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Date Posted: 04:45:40 08/22/05 Mon
Subject: "a law unto himself, the President cannot violate laws, because he doesn't have to obey them" WHAT!
Does this really suprize anyone?
Maintaining Power in the Bush Administration and Avoiding War Crimes
by John W. Whitehead
�Power is the great aphrodisiac.��Henry Kissinger
Alexander Hamilton wrongly predicted in The Federalist that the office of the president �would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military forces.� Every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, has steadily increased the power of the White House�especially in light of an ineffective, and often inept, Congress. And particularly since Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, every presidential administration has not only grown more powerful, but also more secretive.
In fact, one of the main goals of presidential administrations is to maintain power. As a consequence, the pressure to cover up bad news and avoid �leaks� of truths unpleasant to the president has been a constant source of evil in the culture of the White House.
To this mix, Bill Clinton added a new feature, now expanded upon by the Bush Administration�that is, the willingness to distort words (as Clinton said, it depends on the definition of what �is� is) and to speak directly into the camera and deny reality. It worked for Clinton, and it works for George W. Bush for the simple reason that the American people want to believe their president.
But the Bush Administration has now taken this Clintonesque technique and added a new twist. In the true spirit of George W. Bush, his aides seem to be in the business of preemptive moves (or strikes, if you like) in order to protect the president against any liability for possible wrongdoing.
In her July 18, 2005 article for The Nation, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman documents the Bush Administration�s efforts to sidestep U.S. and international laws as a surefire way of ensuring that top U.S. officials avoid prosecution for prisoner abuses and war crimes. According to Holtzman, in a January 25, 2002 memo to Bush, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales urged Bush to declare that the Geneva Conventions rules for prisoners of war would not apply to U.S. activities in Afghanistan, which he did.
The Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1949, prohibits the deliberate killing, torture or inhumane treatment of detainees. Almost 50 years later, members of Congress took it upon themselves to apply the principles of the Geneva Conventions to American citizens. The U.S. Torture Statute of 1994 and the War Crimes Act of 1996 make it a federal crime to violate certain aspects of the Geneva Conventions.
But as Holtzman points out, when President Bush, supported by Gonzales, decided to opt out of the Geneva Conventions for the war in Afghanistan, he was not just choosing to flout U.S. law and ignore an international treaty; rather, the Bush Administration was sending a signal that prisoner abuse by U.S. officials would be tolerated and that U.S. officials would be granted immunity from any legal backlash at home or abroad.
In his infamous August 2002 torture memo declaring that the president is not bound by federal law when conducting a war, Gonzales stated: �[A]s a law unto himself, the President cannot violate laws, because he doesn�t have to obey them.� Yet in a democracy such as ours, no one is above the law, including the president and his cabinet of advisors.
What is worse is that these power plays to evade the law were carried out under a shroud of secrecy, hidden from the public and removed from any efforts to hold them accountable.
In the words of John F. Kennedy, �The very word �secrecy� is repugnant in a free and open society; and we as a people are inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.�
Yet for those who have studied the twists and turns of American history and government over the past 50 years, this tendency toward secret societies, secret oaths and secret proceedings cannot be attributed exclusively to the Bush Administration. All governments want to stay in power and protect themselves. And the lesson learned from past administrations is that the more secretive they are, the easier it is to control the masses.
One group working to demand greater openness and accountability is the Sunshine in Government Initiative. Comprised of the Associated Press and more than 50 news outlets, journalism groups, universities and the American Library Association, this coalition joined forces earlier this year to combat what they see as increased government secrecy since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
As Tom Curley, president of the A.P., recently remarked, �The trend toward secrecy is the greatest threat to democracy. We must be vigilant at explaining and fighting for accountable government in every jurisdiction.�
What this means in the long run, however, is that while government officials are busy guarding secrets and protecting their own skins, the business of government isn�t happening. Thus, unless we demand greater openness and accountability from our government leaders, our nation will continue to find itself mired in controversies like the ones that have dominated our newspapers over the past several months.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning Grasping for the Wind. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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