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Friday, June 22, 2007

Cheney Ignores the Law

Cheney disregards order on classified information
His aides attempted to abolish office that pressed him on rules
Peter Baker, Washington Post
Friday, June 22, 2007

(06-22) 04:00 PDT Washington -- Vice President Dick Cheney's office has refused to comply with an executive order governing the handling of classified information for the past four years and recently tried to abolish the office that sought to enforce those rules, according to documents released by a congressional committee Thursday.

Since 2003, the vice president's staff has not cooperated with an office at the National Archives and Records Administration charged with making sure the executive branch protects classified information. Cheney aides have not filed reports on their possession of classified data and at one point blocked an inspection of their office. After the archives office pressed the matter, the documents say, Cheney's staff this year proposed eliminating it.

The dispute centers on a relatively obscure process but underscores a wider struggle waged in the last 6 1/2 years over Cheney's penchant for secrecy. Since becoming vice president, Cheney has fought attempts to peer into the inner workings of his office, shielding an array of information such as the industry executives who advised his energy task force, details about his privately funded travel and Secret Service logs showing who visits his official residence.

The aggressive efforts to protect the operations of his staff have usually pitted Cheney against lawmakers, interest groups or media organizations, sometimes going all the way to the Supreme Court. But the fight about classified information regulation indicates that the vice president has resisted oversight even by other parts of the Bush administration. Cheney's office argued that it is exempt from the rules in this case because it is not strictly an executive agency.

"He's saying he's above the law," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which released a series of correspondence Thursday outlining the situation. "It just seems to me this is arrogant and shows bad judgment."

Cheney's office declined to discuss what it called internal matters. "We are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law," said spokeswoman Megan McGinn.

The Justice Department confirmed Thursday that it is looking into the issue. "This matter is currently under review in the department," said spokesman Erik Ablin, who declined to elaborate.

The standoff stems from an executive order establishing a uniform, governmentwide system for safeguarding classified information. The order was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and was updated and reissued by President Bush in 2003. Under the order, an "entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information" must report annually how much it is keeping secret.

Cheney's office filed annual reports in 2001 and 2002 describing its classification activities but stopped filing in 2003, according to internal administration letters released Thursday. Cheney's office made the case that it is not covered because the vice president under the Constitution also serves as president of the Senate and therefore has both legislative and executive duties.

In 2004, the archives' Information Security Oversight Office, a 25-member agency responsible for securing classified information, decided to conduct an on-site inspection of Cheney's office to see how sensitive material was handled. The vice president's staff, according to a letter Waxman sent Cheney, blocked the inspection.

After the Chicago Tribune reported last year that Cheney failed to report classification data, the Federation of American Scientists filed a complaint. J. William Leonard, director of the archives' oversight office, sent two letters to Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, requesting compliance with the executive order but received no replies. Leonard then wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January asking him to render a legal ruling on whether the vice president is violating the order. Gonzales has not replied.

Leonard, in his letters to Addington and Gonzales, argued that the interpretation that the office of the vice president is not an executive entity "could impede access to classified information by OVP staff, in that such access would be considered a disclosure outside the executive branch."

But Leonard may have angered Cheney's office with his persistence. The administration is reviewing the executive order, and Leonard told Waxman's staff that Cheney aides proposed amending the order to abolish the archives oversight office and explicitly exempt the vice president from its requirements. The elimination of the office has been rejected, according to Waxman.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Rule of Law

Thank God.

June 12, 2007
New York Times

A Ruling for Justice

For years, President Bush has made the grandiose claim that the Congressional authorization to attack Afghanistan after 9/11 was a declaration of a “war on terror” that gave him the power to decide who the combatants are and throw them into military prisons forever.

Yesterday, in a powerful 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit utterly rejected the president’s claims. The majority made clear how threatening the administration’s policies are to the Constitution and the rule of law — and how far the administration has already gone down that treacherous road.

Mr. Bush, the majority said, does not claim these powers for dire emergencies but “maintains that the authority to order the military to seize and detain certain civilians is an inherent power of the presidency, which he and his successors may exercise as they please.”

The prisoner in this case, a citizen of Qatar named Ali al-Marri, was living in the United States legally when he was arrested and charged with being an Al Qaeda terrorist. In 2003, Mr. Bush declared Mr. Marri an enemy combatant, took him from civilian authorities and threw him into a military brig where he remains today without charges being filed.

The court did not say Mr. Marri was innocent, nor that he must be set free. It said that the law does not give Mr. Bush the power to seize a civilian living in the United States and declare him to be an enemy combatant based on whatever definition he chooses to apply. If Mr. Marri is to be kept in prison, it said, he must be tried and convicted in a civilian court.

The ruling said the Constitution and numerous precedents made it clear that foreigners living legally in this country have the same right to due process as any American citizen. It found no merit in the president’s claim that the Congressional approval of the use of military force in Afghanistan gave him authority to change that or that he has “the inherent authority” to do it on his own. Sanctioning that kind of authority “would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and for the country,” the judges said.

The judges said their ruling applied only to people living legally in the United States and not to the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. But the court’s powerful arguments may be relevant to a large number of those men. Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling would not help those prisoners who were captured on a battlefield and properly imprisoned as combatants. But there are hundreds of prisoners who were not taken on a battlefield but instead were picked up by the military or intelligence agents around the world and classified as combatants because of their association with Al Qaeda. The ruling said that was not an adequate definition of combatant.

This ruling is another strong argument for bringing Mr. Bush’s detention camps under the rule of law. Congress can do that by repealing the odious Military Commissions Act of 2006, which endorsed Mr. Bush’s twisted system of indefinite detentions, by closing Guantánamo Bay and by allowing the courts to sort out the prisoners — not according to the whims of one president with an obvious disdain for the balance of powers but by the rules of justice that have guided this nation for more than 200 years.