Cheney and a ‘completely inverted’ reality

CHENEY AND A ‘COMPLETELY INVERTED’ REALITY…. Dick Cheney has been spending quite a bit of time outside of his undisclosed location lately. After hiding throughout the campaign season, the Vice President has done a series of “exit interviews” as his time in Washington wraps up.

And as part of his long goodbye, Cheney has offered a series of interesting legal opinions, all of which look pretty ridiculous when scrutinized. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick highlights a few of Cheney’s most recent gems, all of which point to an official who has “completely inverted settled and open legal questions.”

For example, Cheney made the case that torture is legal, most notably waterboarding, which he not only defended in an ABC interview, but acknowledged having cleared as Bush administration policy. Is he right? Not so much.

That question has been resolved as a legal matter for centuries and is not actually open to relitigation on ABC News. Water-boarding has been deemed torture and prosecuted as a war crime in this country. It violates, among other things, the Convention Against Torture, the War Crimes Act, and the U.S. anti-torture statute. Its illegality is neither an open question nor a close one. Yet again, the handful of people — including Dick Cheney — who maintain that torture is completely legal corresponds almost perfectly to the number of people who could be prosecuted for war crimes because it is not.

And then there’s Cheney’s belief that the president has the legal authority to do just about anything he wants as part of his national security responsibilities. This authority is vested in the presidency, Cheney said, because of “the nature of the world we live in.” Is this right? Survey says…

The claim that “the nature of the world we live in” warrants a perennially unchecked executive branch can be delivered with all the gravitas in the world, and it still amounts to constitutional nonsense. To this end it’s well worth reading Absolute Power, in which distinguished legal journalist John MacKenzie takes a close look at claims about the unitary executive. MacKenzie shows how a scholarly constitutional claim about the right of executive branch officials to interpret the Constitution morphed into the aggressively ahistorical interpretation of executive power that Cheney parrots with such perfect confidence. As MacKenzie writes: “The unitary executive has come a long way for a theory that has a hole in its heart and no basis in history or coherent thought. It simply is devoid of content, not expressed or even strongly implied in foundational documents such as The Federalist, not to mention the Constitution.”

Something to keep in mind the next time Cheney sits down for another interview: when it comes to the rule of law, he has a twisted worldview.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.