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Doak: Restore Constitution as law of the land - Impeach Cheney
By RICHARD DOAK, Des Moines Register
Simply waiting for President Bush to be replaced in 2009 won't undo the damage done to the Constitution these last six years.
The absolute executive power asserted by Bush must be disavowed while he is still in office, lest it become precedent for all future presidents.
That's why Vice President Cheney should be impeached.
His conviction and removal from office would be the most powerful way to send the message that unchecked executive power is not the American way.
Why impeach Cheney and not Bush himself? Because an impeachment of the president would be an all-consuming drama that would keep the nation from other important business.
A vice president could be impeached without seriously disrupting the nation's business. There was no big upheaval when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned under a criminal cloud.
Besides, Cheney has been deeply involved in, if not the architect of, most of the possibly impeachable activities of the administration, and he is the chief advocate of the theory of the "unitary executive" that purports to justify unlimited presidential power. An impeachment of Cheney would, in effect, be a repudiation of Bush's overreaching power claims.
Cheney's centrality to the administration was meticulously reported last week in a series of articles in the Washington Post. The articles show the most influential vice president in history as a master manipulator, pulling the levers of power, sometimes going behind the president's back, operating in almost total secrecy and with contempt for the notion of accountability to the public.
After all that's happened, it is still possible to view Bush as a leader with a basically good heart who makes the mistake of accepting guidance from a Machiavellian vice president.
Cheney's contempt for the law and the public was illustrated again last week in the uproar over his refusal to make certain records available to the national archives.
Excessive government secrecy will become one of Bush-Cheney's legacies. Consider what else will become precedent if Cheney's version of the unitary executive is allowed to stand unchallenged. In the future:
- Any American citizen could be taken into custody, jailed for life with no trial and without ever knowing the charges, just on the president's say-so.
- Wiretapping, Internet snooping and surreptitious searches of Americans' homes without a warrant could be reinstituted at any time. Although the administration supposedly has stopped warrantless searches, the authority to do so has not been definitively renounced.
- Torture, under the euphemism of enhanced interrogation, will be standard practice, contrary to international law and, worse, everything that America once stood for.
- Any president will be able to pick and choose which laws to obey and which to ignore.
Under the Constitution, the president has a duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," but Bush routinely declares in signing statements that he will carry out only those laws that he happens to like.
The Cheney-Bush belief that the president is above the law is a clear and present danger to the Constitution.
Impeachment is allowed under the Constitution for "high crimes and misdemeanors." High crimes, by definition, are crimes against the state. Outside of treason, in America there can be no higher crime than flouting the Constitution.
That's why Cheney warrants impeachment. Not to mention he was the administration's most blatant liar about nonexistent weapons and al-Qaida connections in pre-invasion Iraq.
One more thing: His fellow Republicans should take the lead in impeaching Cheney. It would be a way to redeem themselves.
It is to the everlasting shame of the Republican Party that its members in Congress became the president's and vice president's enablers. They looked the other way at possible violations of law and the Constitution. They meekly surrendered legislative prerogatives and blocked investigations. They tried to legalize illegal acts ex post facto and immunize executive-branch officers from any liability for wrongdoing.
They put party loyalty above their oaths to defend and protect the Constitution.
The great irony is that the aggrandizement of executive power was enabled by the party whose core values include strict adherence to the Constitution and tight limits on government power.
In renouncing the unitary executive theory of Dick Cheney, the Republicans could help restore the Constitution to its proper balance and reclaim their own party's soul.
RICHARD DOAK is a retired Register columnist.