As if Interpol didn’t have its hands full with the global search for Wikileaks leader Julian Assange, the agency will soon be tasked with transmitting a Nigerian arrest warrant for former vice president Dick Cheney.
This seemingly fanciful international incident could quite easily become a serious domestic headache for the Obama administration.
Officials in the African nation want to try Cheney for his alleged role in a bribe scandal in which Halliburton-owned company KBR gave $180 million to Nigerian officials between 1994 and 2004 in exchange for lucrative natural gas contracts.
Cheney was KBR’s CEO between 1995 and 2000, when he stepped down to run with George W. Bush. KBR and Halliburton pled guilty to the charges last year, and paid a whopping $579 million fine, but this latest development calls Cheney’s direct actions into question, and the Nigerians are dead set on getting justice.
We are filing charges against Cheney,” insisted Femi Babafemi, spokesman for Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The idea Cheney being arrested sounds absurd, and the Nigerian news has been received by many with an amused shrug, and no small amount of dismissal. ‘Washington Post’ reporter Al Kamen, for example, wrote, “It’s not as if Cheney, now suffering from some very serious heart problems, was planning to take the family on a cruise up the Niger Delta any time soon. The odds of his showing up in Africa – except maybe for a hunting trip – are zero.” I doubt the Obama administration’s taking this as lightly.
Despite what you may think about Interpol, the group does not command an international army of coppers and flatfoots. Its more of an information-sharing agency, one that helps coordinate information and efforts among its 188 member countries, whose own governments are meant to enforce potential warrants. It’s not Interpol‘s responsibility to arrest Cheney. That honor goes to the associated government, which puts Obama’s Department of Justice in a compromising position.
Political implications of arresting a former vice president aside, Obama and company are presented with two choices.
First, it can ignore the warrant, thereby straining relations with resource-rich Nigeria, and also undercut its current leadership role in Interpol, which is currently headed by American Ronald Noble, who worked for the Treasury Department during Bill Clinton’s presidential tenure.
The second option: move forward and nab Cheney. This would only inflame the right wing, though, and not simply because of revered Cheney’s elevated status among the conservative set.
Obama inflamed Republicans last year by extending certain diplomatic immunities to Interpol agents in the U.S., leading conservatives to claim the President was eroding the Constitution.
‘The Washington Examiner’ suggested the move “may be the most destructive blow ever struck against American constitutional civil liberties,” while Andrew C. McCarthy from ‘The National Review’ claimed an “international police force” would be working “unrestrained by the U.S. Constitution and American law.”
While their message was grossly misguided — again, Interpol doesn’t arrest — it echoes the current conservative claims that the President’s chipping away at our liberties, and could prove catchy enough to complicate Obama’s standing among the GOP and their allies.
When the Nigerian government issues their warrant, which could come this week, the White House will be forced to defend any action or inaction, and this apparently frivolous case will become a bigger political brouhaha than anyone imagines.