NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: It is an astute point, all the more so for seeming obvious: the unique policies put into effect by Bush and Cheney were not consequences of the September 11 attacks but calculated responses to them. There was nothing fated about Stellar Wind, or “black sites” and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were practiced in them, or Guantánamo and military commissions; these and the other distinctive post–September 11 policies that still cast their shadows over us were born of choices made by government officials and, in the event, by a vanishingly small number of them. Cheney, Gellman writes, “freed Bush to fight the ‘war on terror’ as he saw fit, driven by a shared belief that the government had to shake off old habits of self-restraint.” As noted, some of these “habits” Cheney, as President Ford’s chief of staff, had seen inscribed in law during the post-Vietnam revolution of the 1970s, when government misdeeds, not only those by the White House but by the FBI, CIA, and NSA, were exposed, and Congress acted to restrain those institutions, and the president’s power to make use of them, with new legislation. September 11 offered the opportunity for a counterrevolution, which Gellman neatly summarizes:

With Bush’s consent, Cheney unleashed foreign intelligence agencies to spy at home. He gave them legal cover to conduct what he called “robust interrogation” of captured enemies, using calculated cruelty to break their will. At Cheney’s initiative, the United States stripped terror suspects of long-established rights under domestic and international law, building a new legal edifice under exclusive White House ownership. Everything from capture and confinement to questioning, trial, and punishment would proceed by rules invented on the fly.

The depth of this transformation is truly breathtaking and its surface signs are still visible all around us, if we take the trouble to look: in the detainees still languishing at Guantánamo, in the unpiloted drones tracking and killing thousands of people, and indeed in the sweeping up of our telephone and Internet metadata by the four programs that have been the successors of Stellar Wind. These revolutionary changes in our government’s policies toward holding prisoners, toward waging war, and toward surveilling its citizens could never have been effected without the imagination, experience, and audacity of Dick Cheney. […] As Gellman shows in detail, Cheney made use of secrecy and a cadre of dedicated and ruthless allies that he, as chief of Bush’s transition—unprecedented for a vice-president elect—had seeded at strategic points throughout the government. This enabled Bush to circumvent that process and instead make policy in tiny, highly secret groups. And it was Cheney who urged Bush to impose those policies unilaterally, relying on his own asserted authority as commander in chief—even policies like Stellar Wind that appeared to violate express provisions of the law. MORE