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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Big Time in Trouble 

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These are tough times for Cheney. He has always been the administration's most "forward-leaning" force when it came to carrying out the war on terror and the Iraq invasion. Until recently Cheney's own authority was largely unchallenged in Republican Washington. But Congress, mindful of the public's turn against the war, is now openly defying his hard-line policies. Powerful figures—within the West Wing, at the State Department and Pentagon—who once deferred to him are now peeling away, worried that Cheney may have gone too far. His credibility has also been damaged by the CIA-leak investigation, which nabbed his trusted No. 2, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, who pleaded not guilty last week to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The vice president could be forgiven for retreating to his undisclosed location and waiting out the worst of it. Instead, his response has been pure Cheney. He's not budging. If anything—as the Senate meeting shows—the veep has become more convinced that he's right and his opponents are wrong.

In his time of need, he has counted on the help of at least one unswervingly faithful aide. With Libby sidelined, the vice president has elevated David Addington, a loyal acolyte, to be his new chief of staff. Addington has been at the vice president's side since the 1980s, when Cheney was a congressman and Addington a lawyer for the House intelligence committee. When Che-ney became secretary of Defense during the first Bush presidency, Addington went with him. A skilled bureaucratic infighter who uses his temper strategically to stun foes into submission, Addington, now 48, has matured into a classic Washington type: the most powerful man you've never heard of. As Cheney's counsel, Addington—a private workaholic who, unlike Libby, shuns reporters—was one of the most forceful voices for tough treatment of terror suspects. It was Addington who drafted the January 2002 Alberto Gonzales memo which argued that captured Taliban and Qaeda fighters shouldn't be covered by the Geneva Conventions. He was behind the presidential order establishing military tribunals. And he passionately argued that in wartime the president has almost unlimited power—a point of view that was spelled out in the "torture memo" that the administration was eventually forced to rescind under public pressure.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Protesting torture policies near the White House
Now those policies have become a burden for the White House. When Bush began his second term in 2004, a group of top administration officials, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, began a quiet campaign to back off some controversial detention and interrogation methods that were damaging U.S. credibility around the world. At White House meetings, Rice openly worried that in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib "these policies threatened to be the president's legacy," says an administration official who was present but asked for anonymity about the private sessions. Among the proposals seriously considered inside the bureaucracy: shutting down the prison at Guan-tanamo Bay, allowing U.N. inspectors to tour Gitmo and pledging to follow Article III of the Geneva Conventions, which bars "cruel, degrading and inhumane" treatment of prisoners. Among Rice's supporters were two staunch defenders of the war on terror: national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, and Gordon England, Donald Rumsfeld's new deputy—an important shift that suggested Rumsfeld had qualms of his own.


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