Clipping Bush’s wings

The blogosphere is ablaze with a dizzying array of posts on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision requiring Bush to comply with the laws of war. Some say it may mean the end of our Golden Age of Torture. Others say the president will simply ignore and override the decision (which would surprise no one). The usual far-right hate mongers see this as the Supreme Court blowing kisses to Al Qaeda; in their eyes, any restriction on brutality, any attempt to hold Bush to account, any insistence that America must maintain its essential freedoms is treasonous.

All that’s clear to me is that the dust will have to settle a bit before we understand the decision’s implications. What can’t be argued, however, is that the court did rule that the way Bush is fighting terrorism is illegal. They did rule that Bush’s wings must be clipped. Whether that decision actually means anything remains to be seen. But the very fact that Bush is being challenged at such a high level makes this an incredibly important story. This article does a good job explaining why.

For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terrorism suspects without trial, he let it.

Now the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country. In rejecting Bush’s military tribunals for terrorism suspects, the high court ruled that even a wartime commander in chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate.

For many in Washington, the decision echoed not simply as a matter of law but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy of a leader who at repeated turns has operated on the principle that it is better to act than to ask permission. This ethos is why many supporters find Bush an inspiring leader, and why many critics in this country and abroad react so viscerally against him.

At a political level, the decision carries immediate ramifications. It provides fodder to critics who turned Guantanamo Bay into a metaphor for an administration run amok. Now lawmakers may have to figure out how much due process is enough for suspected terrorists, hardly the sort of issue many would be eager to engage in during the months before an election….

The administration often fended off criticism by arguing that the commander in chief should not be second-guessed. “The Bush administration has been very successful in defining the debate as one of patriotism or cowardice,” said Andrew Rudalevige, author of “The New Imperial Presidency” and a Dickinson College professor. “And this is not about that. This is about whether in fighting the war we’re true to our constitutional values.

Constitutional values are for wimps and cowards — for liberals. It really wouldn’t surprise me to see Bush simply ignore the decision fom the nation’s highest authority and taunt his detractors: “So what are you going to do about it? Nyah-nyah.” As the article points out, we have in effect allowed Bush to do just that, time and again. Our president is nothing but a rogue, a common criminal, using his power to break the law at whim under the mantra of 911 and national security. I’m afraid no higher authority can keep him in check. We’ve created a monster.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

I’ll tell you what he’s going to do – get his lapdog Congress to pass a law giving him legal cover to do what he’s doing. And I’m very much afraid this won’t be stopped.

You know, people are predicting that if Luis Obrador is defeated in Mexico, that odds are it will be due to corruption and voter fraud, and that people in Mexico will march, and there is a high potential for violence. Why don’t we do that in the US? Well, I think it’s because a lot of people who vote have faith in the integrity of our system. They feel that the system must be working; therefore, nothing really serious is wrong, nothing that can’t be fixed, anyway. They haven’t yet grasped the full extent of the Bush Administration’s power grab and subversion of the Constitution.

I don’t know what it will take for us to march en masse, but sometimes I’m afraid it will have to come to that, with the attendant violence, to even begin to correct what has happened over the last six years.

June 30, 2006 @ 1:18 am | Comment

Frist is already penning the legislation. Doesn’t there have to come a time when the nation says enough is enough? Even FDR got his comeuppance; whatever happened to our great and universally admired checks and balances?

June 30, 2006 @ 1:29 am | Comment

Also, notice the neat split in the court that suggests a somewhat partisan approach to the issue:

Souter, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Stevens, Breyer in the majority (rejecting the administrations argument).

Roberts recused (and he had previously supported the administration position).

Thomas, Alito, Scalia in the minority (supporting the administration).

There’s nothing really new about that, but I find it quite spooky because it says so much about the relationship between judicial interpretation and political line. I don’t much like the idea of ideologues of *either stripe* on the court (although I’d err on the side of lib if I had to, for obvious reasons).

June 30, 2006 @ 4:22 am | Comment

And rumors are flying that Stevens is about to retire. God help us.

June 30, 2006 @ 4:38 am | Comment

I agree with you Imagethief, I don’t much like the idea of ideologues of “either stripe” on the court as well.
Let’s hope that Stevens doesn’t retire before…well, let’s just hope.
Otherlisa, I don’t know that MALO (though Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador prefers AMLO for obvious reasons) will be good for our Mexican neighbors. The promises he’s made to the people smell more like demagoguery than real solutions and with the likes of men like Mr. Slim (practically the owner of that country), the ingrained and widespread corruption at all levels of government, and no other good alternatives, the country’s future whatever the outcome of this Sunday’s elections, is not likely to change substantially. If my Mexican-born colleagues are right, things will actually probably get worse. The fact that he wins is probably more a reflection of peoples’ hopes and their traditional party-fatigue than a true reflection of his capabilities (He certainly is a modest man who leads a virtuous public life and who has come a long way from his start as a social worker, but that does not automatically make him fit to lead his nation out of the doldrums. The public works projects in implemented when he was mayor are far from incontrovertible.). But then again, Lula and Bachelet have led many to believe they’d swing far to the left, yet once they won they’ve been careful/cautious in their actual policies, so MALO may use rhetoric to win and afterwards… Who knows. Whatever the outcome this Sunday, I hope it betters the situation for the Mexican people.

June 30, 2006 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

whatever happened to our great and universally admired checks and balances?

The Judicial branch ruled an Executive branch action unconstitutional on the grounds that the relevant authority is actually vested in the Legislative branch, and you ask what happend to the system of checks and balances?

Good grief, it’s hard to imagine a clearer example of checks and balances in action.

Checks and balances refers to the division of powers between the branches of government. It does not mean that the branches of government must operate at cross purposes. Otherwise, effective opperation of the Constitution would require that absolutely nothing get done, ever.

The duly elected Congress will now act on the issue as it deems appropriate. If your policy preference does not prevail, that is because — for whatever reason — insufficient legislators who share your preference were able to be get elected, not because of any failure of the Constitution.

June 30, 2006 @ 6:48 pm | Comment

Dear grrrl, the issue is that it went this far, that Bush is allowed to literally ignore legislation he himself signs by inserting a “signing statement,” that he has, for five years gotten away with what are now being properly defined as “war crimes” – what the fuck happened to our checks and balances? That it’s finally being addressed is a hopeful sign, but it appears once again that justice will be subverted and Congress will grant Bush an easy out. Checks and balances are supposed to stop things before they get to this point. We haven’t seen such a phenomenon under any other president, not for at least half a century.

Bush has constantl;y ignored inconvenient laws and ridden roughshod over the checks and balances system, making himself answerable to no one. Even his own party members are outraged (have you been reading about Arlen Spoecter lately?) To say now, five years after the atrociites began, that all is working perfectly well because Bush just ran into a wall with the court is disingenuous and stupid.

June 30, 2006 @ 7:22 pm | Comment

The atrocities began five years ago????

Really?

I think you might want to adjust both your time line and your definition of the word atrocity.

Perhaps “the atrocities” began in 1983 when 63 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the suicide bombing of the US embassy in Beiruit by Islamic Jihad.

Or perhaps in 1984 when 18 Americans were killed and 83 people injured in an Islamic Jihad bomb attack on restaurant near a USAF base in Spain. Or later that same year when Hezbollah suicide bombers again attacked the US Embassy in Beirut, killing 23.

Or in perhaps in 1985 when Islamists brutally beat a passenger, a U.S. Navy diver, to death on a hijacked aircraft.

Or it could have been in 1986 when Islamic terrorists set off a bomb on TWA flight 840, killing 4.

Or in maybe in 1988 when a Pan Am flight was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board.

Or maybe they started with the FIRST World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The list goes on and on, and not a single entry on it involves allegations of insufficient due process or pee-pee on a Koran.

This is the third (not the first) time that the Supreme Court has rebuked this Administration regarding its handling of detainees. Personally, I’m happy to have such oversight and glad the Court has required Congress to act.

However, when one starts labeling US detainee policies (much less Presidential signing statements) as “atrocities”, considering the real atrocities that have been committed, is it any wonder that people doubt the hard Left’s capacity to defend the country?

June 30, 2006 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

Ah, now I see what your game is. Sorry I replied to you seriously before.

From this week’s NYT editoria (for the sane people here):

“Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.”

June 30, 2006 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

One more thing, I’ve only commented on this site twice, in each case politely disagreeing with a point made.

In the first instance, I was called an ‘ass-hole’. This time I’ve been called ‘disingenuous and stupid’.

Perhaps only an Amen chorus is wanted here and dissenting views are unwelcome. That’s up to you. But for what it’s worth, such nasty histrionic responses are unseemly and do not give the impression that the person expressing them is either well balanced or confident in his views.

June 30, 2006 @ 8:09 pm | Comment

People dissent here all the time and carry on intelligent arguments. When you say stupid things, expect to be called on it. Go over to Jawa Report or LGF, where they’ll heartily agree that we should lower our standards and condescend to acts of barbarism because that’s what our enemies do. Go over there, where they see Bush as a great war leader even though we’ve depleted our strength, suffewred an dinflicted monumental suffering and won precious few victories in this war on terror. No one will call you stupid there; they’ll lavish you with praise. Here, we try to look at what actually happened – were those prisoners at Gitmo there legally, and did innocent people get tortured? Is our war on terror working and is it legal (and believe it or not, it could be both legal and effective under the right leadership)? Etc. Go over to fantasy land, where everything’s Clinton’s fault, where John Ashcroft didn’t try to cut spending on terrorism in the months before 911, where Clark never wrote his memo shrieking that Bin Laden was determined to attack us on America soil…go over there. You’ll feel better. You’ll feel safe under the strong, masculine leadership of Commander Codpiece, who has in actuality weakened us, who, when the next disaster struck (Katrina), proved his macho regime is larded with incompetent yes men placed in high positions as political payoffs. Feel safe that the top man at FEMA was an Arabian horse dealer who did “a heckuvajob.” Go rhapsodize about how sublime our leadership is, although more than 60 percent of its citizens believe it is failing. Go have fun. Just know that you are adrift in a sea of delusion and desperation. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and at some point soon the well-oiled GOP machine is going to sputter and fail. Yesterday saw another monkey wrench tossed into the gears, and there are more to come. So sharpen your talking points and get ready to smear all lefties as weak-willed and cowardly. Because that’s all you’ve got – you can’t hold up any achievements from your side, so you have to destroy the reputatiopn of the opponent. But I think that tactic is wearing thin. The party’s almost over, and little boy george is going to have to account for himself. And that will be a day to savor.

June 30, 2006 @ 8:26 pm | Comment

What always floors me about “arguments” such as those made by asiagrrrlll is that they posit that crimes and atrocities committed against us justifies crimes and atrocities committed by us. How in the world can we presume to spread the gospel of democracy while subverting our own democratic principles and the rule of law?

Oh, right, because Islamo-fascists cut off Nick Berg’s head. Oops. Forgot about that for a minute there. That makes unlawful detention without trial, rendition to countries that routinely practice torture and practicing torture ourselves all okay.

/snark

June 30, 2006 @ 9:10 pm | Comment

Wait a minute, Richard! You say everything ISN’T Bill Clinton’s fault? Then who should I blame for this bad tooth? I mean, the last time I had any teeth fixed was during the Clinton administration, so my bad tooth must be his fault.

See how it works now?

July 1, 2006 @ 12:53 am | Comment

When you consider Asiagrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl, think of this: She’s the one who President Cheney is governing for. When the fascists act, they are thinking of what will appeal to people just like her (and the ones who frequent the websites you recommend.) The rightists don’t care about appealing to people in the reality-based community. They want what will work to whip up Asiagrowl. So her mindset, as ludicrous as it seems to at least 60% of Americans, is what counts in the halls of power.

Actually, what counts is the interests of the 0.1% of the population who have the most money. But the fascists have to keep a fig leaf of public opinion so they can claim to represent “the people”…

July 1, 2006 @ 12:55 am | Comment

Bukko, must I reiterate? If you don’t give up your civil liberties and your rule of law and your treasonous liberal opposition to torture, ISLAMO-FASCISTS WILL DECAPITATE YOU!!!!

July 1, 2006 @ 1:19 am | Comment

Treasonous opposition to torture?

What about my conservative opposition to torture?
Is that treasonous too?

(ACK! An Islamo-fascist has just broken into my apartment!)

July 1, 2006 @ 2:53 am | Comment

Quick! Behead him before he can behead you!!!!

July 1, 2006 @ 3:06 am | Comment

They don’t seem to have many Islamofascists down here. More Muslims than I expected when moving to an Anglo-majority country like Oz, but the official watchword seems to be “Why can’t we all just get along?” (race riots near Sydney excepted.) In fact, there’s been a lot of sympathy toward David Hicks, a hapless Ozzie wannabe Islamofascist stuck for four years and counting in Gitmo. Sympathy amongst the populace, that is, but not with the one person who counts: Deputy Sheriff of the Pacific Ocean, John Howard. (Who was probably the one who pulled strings to get Mamdou Habib freed, BTW.)

July 1, 2006 @ 3:47 am | Comment

Anybody remember those riots in France several months ago – the ones LGF and Jawa and Malkin all said were part of a Moslem Jihad that was going to spread through Europe? (It was about kids in urban ghettos with no jobs and had nothing to do with Jihad, but that didn’t matter to the Unrealty Based Community.) Moselms are to them what the Jews were to…well, fill in the blank as you see fit.

July 1, 2006 @ 3:53 am | Comment

Gee, that’s the last time I’ll ever go on a blind date with someone who “gives head.”

July 1, 2006 @ 4:05 am | Comment

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