'Washington Post' Series Focuses on Cheney
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
And I'm Anthony Brooks.
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BRAND: But first, he's been called the Prince of Darkness and the shadow president. Now a series in the Washington Post examines the role of Vice President Dick Cheney. His secret service name is Angler. It's supposed to refer to Cheney's love of fishing. According to the Post, there's another meaning. Cheney has angled for and received more power than any other vice president.
Joining us now for his weekly chat with us is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.
RON ELVING: Hello, Madeleine.
BRAND: Well, the first two parts of this four-part series were published yesterday and today. And they really go into depth examining Cheney's behind the scenes role in remaking the president's war powers, including subverting the Geneva Conventions and, you know, holding detainees without habeas corpus review.
ELVING: Yes. There are not a lot of new revelations here. There are summations we haven't heard before. I was particularly taken by the fact, although I suppose we should've known this, that there is not a stated number of employees of the vice president's office and that his office refuses to provide a list.
BRAND: Well, really, this goes back to the campaign, right? To the campaign of 2000?
ELVING: I cannot think of another vice president in American history who had the honor of choosing himself to be the vice president.
BRAND: Okay. Let's get to the meat of these two articles, and that is Cheney's campaign to magnify, in essence, the president's war making abilities with regards to the secret surveillance, for example, with regards to rewriting the Geneva protections for people captured on the so-called battlefield. What does the Post say about Cheney's role in these affairs?
ELVING: Madeleine, it all goes back to 9/11. The president was out of town on the day of 9/11. He was in Florida, so Dick Cheney was in the White House and very largely in charge for a number of hours. And even in those early hours, he seemed to be quite ready to take the reigns and to make decisions that had to be made to defend the capital city and also to begin setting in motion our reaction to 9/11. And almost seamlessly, from then on, Dick Cheney, working closely with other members of the administration, many of whom had been his friends for decades - long before they knew George Bush - set in motion how the United States was going to respond, set the terms for the global war on terror.
And one of the most significant aspects of this was how to treat people we captured, we believed had information about al-Qaida, about future 9/11s, about the first 9/11. And then they had a working group that worked on theories for how you could maximize the means, legal means for getting information out of suspects without calling it torture.
BRAND: Saying, for example, it's okay to waterboard, but not okay to threaten to bury someone alive.
ELVING: Saying, among other things, that introducing pain or inducing pain that might be equivalent to the sensation of organ death or even to the pain that would be associated with dying - that that would be acceptable as long as it did not fit a very narrow, some would say, tortured definition of torture.
BRAND: And where is the president in all of this? Is this going on without his knowledge or is this going on and then the vice president presents this to the president and he just signs these orders? What happens?
ELVING: The essence of the vice president's role is that he acts not without the knowledge of the president, not in lieu of the president, but he acts ahead of the president. He puts together a policy. He puts together a way that policy might be executed and presents that to the president - not as a fait accompli, but as a way that the goals, the aims, that he and the president share can be achieved.
But it's clear from the Washington Post series - and I think it was clear even before we saw it all pulled together in this series - that Dick Cheney was, if you will, the first among equals. His voice was always heard. And even if the president did not always go along with Dick Cheney, his batting average was far higher than anyone else's.
BRAND: Well, since then, Vice President Cheney's wings have clipped quite a bit by the Supreme Court, by Congress. So does he have as much power now as he did then?
ELVING: It's a little bit hard to make that judgment at this juncture. His wings may have been clipped in certain very specific respects, but I think the president of the United States needs Dick Cheney as much today as he ever has. He understands the way that Dick Cheney's mind works. And in the end, they seem to be simpatico in terms of the way they like to make decisions, and then the way they like to deal with the consequences. Dick Cheney takes the blows and continues on his path. He is the human personification of stay the course.
BRAND: NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, thank you.
ELVING: Thank you, Madeleine.
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