When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.Basically, President Bush just said, "yeah, I signed the law, but it only applies when I say it applies, and I'll break it when I feel like breaking it." Glenn Greenwald says everything that needs to be said about this.
After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.
Shouldn’t we be having much more of a discussion than we have had about the fact that we have a President who believes he has the power to ignore laws? We have had all sorts of vigorous and sweeping debates lately about things like torture, habeas corpus, surveillance powers under the Patriot Act. But those debates are all just gestures. Like George Bush’s signing a "law" which he simultaneously claims he has no obligation to obey, the oh-so-heated debates we’ve been having are all just some sort of illusory role-playing, where we pretend that we have a representative Congress which makes laws. But what we actually have is a President who says he can violate those laws at will because such decisions are "his alone to make."I can't help but think back to late 2004 when the Republican party made Arlen Specter take an oath of fealty to President Bush. That should have clued us all in as to how sad a shape the democratic spirit is in.
Maybe Americans want to have a President who has these powers and can operate without much restraint. Other countries at other times have decided that they want that, usually as a means for protecting themselves against perceived external threats. But shouldn’t we be having this discussion much more explicitly and with much greater urgency than we have had it thus far?
The "war" which is said to justify these extraordinary powers isn't going anywhere any time soon. The Administration itself constantly reminds us that it's a long struggle which could last decades. That means that whatever law-breaking powers we permit to be vested in the President are ones that George Bush, and then subsequent presidents, are going to wield for a long time to come. At the very least, such a radical shift in how our government functions should not be effectuated in secret and without real debate.
Addendum -This post would not be complete without a link to this article from Mother Jones.