Bush's imperial presidency
Over the weekend, some much-needed attention has (finally!) been paid to revelations about Bush's end run around the legal limitations on the powers of the presidency. It all began with James Risen and Eric Lichtblau's article "Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11" in Thursday's New York Times, which interviewed "nearly a dozen current and former officials" to provide a damning tale of spying run amok:
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored 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...
The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices... [...] ...some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.
David Sirota explains in "How the Media 'Authorize' The Abuse of Power" "the media complicity in "helping estsablish [sic] a quasi-legal framework for what was a clearly illegal abuse of government power:"
Notice, for instance, that in describing the President's clearly illegal behavior, the media are parroting the White House's terminology - terminology specifically crafted to make it sound as if Bush was operating on quasi-legal grounds.
So for instance, the Times tells us Bush "secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans." The paper also refers to "the powers granted the N.S.A. by President Bush." "Authorized" and "granted." The word "authorize" is defined as "to grant power or authority to," and the word "grant" is the act of giving something one has. The media's use of these terms, then, is the media trying to make the public assume as fact that Bush actually had the power or authority to grant in the first place.
I agree with Peter Daou that Bush's so-called "secret spying," despite its pleasing alliteration, is more properly termed "illegal spying." As he observes about the criticism of Bush's actions:
He's not in trouble because it's "secret". After all, the NSA, CIA, FBI, and the military all operate, with our consent, in "secrecy" to a certain extent. Let's get it straight, he's in trouble because it is illegal. [emphasis in original]
I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don't care. It's bad for the country, and that matters most.
But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. [...] We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.
Katrina vanden Heuvel asks some important questions in "Lying and Spying" at The Nation:
But what if the Times had published its story before the election? And what other stories have been held up due to Adminsitration [sic] cajoling, pressure, threats and intimidation? [...] How many other cases are there of news outlets choosing to honor government requests for secrecy over the journalistic duty of informing the public about government abuse and wrongdoing?
Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration, will be released in January. Will we have to wait until then for answers?