Book: Cheney aide said, 'We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court'
Book reveals White House strategies to consolidate executive power
A new book by former Department of Justice lawyer Jack Goldsmith reveals a play-by-play account of White House strategies for expanding executive power following the Sept. 11 attacks.
To be published later this month, Goldsmith’s The Terror Presidency, details how Bush administration officials, including then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Cheney’s current chief of staff David Addington, promoted broad legal justifications for measures including controversial secret surveillance plans and detention procedures for enemy combatants. The contents of the book will be profiled in the forthcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine in a piece by lawyer Jeffrey Rosen, who also spoke exclusively with Goldsmith.
“Goldsmith told me that he has decided to speak publicly about his battles at the Justice Department because he hopes that ‘future presidents and people inside the executive branch can learn from our mistakes,” Rosen writes. “In his view, American presidents for the foreseeable future will, like George W. Bush, face enormous pressure to be aggressive and pre-emptive in taking measures to prevent another terrorist attack in the United States.”
Appointed in the fall of 2003 to head up the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, a division dedicated to advising the president on the extent of executive power, Goldsmith’s introduction to White House legal maneuvering was an abrupt one.
“Several hours after Goldsmith was sworn in,” Rosen writes, "he recalls that he received a phone call from Gonzales: the White House needed to know as soon as possible whether the Fourth Geneva Convention, which describes protections that explicitly cover civilians in war zones like Iraq, also covered insurgents and terrorists.”
After presenting his analysis that the Geneva Conventions indeed covered all civilians, whether insurgent or terrorist, Goldsmith remembers David Addington, then legal counsel to Vice President Cheney, saying “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections...[y]ou cannot question his decision.”
Later, according to Rosen, after having legal questions about another administration decision, Goldsmith received another Addington rebuke.
“If you rule that way,” Goldsmith recalls Addington saying “the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.”
“In Goldsmith’s estimation, the unnecessary unilateralism of the Bush administration reached its apex in the controversy over wiretapping and secret surveillance,” Rosen writes. While he shared President Bush’s worries that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) could halt wiretaps of terrorists’ international calls, Goldsmith strongly disapproved of White House plans fix the problem, many of which held little respect for courts or Congress.
“We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” Addington said in 2004, according to the book.
Goldsmith was also an eye-witness when Alberto Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew card visited Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital room in 2004 to request that Ashcroft sign off on a controversial spy program set to expire.
After being admonished by the seriously ill attorney general for visiting him in such a condition, Goldsmith told Rosen that Gonzales "thanked" Ashcroft, before walking out of the room with Card.
"Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them," Goldsmith said. "She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.”