THE PANOPTICON WHITE HOUSE….There’s nothing wrong with the fact that Dick Cheney is a powerful vice president. Jimmy Carter began the transformation of the vice presidency decades ago when he gave Walter Mondale more than just the veep’s usual ribbon cutting and funeral attendance duties, Bush Sr. continued the transformation, and Al Gore took it up yet another notch when he was Bill Clinton’s vice president.
That’s all fine. Since the vice president is the guy who takes over the country if the president dies, we’re all better off if the VP is deeply involved in the operations of the executive. The Washington Post’s series on Dick Cheney, however, describes a man who’s not just involved, but nearly pathological. The most telling moment comes in a passage that involves Condoleezza Rice, back when she headed up the National Security Council, and her top lawyer, John Bellinger. The subject is Cheney’s belief that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to the war on terror:
At the White House, Bellinger sent Rice a blunt — and, he thought, private — legal warning. The Cheney-Rumsfeld position would place the president indisputably in breach of international law and would undermine cooperation from allied governments. Faxes had been pouring in at the State Department since the order for military commissions was signed, with even British authorities warning that they could not hand over suspects if the U.S. government withdrew from accepted legal norms.
One lawyer in his office said that Bellinger was chagrined to learn, indirectly, that Cheney had read the confidential memo and “was concerned” about his advice. Thus Bellinger discovered an unannounced standing order: Documents prepared for the national security adviser, another White House official said, were “routed outside the formal process” to Cheney, too. The reverse did not apply.
The article doesn’t explain how this process happens, but it’s astonishing that even the NSC director and her top aides are not allowed to exchange private memos in the Bush/Cheney White House. Apparently the West Wing has been transformed into a panopticon for the benefit of Dick Cheney and his staff: they can watch you, but you can’t watch back. Jeremy Bentham’s passion for “invisible omniscience” must have struck a chord with them.