The vice president has run utterly amok and must be stopped.
Under Dick Cheney, the office of the vice president has been transformed from a tiny acorn into an unprecedented giant oak. 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. The most recent invention we know of is the vice president's insistence that an executive order governing the handling of classified information in the executive branch does not reach his office because he also serves as president of the Senate. In other words, the vice president is a unique legislative-executive creature standing above and beyond the Constitution. The House judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.
Take the vice president's preposterous theory that his office is outside the executive branch because it also exercises a legislative function. The same can be said of the president, who also exercises a legislative function in signing or vetoing bills passed by Congress. Under Cheney's bizarre reasoning, President Bush is not part of his own administration: The executive branch becomes acephalous. Today Cheney Chief of Staff David Addington refused to renounce that reasoning, instead laughably trying to diminish the importance of the legal question at issue.
The nation's first vice president, John Adams, bemoaned: "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived; and as I can do neither good nor evil, I must be borne away by others and meet common fate." Vice President John Nance Garner, serving under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, lamented: "The vice presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss." In modern times, vice presidents have generally been confined to attending state funerals or to distributing blankets after earthquakes.
Then President George W. Bush outsourced the lion's share of his presidency to Vice President Cheney, and Mr. Cheney has made the most of it. Since 9/11, he has proclaimed that all checks and balances and individual liberties are subservient to the president's commander in chief powers in confronting international terrorism. Let's review the record of his abuses and excesses:
The vice president asserted presidential power to create military commissions, which combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes. The Supreme Court rebuked Cheney in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Mr. Cheney claimed authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay on the president's say-so alone, a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XVI's execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille. The Supreme Court repudiated Cheney in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.
The vice president initiated kidnappings, secret detentions, and torture in Eastern European prisons of suspected international terrorists. This lawlessness has been answered in Germany and Italy with criminal charges against CIA operatives or agents. The legal precedent set by Cheney would justify a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to kidnap American tourists in Paris and to dispatch them to dungeons in Belarus if they were suspected of Chechen sympathies.
The vice president has maintained that the entire world is a battlefield. Accordingly, he contends that military power may be unleashed to kill or capture any American citizen on American soil if suspected of association or affiliation with al-Qaida. Thus, Mr. Cheney could have ordered the military to kill Jose Padilla with rockets, artillery, or otherwise when he landed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, because of Padilla's then-suspected ties to international terrorism.
Mr. Cheney has championed a presidential power to torture in contravention of federal statutes and treaties.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates Inc. and author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy.
Photograph of Dick Cheney by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.