Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Man Who Would Be King?

Slate's Jacob Weisberg examines the bedrock constitutional issue underlying the NSA spying story -- quite apart from how we should feel about the government taking unto itself the authority to wiretap its own citizens without warrants -- and many other stories unfolding in Washington (e.g., the President is now refusing to supply Senate investigating committees with documents or witnesses surrounding its [in]actions in New Orleans).
... the Senate hearings on NSA domestic espionage set to begin next month will confront fundamental questions about the balance of power within our system. Even if one assumes that every unknown instance of warrant-less spying by the NSA were justified on security grounds, the arguments issuing from the White House threaten the concept of checks and balances as it has been understood in America for the last 218 years. Simply put, Bush and his lawyers contend that the president's national security powers are unlimited. And since the war on terror is currently scheduled to run indefinitely, the executive supremacy they're asserting won't be a temporary condition.

The Article II plus AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] justification for warrant-less spying is essentially the same one the administration has advanced to excuse torture; ignore the Geneva Conventions; and indefinitely hold even U.S. citizens without a hearing, charges, or trial. Torture and detention without due process are bad enough. But why does this all-purpose rationale not also extend to press censorship or arresting political opponents, were the president to deem such measures vital to the nation's security?

I don't suggest that Bush intends anything of the kind—or that even a Congress as supine as the current one would remain passive if he went so far. But the president's latest assertion that he alone can safeguard our civil liberties isn't just disturbing and wrong. It's downright un-American.

As Weisberg points out, this attitude is also of a piece with the "signing statement" that went along with his signing the McCain anti-torture bill in December. Tacitly acknowledging that a veto would be overridden (the bill passed the Senate 91-9), the President essentially said that he'd sign the bill into law with the understanding that it didn't apply to him.


At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Did you hear his press conference this morning? He dismisssed FISA as irrelevant because it was passed thirty years ago. Based on that argument, he doesn't even need to stack the Court with right-wing conservatives. He can just make his own laws that fit his ideas of today's morals and ethics...


At 9:38 AM, Blogger dgags said...

You know, I hate to say things like this, but a lot of what has been happening recently really is Orwellian. Particularly the use of language to attempt to (and successfully) stifle real debate -- not to mention the "everlasting war" concept that now undergirds every single one of these issues.

Anyway, I imagine most of the country thought that the press conference was doubleplusgood.


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