Perhaps the most powerful lawyer in the Bush administration is also the most reclusive. David Addington, who was Vice President Dick Cheney’s counsel from 2001 to 2005, and since then his chief of staff, does not talk to the press. His voice, however, has been enormously influential behind closed doors, where, with Cheney’s backing, he has helped shape the administration’s strategy in the war on terror, and in particular its aggressively expansive conception of executive power. Sometimes called “Cheney’s Cheney,” Addington has twenty years of experience in national security matters—he has been a lawyer for the CIA, the secretary of defense, and two congressional committees concerned with intelligence and foreign affairs. He is a prodigious worker, and by all accounts a brilliant inside political player. Richard Shiffrin, deputy general counsel for intelligence at the Defense Department until 2003, called him “an unopposable force.” Yet most of the American public has never heard him speak.
Addington’s combination of public silence and private power makes him an apt symbol for the Bush administration’s general approach to national security. Many of the administration’s most controversial policies have been adopted in secret, under Addington’s direction, often without much input from other parts of the executive branch, much less other branches of government, and without public accountability. Among the measures we know about are disappearances of detainees into secret CIA prisons, the use of torture to gather evidence, rendition of suspects to countries known for torture, and warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
When the public learns of such practices, usually because someone—presumably not David Addington—has leaked information about them to the press, the administration continues to invoke secrecy to block efforts to hold it to account. After The New York Times revealed that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor Americans’ phone calls without judicial approval, in violation of a criminal statute, the administration labeled the program a “state secret” and argued that lawsuits challenging its legality must be dismissed in deference to executive claims of confidentiality. On the same grounds, the Supreme Court in October declined without comment to hear a lawsuit challenging the administration’s abduction of an innocent German citizen who was taken to Afghanistan to be tortured, and then dumped on a remote Albanian roadside when US officials realized they had kidnapped the wrong man. The administration argued that the litigation would reveal classified information, and the Supreme Court was unwilling even to consider whether it is consistent with our democratic system to elevate secrecy over all other constitutional and human rights values—including the right not to be tortured.
Because of this secrecy, what little the public knows about Addington and the policies he has advocated necessarily comes from others. No one has provided more credible detail on that subject than Jack Goldsmith, himself a former Bush administration insider, now a Harvard law professor, who has written The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside …