12/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

President Elect Obama: Denounce and Renounce

I spent most of the weeks between the conventions and the election reading two essential books: Jane Mayer's The Dark Side and Barton Gellman's Angler. Both cast essential light, the first from a systemic perspective and the second from a personal one, on the degree to which Vice President Cheney created a secret cabal inside the Executive Branch. That cabal, co-headed by Cheney's ultra-pugnacious in-house lawyer David Addington, proceeded to eviscerate laws and treaties, paving them over with a series of (in some cases, still-secret) legal opinions binding on the Executive Branch, whose power Cheney (though publicly disavowing his membership in that branch) was determined to increase.

Those members of the government with legislative or constitutional responsibilities to weigh in on these matters, but whom the Cheney team didn't trust, simply weren't "read in" on the new policies. So State Department experts on the law of war, Defense Department JAGS, even Condi Rice and Colin Powell, all found out about these new policies--involving, at a minimum, detention, rendition, and interrogation methods that were designed to shock the conscience--in the press, as a fait accompli, if they found out about them at all.

It was an eerie experience, reading this material during an election campaign where such matters were rarely if ever mentioned. One benefit of keeping your most prized policies secret is that they don't get debated during an election, because they don't show up on polls of voters' concerns.

So, the question needs to be asked of the President-elect: do you plan to denounce and renounce these extra-Constitutional ways of doing business, and the illegal policies that resulted, before you take office? Because, one is entitled to fear that, if you don't, one day, when things get tough (as they will), you will look at this secret little tool chest, and it will appear all too tempting.