Cheney: Screw the Law

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Twice, Dick Cheney, as vice president of the United States, took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Apparently, he did not take those words seriously, for on Sunday, he said that it was fine by him if government officials broke the law.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Cheney made news–once again–by attacking the Obama administration. He denounced Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to examine possible CIA abuses of terrorism suspects. He decried Obama and the Democrats as soft on national security. He suggested that he had wanted to undertake military action against Iran before the Bush-Cheney administration ended, but that his “colleagues”–including President Bush–were not as gung-ho. All of this generated the predictable headlines and cable chatter.

But one short exchange between the former veep and host Chris Wallace did not receive the attention it merited. After Cheney defended the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (aka torture), Wallace asked him about the alleged abuses mentioned in a CIA report recently released. Cheney insisted, “It was good policy.” The host followed up:

Wallace: So even these cases where [CIA interrogators] went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?

Cheney: I am.

Interrogators can break the particular rules and laws that govern their actions, and Cheney has no problem with that. (Wallace did not press him further on the matter.) This is a rather Jack Bauer-ish approach to the old Barry Goldwater line, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Yet Cheney’s taking it further: breaking the law to break terrorists is no problem.

Over the past several years, there has been a debate over how far the United States should go to defend itself against non-state actors who have expressed a desire to attack America with nuclear weapons. Decision-makers, policy wonks, and citizens have tried to figure out where to draw the appropriate lines. But Cheney is essentially saying, “To hell with that–even if there are lines, they don’t matter.”

Which means that for almost eight years, the United States had a vice president who did not believe in the rule of law. What a win for the terrorists.

You can follow David Corn’s posts and media appearances via Twitter.

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