By Harvey Wasserman
The most hopeful, diverse, photogenic, energizing and often hilarious...
December 19, 2005
Bush just crossed the line--again.
By defending his policy of eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without a warrant, he has placed himself above the law.
Add this to the long list of impeachable offenses that George W. Bush has committed, and put it at the top.
The President swears an oath of office that he will uphold the Constitution and faithfully execute the laws of the land.
The law against domestic spying without a warrant he has executed, all right. He shot it in the head.
When The New York Times revealed on December 16 (after sitting on the story for a year and omitting details at the request of Administration officials!) that Bush ordered the National Security Agency to monitor “the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years,” I expected Bush to deny it or to say he was going to review the policy.
Instead, he is vehemently defending that policy, citing his authority under the Constitution as commander in chief and Congress’s authorization to go after Al Qaeda. He did so in his radio address on Saturday and in his press conference on Monday.
But these were the very same rationales that the Bush Administration put forward last year at the Supreme Court in the case of Yaser Hamdi, one of the U.S. citizens Bush detained without charge or trial.
The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, did not buy those arguments at all. “A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens,” O’Connor wrote.
Bush, however, keeps invoking the state of war as an excuse to do whatever he wants. At his press conference, he said his Administration bypassed going to a court and getting a warrant, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Service Act, because he wanted to “move faster and quicker.”
Leaving aside the fact that the FISA court almost never rejects a request for a warrant and that the law already allows the government to move expeditiously and then seek a warrant 72 hours after the fact, Bush's excuse could have been used by any President any time in our history to flout the law in a time of war.
During World War II and the Cold War, Presidents needed to be fast on their feet, too, but that didn’t mean Roosevelt or Kennedy could violate citizen’s right to privacy whenever he wanted to.
Bush, with Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales whispering in each ear, believes his Presidential power is virtually unchecked in times of war.
Gonzales, the chief law enforcement officer in the country, even testified at his confirmation hearing that the President could disregard the law.
“I do believe there may come an occasion when the Congress might pass a statute that the President may view as unconstitutional,” Gonzales told Senator Patrick Leahy. “. . . Obviously, a decision as to whether or not to ignore a statute passed by Congress is a very, very serious one, and it would be one that I would spend a great deal of time and attention before arriving at a conclusion that, in fact, a President had the authority under the Constitution to. . . .”
Senator Russ Feingold pointed out the grave problem with such an attitude, “The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a President, not a king. . . . He’s President George Bush, not King George Bush.”
Richard Nixon was impeached, in part, for such power grabs. One of the three articles of impeachment that came out of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 said: “Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purpose of these agencies.”
If you replace Nixon’s name with Bush’s, the article still stands.