Am I the only one who noticed? I hope not. But
just in case, let me note that Vice President Dick Cheney made a huge misstatement
to his West Point audience on May 26. I hope that, at a minimum, the West Point
history majors noticed it. Near the end of his speech
at the United States Military Academy commencement, Mr. Cheney stated:
"On your first day of Army life, each one of you raised your right
hand and took an oath. And you will swear again today to defend the United States
against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is your vow, that is the business
Well, not quite. Here is the actual
oath that newly minted officers in the U.S. Army take:
"I (insert name), having been appointed a (insert rank) in the U.S.
Army under the conditions indicated in this document, do accept such appointment
and 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; that I take this obligation freely,
without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and
faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter,
so help me God."
Notice the difference? Mr. Cheney claims that U.S. Army officers vow to defend
the United States, but as the oath quoted above shows, they don't. Instead,
they vow to defend the U.S. Constitution. As a former student of mine, an officer
in the U.S. military, said, "Professor, isn't it interesting that our highest
obligation is not to protect the United States but, instead, is to protect the
U.S. Constitution?" Yes, it is interesting.
Actually, more than just the history majors should have noticed it. All of
the graduating cadets should have noticed because, after all, what good is an
oath if you don't remember it?
Did Mr. Cheney simply make a casual mistake? It's possible. But in the rest
of his speech, he described life at West Point in punctilious detail. He mentioned
Thayer Gate, R-Day, and Lake Frederick, all things that are known to West Pointers
and all evidence of a well-staffed speech. I can say confidently, based on my
time in the White House as a senior economist under Ronald Reagan, that speeches
by the president and the vice president are carefully checked for the tiniest
of details. That makes it hard to believe that someone didn't point out what
the oath actually says. And, if someone did, then it would appear that
Mr. Cheney preferred to have it his way and state his ersatz oath.
Why would he do that? I don't know, but here's my best guess. The Bush administration
has landed a few body blows on the U.S. Constitution. Let me give two significant
examples. First, by signing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in 2002,
President Bush violated the First Amendment, which says that "Congress
shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech." In his signing
statement, President Bush even admitted, in Washington-speak, that the law
violated the Constitution. Which means, by the way, that President Bush knowingly
violated the oath he took "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution
of the United States."
The Bush administration's second major violation of the Constitution was its
restriction of habeas corpus, which, according to Article I, Section 9 of the
Constitution, "shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion
or Invasion the public Safety may require it." By signing the Military
Commissions Act of 2006, President Bush took away this protection that has existed
in some form in many countries since the Magna Carta of 1215. Robert Levy, a
legal scholar whose work I generally respect highly, has
argued that the law does not end habeas corpus for U.S. citizens; I'm not
informed enough to know. But I do know that it ends habeas corpus for non-citizens,
and nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it state that the protections from
government are extended only to U.S. citizens.
I do not claim the above two examples to be the Bush administration's only
violations of the U.S. Constitution. But they are two very important ones. Although
the Supreme Court, the president, and the Congress thumbed their collective
noses decades ago at the Constitution's protection of economic freedom, the
First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech has been much more respected.
McCain-Feingold, therefore, is a huge negative step. So also with the suspension
of habeas corpus, even if this suspension applies only to non-citizens.
Vice President Cheney might have had another motive for substituting "United
States" for "Constitution of the United States" in his version
of the oath. Michael
Roston has highlighted Mr. Cheney's pointing out that although U.S. military
officers must follow the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, their
enemies don't have those same "delicate sensibilities" when they "wage
attacks or take captives." Mr. Roston argues that Cheney was attacking
the Geneva Conventions. I'm not so sure, although I think a good case can be
made for Mr. Roston's conclusion. But whatever Mr. Cheney's view on the Geneva
Conventions, he did implicitly attack or, at a minimum, slight the U.S. Constitution.
Should one of the graduating cadets, upon taking the oath, have taken it seriously
by pointing out Mr. Cheney's mistake?
Copyright © 2007 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to
reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.