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Evan Whitton
25 July, 2006  
Cheney's lawyer

The same grease-ball lawyer who put forward the flawed advice on limitless US presidential power also provided colourable legal opinions to the Republicans on the Iran-Contra scandal. Is it any wonder that David Addington encapsulates a few unattractive things about the law bizzo?

imageThe New Yorker’s Jane Mayer has lately nailed Dick (Edgar) Cheney’s long-time legal adviser, sinister, shadowy, bullying David Addington, 49 (seen here).

If George W. Bush is Cheney’s Mortimer Snerd, i.e. puppet, Cheney is Addington’s in the sense that the lawyer supplies the legal backup for his nefarious notions.

Addington may thus be seen to encapsulate a few things about the law bizzo:

Government of the Lawyers. In A Concise History of the Common Law (fifth edition Butterworths 1956), Professor Theodore Plucknett said that by about 1350 “the dominant interest [in Parliament] were the common lawyers”.

One way or another, people in the English-speaking world still enjoy government of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the …

Well, who? In Edgar’s country, and perhaps increasingly in Jackie’s, it appears to be government for the CMC (Corporate-Military Complex).

Adversarial Ethics. In Modern Legal Ethics (West, 1986), Cornell law professor Charles Wolfram said:

“A lawyer’s objective within the system is to achieve a result favourable to the lawyer’s client, possibly despite justice, the law and the facts.”

The point is made by Addington’s role in the decently forgotten matter of Nicaragua.

He was a lawyer at William Casey’s Central Intelligence Agency 1981-84, Republican counsel on a committee investigating the Republican administration’s crimes 1986-87, and assistant to President R. Reagan, then in the early stages of senile dementia, 1987-88.

Addington thus had to spend much of the decade procuring colourable legal advice that crimes were not crimes at all.

imageNicaragua was a client, i.e. subservient, state of the US from 1912. Anastasio Somoza (pic) and his sons ran the country as a corrupt dictatorship from 1936 until the Sandinistas (from Augusto Sandino, murdered by Somoza in 1934) overthrew the regime in 1979.

Harold Pinter’s acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize for Literature, Art, Truth and Politics might usefully be read by anyone interested in the technique of writing plays – Callinan J perhaps – or even in truth and democracy.

Pinter said the Sandinistas were not perfect human beings, but:

“They were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built … Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.”

Worse, the Sandinistas lacked the proper client mentality. But Casey had to hand the tools to teach them a sharp lesson. From 1982, his terrorist division trained the Contras in techniques of assassination and destruction of infrastructure.

The Contras were drug-runners and terrorists led by former members of the dictatorship’s National Guard. Pinter gives their flavour. He said that in the late 1980s Father John Metcalf told the number two at the US embassy in London, R. G. Hardenbergh Seitz:

“Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.”

Seitz, imperturbable, replied: “Father, let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.”

What war? By Act of Congress, where the Democrats had majorities, it was a crime to give aid to the Contras.

It was also a crime to sell arms to Iran, but in late 1985 the administration arranged for a client state, Israel, to act as the cutout in supplying anti-tank missiles to Iran. From early 1986, recent CIA and military people were used as cutouts to sell missiles to Iran and give the profits to the Contras.

imageShifting the Goalposts. The Iran-Contra scandal exploded in November 1986. Cheney, then representing Wyoming, was senior Republican on a House select committee investigating the crimes. His 1987 minority report tried to blame Congress rather than Reagan et al. It said Congress had wrongly encroached on the President’s powers on foreign policy and war.

Addington supplied the legal research for this rubbish.

Redescription. Lawyers are brilliant at redescription. Casey, a lawyer, said the Contras were “freedom-fighters”. Someone advised Reagan to say they were “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers”.

Serial Lying. On Addington’s Nicaragua form, it is no surprise that in 2006 Jane Mayer found his greasy fingerprints all over documents containing, in a hotly contested field, some of the most heroic lies of this or any other century:

The documents claim that in war the President can do what he likes. He can sanction torture, ignore the Geneva Conventions, incarcerate people without trial, unlawfully surveill telephones and banking transactions, and generally pervert justice.

Those alleged powers, along with the CMC’s profits from war, might explain why some believe it is useful for the US to be permanently at war against something.

But surely the lawyers cannot entirely be blamed for that.


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