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.
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.