Instead of a War Czar, what President Bush really needs is a Law Czar.
While there are already at least six people overseeing the Iraq debacle -- the secretaries of Defense and State, head of NSC, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, not to mention W and his VP -- there's no one making sure that the Rule of Law we fight abroad to protect is intact back home.
Actually it's worse than that. With testimony under oath documenting that the Attorney General is both a liar and an incompetent -- and with a Supreme Court comprised of seven Republicans periodically rebuking their decisions, on Guantanamo, on the environment -- we are witnessing the most legally corrupt administration in our history. By a lot.
The origins of this disdain are unclear. As a young man, without seeking his father's advice or help, W applied to the University of Texas Law School -- and was rejected. Scorned by this legal institution, he turned to a career in business and would regularly articulate a standard business hostility to federal regulations and lawsuits.
As president, he chose for the position of attorney general not an experienced lawyer or scholar but an ideological soulmate, John Ashcroft. When asked a question at a presidential press conference about the lawfulness of invading Iraq, Bush's tone turned sarcastic. "Is it legal? Oh my, I'd better call my lawyer." When questioned by Brit Hume of FOX News about Tom DeLay's indictment in December 2005, he initially replied that he didn't want to politicize or prejudge the case. Yet when then asked, "Do you believe he's innocent?" Bush plunged in. "Do I? Yes, I do." And when his top political aide, Karl Rove, spoke about the "war on terrorism" to New York conservatives in 2005, he mocked how "liberals believed it was time to submit a petition...and wanted to prepare indictments" after 9/11 -- such girly men! -- while the right wing prepared for war. (Of course, Bush's Justice Department also tried to "prepare indictments" -- that is, prosecute -- terrorists, but other than its troubled Padilla case, they have largely failed to do so.)
As for Mr. 18% -- Dick Cheney -- he's clearly the most authoritarian figure on the national stage since Burt Lancaster played one in Seven Days in May. But at least he's consistent. As described by Fritz Schwartz and Aziz Huq in their book Unchecked and Unbalanced, the minority opinion to the Church Committee's 1987 report on the Iran-Contra affair said, "the Chief Executive will on occasion feel duty bound to assert monarchical notions of prerogative that will permit him to exceed the laws." The leading House advocate of the need for some monarchical backbone was a young Wyoming congressman, Richard Cheney.
Whatever the origins, the results of a government that talks up the bible more than the constitution are clear. Here are only some examples of an administration that is routinely un-American, unlawful and unconstitutional. They explain why we need a Law Czar -- otherwise known as an Attorney General -- or a regime change in January, 2009:
* The Supreme Court, with seven of nine justices being Republican appointees, twice concluded that the rules of incarceration at Guantánamo Bay were an unconstitutional denial of due process of law.
* A Court of Appeals in March 2006 unanimously ruled that Bush's Environmental Protection Agency had violated the "plain language" of the Clean Air Act when it allowed many power plants, refineries, and factories to avoid installing new pollution control equipment. This year, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote rebuked the Bush administration for saying that it lacked the legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by cars.
* The Bush administration has repeatedly and unilaterally snubbed internationally binding commitments, such as the Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and the Geneva Conventions -- and done everything to throttle agreements to limit small arms sales, global warming, and nuclear proliferation. (Ironically, on Law Day in 1959, it was Senator Prescott Bush (R-CN), W's grandfather, who urged that international conflicts be settled by the World Court.)
* The Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan arm of Congress, concluded that the Bush administration had illegally disseminated "covert propaganda" when it gave hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to conservative columnists to write articles supportive of administration policies.
* Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said that its chairman, Bush appointee Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had often violated federal law by his partisan and political interference in programming decisions.
* White House memoranda condoned torture -- and then widespread torture occurred in U.S.-run prisons abroad. As a result, former Secretary of State Colin Powell concluded that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."
* An Italian judge in February, 2007 indicted 26 Americans for allegedly kidnapping a radical cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, from Milan to Germany and then to Egypt where he was tortured. According to a New York Times report, "The Indictment marked a turning point in Europe, where anger is high at the American program of 'extraordinary renditions,' an aggressive policy of seizing suspected terrorists on foreign soil and interrogating them at secret locations."
* Bush repeatedly ignored the law requiring a court warrant for domestic spying under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It was so blatantly unlawful that the ill attorney general, John Ashcroft, and the acting attorney general refused to renew the president's authority.
* For the first time in 160 years, a top White House aide has been criminally indicted and convicted, actually two White House aides -- Procurement Chief David Safavian and Vice Presidential Aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
* Despite the Hatch Act forbidding government employees influencing elections, aides to Karl Rove held 20 briefings at 16 departments in 2005-2006 discussions which Democratic members were most electorally vulnerable. A While House spokeswoman said the briefings were legal since they merely provided information. Yet at one such session, according to investigators under House Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, GSA administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates." When told that should be discussed "off-line," Doan replied, "Oh good, at least as long as we are going to follow up."
* Under immunity and under oath, former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling admitted at a House Judiciary hearing that she had "crossed the line" and broken the law by using political criterion for civil service jobs.
* According to a report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, the FBI improperly used the Patriot Act to obtain information on some 52,000 citizens and businesses. The 199-page report documented numerous instances when so-called "national security letters" were unlawfully sent to obtain records from telephone companies, Internet service providers, credit card companies, banks and other businesses without a judge's approval.
* The Commerce Department's own Inspector General, whose assignment is to investigate allegations of wrong-doing himself, committed "egregious violations" of the federal Whistleblower Protection Act by demoting two employees investigating his spending, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
* As best summarized by Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe in May 2006, President Bush has asserted his power to ignore 750 laws enacted by Congress (since he took office)--all signed by him after congressional passage--because of his belief that these laws were unconstitutional. So a couple hundred years after Marbury v. Madison established the precedent of judicial review--i.e., as the ultimate decider, courts would judge whether a law was constitutional or not--George W. Bush's theory of the "unitary executive" means he can unilaterally and selectively overrule Congress and courts. Thus does our forty-third president take on the second president, John Adams, who concluded that "the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not men."
Oh, on Law Day this year, President Bush said, "We must remain a nation committed to the rule of law."
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