This year’s political conventions take on new importance, because the Bush Administration not only has weakened our nation economically and militarily, but has endangered our basic freedoms by willfully ignoring or denouncing national and international law.
Three recently published books document how the Bush administration has used the cover of the war on terror to do whatever they please, secretly and without regard for law.
"Takeover" by Charlie Savage, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, has the subtitle, "The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy."
"The Dark Side, The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals" is by Jane Mayer, former front page editor and White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, hardly a liberal newspaper.
The third book, "The Terror Presidency," is particularly authoritative because it was written by a troubled, former Bush insider, Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC, a group of less than two dozen attorneys, has the daunting responsibility of telling members of the executive branch what they can do and can’t do under the Constitution and our Nation’s laws, and international law and treaties.
These opinions, classified top secret and tucked away in the Justice Department unseen by press, public and legal authorities, are "get out of jail cards" for unlawful actions by the executive branch, including the CIA, FBI, NSA, uniformed services, and other operatives--the government we need to fear.
Goldsmith, a conservative Republican chosen to serve a conservative administration, gives the Bush administration credit for desperately wanting to do everything possible to avoid another 9/11, and protect the American people.
But he finds this administration has been extraordinary in its lawlessness. Its actions are fueled by Vice President Richard Cheney who worked in the Nixon and Ford White Houses and served in Congress when Congress and the judiciary were reclaiming powers Nixon had illicitly seized. Each book finds Cheney determined to establish unlimited executive power.
Nixon best stated his perverse view of presidential power when he told interviewer David Frost, "When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal." Cheney is his disciple.
Cheney revealed the Bush administration’s intent to disregard any bothersome laws on the first Sunday after 9/11 when he stated on "Meet the Press," "We’ll have to work on the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies--if we are going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and, uh, so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal basically, to achieve our objectives."
Mayer notes thereafter, "Cheney disappeared from public view. But his influence had already begun to shape all that followed." His demands were enforced by his counsel, David Addington, about whom, Secretary of State Colin Powell observed, "He doesn’t believe in the Constitution."
Immediately, the administration made the United States the first and only nation to denounce the 1949 Geneva Conventions, largely the work-product of the United States. From this flowed America’s president-approved use of torture, indefinite imprisonment of 600 prisoners at Guantanamo (many captured by bounty hunters) without charges, torture at Abu Ghraib prison, extraordinary rendition of prisoners to foreign sites for further torture, and secret eaves-dropping on American citizens.
Bullied by Addington, John Yoo and Jay Bybee obligingly wrote permissive legal opinions which Goldsmith found simply wrong. Arriving at OLC, he refused to sign off on these previously unseen documents. He was gone in less than 10 months.
The next president and Congress will face the necessity of restoring the balance of powers, reestablishing American abeyance of national and international law, and protecting Americans’ civil liberties. It can be done by Democrats. It would be more difficult for John McCain--although he occasionally opposed the most egregious Bush abuses--because many in his party support unfettered presidential government, and are stained by participating in its lawless execution
Dr. Roy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .