He's barely known outside Washington's corridors of power, but David Addington is the most powerful man you've never heard of. Here's why:
The administration's first goal was winning passage of a congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force. The Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted Congress to define the conflict narrowly and authorize the use of force against al Qaeda and its confederates, as well as the Taliban. "It has a good impact on morale to have a conflict that's narrowly defined and easily winnable," says attorney Horton. But Addington and Cheney, according to Horton, "really wanted it [defined more broadly], because it provided the trigger for this radical redefinition of presidential power."
In an Addington-influenced OLC opinion issued shortly after 9/11, Yoo wrote that Congress can't "place any limits on the president's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response."
A second critically important issue was what to do with those captured on the field of battle. The State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes issues, Pierre Prosper, headed an interagency group within the administration and began exploring ideas. National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger was a key member of the group, which discussed options ranging from military tribunals to prosecutions in federal court. The discussions were short-circuited, several former administration officials say, when Flanigan, one of Gonzales's two top aides, wrested away the group's work product on military commissions. With Berenson's and Addington's assistance, Flanigan wrote a draft order for the White House, based on an OLC memo arguing that the president had the legal authority to authorize military commissions--period.
That led Bush, on November 13, to authorize the secretary of defense to create military commissions to deal with "unlawful enemy combatants." The Pentagon's entire corps of JAG officers was kept in the dark, as were Ambassador Prosper, Bellinger, then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and then Secretary of State Colin Powell.
When Bush issued the executive order, a furious Bellinger confronted Gonzales in his office, administration sources say, to protest what he viewed as an end run. Gonzales and Bellinger would have many similar heated discussions about Addington's policy influence.
"Optics." Prosper felt the military commissions order was workable but believed the commissions' rules would make or break the order's credibility. He, Bellinger, and others believed that the administration ought to have an independent review component, perhaps even a civilian one, to allay the distrust of European governments toward all things military. "It's important that sometimes you put in a rule we may not end up using," says Prosper, "but the optics are good for public opinion." But Addington, Flanigan, Gonzales, and especially Haynes remained adamantly against the civilian review idea, current and former officials say.
On military commissions and other issues, Addington's frequent sparring partner was Bellinger, administration officials say, because Addington viewed Bellinger--who had begun to voice deep concerns about the secrecy and the lack of interagency coordination and input--as "weak kneed."
Tensions between Addington and others in the administration would flare again and again. One vexing issue, for instance, was whether to treat members of the Taliban captured in Afghanistan as prisoners of war. Addington's colleague, Yoo, called Afghanistan a "failed state" and argued that Taliban fighters therefore didn't constitute a real army but were more of a "militant terrorist-like group." A draft memorandum, dated Jan. 25, 2002, signed by Gonzales and written, sources say, by Flanigan with Addington's input, called Yoo's opinion "definitive." The war on terrorism, Gonzales extrapolated, is a "new paradigm" that "renders obsolete" the "strict limitations" the Geneva Conventions place on interrogations and "renders quaint" the protections it affords prisoners. Some government lawyers believed Bush could have announced his decision without endorsing the controversial "failed state" theory. "It's the least you need to say to get the president what he wants," says a former Justice official. "They go beyond where they need to go."