Favorite

Bush unchecked 



Do you have a sense that the United States passed a milestone this Christmas season? The president admitted — no, boasted — that government agents at his behest had been eavesdropping on presumably innocent American citizens, perhaps thousands of them, for four years without obtaining a warrant, in flagrant violation of yet another article of the Bill of Rights and of an act of Congress.

No matter, the country decided. President Bush said he was doing it and would keep doing it to protect us all from Osama bin Laden and his fanatical followers. It is necessary to keep us safe, the president said.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom,” William Pitt the younger told the House of Commons in 1783. “It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” Pitt would come to know that as well as Bush should know it. Given power himself in tense times, he moved to suspend habeas corpus and silence government critics through a sedition act.

When Richard Nixon subverted the Constitution and acts of Congress, he had to resign ahead of certain impeachment and conviction.

When President Reagan’s office was caught secretly trading weapons to Iran and fanning war in Central America in violation of laws passed by Congress, he saved himself by asserting that his national security staff must have been operating behind his back. An indulgent Congress and a Republican independent counsel decided not to look behind his words. But at least there was sufficient outrage that the president’s top national security men were convicted of crimes.

But there will be no accountability for President Bush, only a respectful hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee. There will be warnings about emboldening terrorists by criticizing the president or tying his hands.

Even that is a little more than the president expected. He has waived the Bill of Rights, federal statutes and international treaty obligations in the name of necessity to keep the country safe from terrorists and no congressional committee even asked for so much as an explanation. To keep us safe, prisoners are tortured, killed, disappear to secret gulags and held for years without trials, lawyers or notification of their kin.

History will note the curious and incomprehensible underpinnings for the Bush administration’s subverting the Constitution. Bush and Vice President Cheney got their clearance from an obscure Korean-born lawyer named John Yoo, who by coincidence had appeared in the right job in the Justice Department to advise the administration on national security law in September 2001.

In a series of legal memoranda starting two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Yoo wrote that when the authors of the Constitution made the president the commander in chief they intended to give him unchecked power to do anything he wanted if it was intended to protect the country in wartime. Since the war on terrorism knew no boundaries it was a new kind of war and the conventional restrictions on the president’s war-making power, like the Geneva Convention’s ban on torture and our own laws, could be waived. It was Yoo’s memos, too, that provided Bush the basis for saying that the Constitution empowered him to have government agents eavesdrop on American citizens in search of terrorism connections.

Yoo’s was a bizarre reading of original intent. The accepted scholarship has always been that the founders, reacting to King George III’s tyranny, intended to create a weak executive, not an unchecked one.

Cheney was proud of the role. His major goal, he said, has been to restore the power of the president, which had been diminished since Watergate.

It was left to former Secretary of State Colin Powell to measure just where the country stands. The president, Powell said, could have easily followed the law and run the eavesdropping by the secret federal court that grants wiretap warrants for national security surveillance because it is a routine process and can even be done within three days after the surveillance is undertaken. But the president decided he didn’t want the government to bother, Powell said, and he guessed that was all right.

The reason the president did not want to bother, it is becoming obvious, is that it was going to be undertaken on a massive scale.

None of this would have been possible in the United States were it not for the hysteria over terrorism. History will look with some bemusement upon an era when the nation’s leaders convinced the country that a turbaned fanatic dwelling in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a few hundred followers around the world (well, maybe tens of thousands since Bush gave up on him and put the troops and intelligence into the occupation of Iraq), was a greater threat to the United States and the world than Nazi Germany and its allies or the nuclear-armed Soviet empire and Communist China. We will be lucky if history also records that the encroachment on civil liberties of Americans was only momentary.




Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Trusting

    It is a Fourth of July ritual to appraise where we are in meeting the Declaration of Independence's promise to institute a government that would, unlike King George, secure human rights equally for everyone who sets foot on American soil.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Ethics upended

    Every week, Donald Trump finds another way to upend conventional ethics in government and politics. Here's one that has been in the making since the campaign but is reaching maturity in the Russian investigation: He is turning the heroes of government scandals into the villains.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • The ACA can be fixed

    Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened his 51 disciples in the Senate and his party with the gravest injury imaginable.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Trusting

    It is a Fourth of July ritual to appraise where we are in meeting the Declaration of Independence's promise to institute a government that would, unlike King George, secure human rights equally for everyone who sets foot on American soil.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Pay attention

    • Adawson's comments attribute the plight of black people in the United States to the War…

    • on July 22, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • Heather Wilson, blacks have NOT been prevented from pursuing the skilled trades as a result…

    • on July 22, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Gee, so you were there when Jesus spoke - how old you must be. First-person…

    • on July 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation