Cheney At West Point

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A reader writes

Read the speech more carefully. He didn't just attack the Geneva Conventions. He attacked the Constitution of the United States of America. The reality is in fact much worse than your original post would indicate.

Here's the key passage:

As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

Cheney, as usual, is careful with his words. He is, of course, right that our enemies are barbarians. Their torture manual confirms what we already knew. But the way he expresses this is very telling. He portrays the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution as devices by which al Qaeda can defeat the United States.  The effect can only be to undermine respect for both Geneva and the Constitution among West Point cadets and the military in general. In the current debate, Cheney is using a West Point graduation to urge the military to support his disavowal of Geneva and his interpretation of a unitary executive in which the president has indefinite dictatorial powers with respect to "enemy combatants" in the war on terror. Invoking Geneva and the Constitution in a time of war, Cheney implies, is only something terrorists or terrorist-supporters would do. Sticking by Geneva and the Constitution is a function of "delicate sensibilities," which, in Cheney's faux-macho worldview, is about as contemptuous an expression as can be imagined.

Cheney represents the GOP establishment consensus, as expressed in the recent South Carolina debate, and across the Bush-blogosphere. He views both the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution of the United States as obstacles to be overcome in fighting the war on terror, the kind of obstacles only wimps defer to. After all, the Constitution might be read as forbidding the executive branch from detaining a U.S. citizen on American soil, bringing no charges for years, and torturing that citizen in solitary confinement until he is a quivering wreck of a human being. But in the battle between Cheney, Padilla and the constitution, Cheney won - and Padilla and the Constitution lost.

Cheney seems to believe that the military and the president have taken oaths to defend American lives and American territory and American interests. But of course, presidents and vice-presidents and U.S. servicemembers take no such oath. Servicemembers take the following oath:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

Does Cheney understand this oath? Do the Republicans? The Constitution - not the territory, not the people - is what the U.S. government is constructed to defend. And yet the current administration clearly views that Constitution as very September 10. We have a year and a half to go under a president and vice-president with this view of the Constitution. If you are not worried, you should be.

(Photo: Stephen Chernin/Getty.)

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