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There's a lot Cheney feels we don't need to know

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Those of us who have demonstrated a willingness to be critical of the Bush administration, even as we recognize the giant personal waterfall of character flaws that gush from the very idea, have been truly chagrined these weeks by the sage guidance of Vice President Dick Cheney.

As FBI Director Robert Mueller gets busily about the work of telling Americans his agency cannot protect us (well there's a scoop!), and as evidence mounts that even its capable agents are smothered by a dubious chain of command, Cheney emerged from some undisclosed lair to issue a series of good scoldings. Not to anyone who might have failed to pull together the horrible outline of Sept. 11, of course, but to anyone who might criticize the administration along those lines.

"Irresponsible," decreed King Richard. "Incendiary." Perhaps it is because the knowledge and experience gap between the imperious Dick and his boss, George W. is so vast, that King Richard feels as though the primary function of the executive branch must suddenly be to tell everyone else to go to hell.

Not only will there be no serious independent examination of this administration's response to terror threats, Cheney indicates, but he might not even allow criticism. That's why when Cheney lights up the Sunday morning talk show circuit by saying further terrorist attacks are "almost inevitable", you get the feeling that he'd very much like to add, "and short of that, I'll be out there chopping off heads anyway."

So add to your Cheney scorecard his decree that there will be no broad congressional access to the complete Aug. 6 memorandum suggesting that agents with ties to Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack American commercial aircraft, and no independent investigation.

That's on top of the Cheney decree that Tom Ridge needn't testify before Congress on the specific work of the Office of Homeland Security. Which is on top of the Cheney decree that the General Accounting Office, the investigating arm of Congress, will not get information it requested on the particulars of Cheney's energy task force. Which is on top of the Cheney decree that the Senate will not be made privy to particulars about administration information about Enron.

What Cheney is driving at with all this goes way beyond politics and way beyond even the war on terror. It's part of an agenda designed to aim the executive branch toward an Imperial Presidency, one not only freed from legitimate systematic opposition, but from dissent itself. Dissent, by the way, merely birthed America.

While I've always been one who is quite willing to believe the worst about the Bushes, I don't believe that the president could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks and chose to do nothing. It's ludicrous. Not incendiary. Not irresponsible. Just ludicrous.

I'm willing to believe that the bin Laden family had a huge financial interest in an American investment venture called the Carlyle Group, which specialized in buyouts of defense and aerospace companies, and of which George Bush the elder was a most valuable player and spokesman.

I'm even willing to believe that Bush the elder and ex-Secretary of State and Florida vote-flap pit bull James Baker once visited the bin Laden family's construction headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And I'm further willing to believe John O'Neill, the FBI agent who died at the World Trade Center, who had warned "the main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorists were U.S. oil companies and the role played by Saudi Arabia in U.S. energy policy." All of which, obviously, makes Cheney's decree that the General Accounting Office not see the particulars of how administration energy policy was developed look all the more sinister.

Despite all that, it's not all that hard to know what you can believe. You can believe that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Roosevelt appointed an independent commission to analyze the intelligence failures that co-mingled to allow such an atrocity. You can believe that when the space shuttle exploded, President Reagan appointed an independent commission to find out exactly why. And you can believe that this administration will allow nothing of the sort, for reasons about which it would be only "incendiary" to speculate.

Congress, in the name of the American people, should insist on an independent investigation of intelligence failures in this administration and previous administrations. It's only prudent. And yet there is more at stake. We might have a dictator in America, Dicktator Cheney, but we don't have a Dictatorship. Yet.

Gene Collier's e-mail address is gcollier@post-gazette.com

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