)

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