“A lingering outrage”: The New York Times v George W Bush

I wonder which supporters of George W Bush have the shame to read this New York Times editorial on its merits.

We can’t think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers ¢â¬â and just trust him. We also can’t think of a president who has deserved that trust less.

This has been a central flaw of Mr. Bush’s presidency for a long time. But last week produced a flood of evidence that vividly drove home the point.

DOMESTIC SPYING After 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the conversations and e-mail of Americans and others in the United States without obtaining a warrant or allowing Congress or the courts to review the operation. Lawmakers from both parties have raised considerable doubt about the legality of this program, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made it clear last Monday at a Senate hearing that Mr. Bush hasn’t the slightest intention of changing it.

According to Mr. Gonzales, the administration can be relied upon to police itself and hold the line between national security and civil liberties on its own. Set aside the rather huge problem that our democracy doesn’t work that way. It’s not clear that this administration knows where the line is, much less that it is capable of defending it. Mr. Gonzales’s own dedication to the truth is in considerable doubt. In sworn testimony at his confirmation hearing last year, he dismissed as “hypothetical” a question about whether he believed the president had the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance. In fact, Mr. Gonzales knew Mr. Bush was doing just that, and had signed off on it as White House counsel.

THE PRISON CAMPS It has been nearly two years since the Abu Ghraib scandal illuminated the violence, illegal detentions and other abuses at United States military prison camps. There have been Congressional hearings, court rulings imposing normal judicial procedures on the camps, and a law requiring prisoners to be treated humanely. Yet nothing has changed. Mr. Bush also made it clear that he intends to follow the new law on the treatment of prisoners when his internal moral compass tells him it is the right thing to do.

On Thursday, Tim Golden of The Times reported that United States military authorities had taken to tying up and force-feeding the prisoners who had gone on hunger strikes by the dozens at Guant¡namo Bay to protest being held without any semblance of justice. The article said administration officials were concerned that if a prisoner died, it could renew international criticism of Gitmo. They should be concerned. This is not some minor embarrassment. It is a lingering outrage that has undermined American credibility around the world.

According to numerous news reports, the majority of the Gitmo detainees are neither members of Al Qaeda nor fighters captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The National Journal reported last week that many were handed over to the American forces for bounties by Pakistani and Afghan warlords. Others were just swept up. The military has charged only 10 prisoners with terrorism. Hearings for the rest were not held for three years and then were mostly sham proceedings.

And yet the administration continues to claim that it can be trusted to run these prisons fairly, to decide in secret and on the president’s whim who is to be jailed without charges, and to insist that Gitmo is filled with dangerous terrorists.

THE WAR IN IRAQ One of Mr. Bush’s biggest “trust me” moments was when he told Americans that the United States had to invade Iraq because it possessed dangerous weapons and posed an immediate threat to America. The White House has blocked a Congressional investigation into whether it exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq, and continues to insist that the decision to invade was based on the consensus of American intelligence agencies.

But the next edition of the journal Foreign Affairs includes an article by the man in charge of intelligence on Iraq until last year, Paul Pillar, who said the administration cherry-picked intelligence to support a decision to invade that had already been made. He said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear what results they wanted and heeded only the analysts who produced them. Incredibly, Mr. Pillar said, the president never asked for an assessment on the consequences of invading Iraq until a year after the invasion. He said the intelligence community did that analysis on its own and forecast a deeply divided society ripe for civil war.

When the administration did finally ask for an intelligence assessment, Mr. Pillar led the effort, which concluded in August 2004 that Iraq was on the brink of disaster. Officials then leaked his authorship to the columnist Robert Novak and to The Washington Times. The idea was that Mr. Pillar was not to be trusted because he dissented from the party line. Somehow, this sounds like a story we have heard before.

This entry was posted in Politics - international. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
46 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rob
Rob
15 years ago

“Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made it clear last Monday at a Senate hearing that Mr. Bush hasn’t the slightest intention of changing it.”

In fact, what the AG made it clar that there was not the slightest doubt that the program was legal.

The rest is just a bunch of tired old canards, Nicholas.

Cameron Riley
15 years ago

Rob, He did not. If James Madison were alive today he would kick your arse into orbit for that comment and your cheerleading and support for destroying his carefully balanced system of checks and balances. Some more wisdom from the great man himself;

“War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.”

Bush fails it. He is no republican.

Michael
Michael
15 years ago

“Rob, He did not.”

wow..good argument!

Bill
Bill
15 years ago

An anti-Bush editorial in the NYT is just what the diehard Bush supporters expect. They love it, it confirms their prejudices and gets their blood boiling. It doesn’t change anybody’s mind.

It just encourages ‘the base’ – its what they want to see in a president – A commander in chief that kicks terrorist ass and doesn’t care what weak kneed liberals think about it.

The administration is playing the national security card and it will do so until the elections.

I predict the Republicans will take even more seats from the Democrats.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
15 years ago

“Attorney General Alberto Gonzales … made it clear … that the program was legal…”

Is this the same chap who described the Geneva Convention Articles on interrogation and torture as “quaint” ?

If so, it is hardly surprising if he regarded anything the Prez did as legal.

There seem to be two views on Bush. One is that he is a complete idiot, who can more or less be kept on song by the management of Rove, and leaving the actual detail to Cheney and Rummy. The other is that he will lie about anything, convincing himself of the veracity of what he’s saying at the time (eg the New Orleans fiasco). Most of us haven’t considered that he’s probably both.

Bill may well be right, but it will take a bigger vote-rigging effort next time.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Don, you’re right – a combination of “moral clarity” and stupidity is a necessary and sufficient requirement for self-deception. Very different to, say, Nixon. He had a great capacity for deceiving others but, until he buckled under his paranoia, was too clever to deceive himself.

Cameron Riley
15 years ago

IHBT.

Michael, and the depth of detail I was replying to when making the comment of “He did not” was ……

We tried placing all power into the Executive arm of government in the past. The problem was that people didnt like it much. Absolute executive power got bad names like tyrant, despot, king etc. There was also a bunch of rebellions so we could get to forms of democracy that included Montesquieu seperation of powers.

I don’t care which party’s bum you lick, but I consider it a civic responsibility to not only understand the difference between the executive, legislative and judicial but also how liberty is dependent upon them being balanced so that no arm has absolute power.

It is the height of civic irresponsibility to blindly and constantly agree with the executive based on which faction they are from.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

For all people’s jeering about President Bush, he makes a convincing case for the legality of the interception program right here .

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Because normal intelligence collection (i.e. outside the US) is what the foreign intelligence agencies do. It’s what they are there for. It’s perfectly legal. It’s only when they operate within the US that they require judicial oversight. Rather similar to Australia, where ASIO, AFP, etc. have to get warrants to conduct domestic wiretaps. In the US warrants are granted by a special counrt (FISA), but in Austlralia by the Attorney General or a judge.

Hence Bush’s point that “Federal courts have consistently ruled that a President has authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance against our enemies”.

Bill
Bill
15 years ago

Bush is no dummy. He is wilfully ignorant. He is proud of the fact that he doesn’t read books or newspapers. He has surrounded himself with ambitious unscrupulous advisers who tell him what they want him to hear.

He is a combination of a privileged upbringing and a late life conversion to born again Christianity. A combination of naivety and certainty.

He doesn’t think he is doing anything wrong. He really believes in what he says. Unlike Nixon.

The American people won’t turn against the Republicans until there is evidence that the administration spied on political enemies -a la Nixon.

As long as they can present themselves as the protectors of the people they can get away with almost anything.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Nicholas, no I don’t. If a warrant is not legally required, nor FISA involvement, I can’s see any reason why this process should be subject to judicial oversight any more than any other standard intelligence gathering function.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Yes I do, with an important proviso: the Amercian in question must be reasonably believed to be doing something seriously bad. As Bush said, if you’re an American talking to Al Qaida we want to know about it. What’s to object to in that?

Tiny Tyrant
15 years ago

The objection is that they can (and are) spy on US Citizens who are talking to anybody but the Terrorist-of-the-Day.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

An excellent explanation of the program and the safeguards associated with it is in this address to the US National Press Club by the Deputy DNI. It’s a bit long and rambly but I think it makes clear that the scenario Tiny Tyrant envisages does not and could not arise.

Michael
Michael
15 years ago

Cameron, I apologise for my snarky comment, but I have to admit to not really being across the issue in question (legality of the phone taps) and it was disappointing not to see you argue the point based on what Gonzales had actually said, either he did say it was legal or he didn’t, so I would have thought it would be simple to make the case.

“It is the height of civic irresponsibility to blindly and constantly agree with the executive based on which faction they are from.”

Just as it is to blindly and constantly DISagree with the executive, especially for the MSM, and this is something the NYT is regularly accused of. If Robs take on Gonzales’s beliefs is correct then it would certainly seem to be an example of this irresponsibility (clearly trying to imply that Gonzales was happy for ILLEGAL taps to continue when they knew he considers them to be legal) – that’s why I thought it important to know if Robs comment was correct.
And surely this is also important when looking at the “merits” of this editorial?

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

The Bush Administration’s arguments for the legality of their secret warrantless wiretapping regime are legal nonsense. Even lots of Republicans are saying so. Take Senator Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Not exactly a raving leftie):

The Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee said today that he believed the Bush administration had violated the law with its warrantless surveillance program and that its legal justifications for the program were “strained and unrealistic.”

The program “is in flat violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” said the chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who will open committee hearings on Monday.

Anyone who professes to be impressed by the Bush Administration’s legal arguments would be well advised to read this comprehensive and devastating submission by 14 US constitutional law professors and former government lawyers.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Nicholas, Gonzales’ views can be found here.

On a quick read it does not address the specific issue you raise.

Ken, it is the AG who is the formal legal adviser to the President, and he gets his support from the US Department of Justice. The 14 professors may disagree with AG/DoJ advice, but what of it? It’s not their job to proved formal legal advice to the Administration.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Also, Ken, from what I understand, the program does not involve wiretapping.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

Rob

“Wiretapping” in my understanding/useage refers to communications interception techniques generally, including purely electronic means that don’t involve connection to a telephone cable or similar. This is a nitpick, and irrelevant to the argument given the scope of FISA.

On your substantive point, I accept that Bush has advice from DOJ/A-G asserting that the Administration’s wiretapping regime is legal. But this says nothing about whether that assertion is legally tenable. We are entitled (and, if we’re wise and public-spirited citizens, obliged) to examine the merits of the respective arguments. I’ve read Gonzales’ speech (and a range of other detailed summaries of the DOJ position/arguments). The submission of the 14 law professors linked above deals comprehensively with each of the legal points made by Gonzales. Have you actually bothered to read it? Or is this another one of those arguments I recall from previous discussions with you on this blog, where the facts seem to be entirely superfluous to your opinion?

I don’t deny that some people, even some lawyers, argue that Bush’s warrantless tapping activities are legal. But you started this thread by adopting Gonzales’ claim that there is “not the slightest doubt that the program was legal” and that the “rest is just a bunch of tired old canards”. Even if you don’t accept what I regard as the quite compelling legal logic of the 14 professors’ submission to the contrary, you must surely at least now concede that your/Gonzales’ claim of “not the slightest doubt” is a gross overstatement. The question of legality is highly debatable at the very least.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

True, ‘not the slightest doubt’ was rhetorical overreach.

And yes, I’ve read both the 14 professors and Gonzales but unfortunately have no means of knowing which represents the better interpretation of the Constitution. They both seemed to make sense, but cancelled each other out. I noted, though, that the 14 talk of ‘limitless’ and ‘indefinite’ warrantless wiretapping, which does not square with the description of the program that GEN Hayden gave in his speech.

We are probably all at a disadvantage in not knowing exactly what the program is – Hayden was very careful to avoid discussing what he called operational details. However, I assume that the DoJ lawyers and the AG himself do not suffer from that disadvantage, and have been appropriately briefed. He also said that all the classified details had been exposed in closed discussions with Congress .

To my mind, this strengthens the case for the DoJ position.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

They mean ‘limitless’ in the sense that any limits that may exist are self-imposed and self-supervised by the Executive government, and not subject to any external checks and balances of the sort the US Constitution is generally regarded as requiring.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

“To my mind, this strengthens the case for the DoJ position. ”

How? If operational details have been revealed to Congress, that presumably includes disclosure to people including the assorted Republicans like Senator Specter who still reckon the regime is illegal. How does the fact of revealing operational details to Congress say anything at all about legality?

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

You have to be on the right committes to get classified briefings, as I understand it. And my point was rather that the DoJ lawyers had the advantage of knowing exactly what they were talking about.

Nabakov
Nabakov
15 years ago

Shorter Rob: The President does not have to answer to his employers – the citizens of the US.

Y’know Rob, Dubya could sodomise a fluffy white kitten on TV in primetime and, along with the other few lollards leftyou’d still be gamely trying to frame it as another bold move in the war on terror.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

That was humour, right? Not my strong point.

Nabakov
Nabakov
15 years ago

Rob.

No. Yes.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

Nicholas, I can’t agree with (well, I would, wouldn’t I?)

From what I’ve read, the person that makes the decision to prosecute elements of this program is the President of the United States. He is a directly elected official, with certain powers conferred on him by the Constitution. It is entirely appropriate and within the spirt of representative democracy that it is he, not a judicial officer, who makes the decision about an operation designed to safeguard the United States, whose security is, of course, his ultimate responsibility.

We operate in a similar way. Out AG can approve a warrant against a person involved in terrorism. Here again the decision is made by an elected representative of the people. If the people don’t like his decision, or the Prez’s, they vote him (or his government) out.

Personally, I strongly believe that all significant decsisions by the executive arm of government should be made by elected officals. That’s why I think our system is superior to the Americans’, where equivalents to our Ministers are not elected, they are appointed.

That said, if I were an American, I would be quite confortable with a senior professional (head of agency) like Hayden making a judgement about a certain course of action – strongly informed, as he pointed out in his speech, by his own legal people – and a strong culture of organisational ethics, and the President signing off on it if he agreed.

Finally, repeating myself I daresay, I strongly disagree with your contention that our way of life relies on judicial officers making key policy decisions. It is elected officals who should make those decisions because they are accountable to the people.

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

I disagree again. There is a legal issue intertwined with a policy decision; that does not make it a judicial decision. The AG’s advice to the President is that it is within his contitutional powers to approve these measures. It is his policy call as to whether, in the particular case, he approves or disapproves a recommendation from one of the agencies of the executive arm of government.

That’s the way governments work. The constitution confers powers on elected officals, and appointed officials execute those powers as directed. It happens in Australian ministries all the time. If there’s a legal issue involved in preparing the policy advice, officials get legal advice from the appropriate body, and prepare their recommendations acccordingly.

Sorry, I do not mean to sound snarky.

Cameron Riley
15 years ago

Michael, it was disappointing not to see you argue the point based on what Gonzales had actually said

It has been debunked constantly by people more qualified than me on the issue. But if you want to go back to primary sources why the Executive (President) making laws (the domain of the Legislative) is a bad thing for liberty and good government, Federalist No.47 has an answer;

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

The US Constitution allows a small area where the Executive can intersect with the Legislative, and that is the veto. The Executive cannot make laws up (like an executive order which allows him to bypass FISA’s requirements). It is just stupid, as FISA gives the executive every possible advantage anyway, including retroactive wiretaps. They would trade away what makes America strong for what?

Just as it is to blindly and constantly DISagree with the executive, especially for the MSM, and this is something the NYT is regularly accused of.

I am most interested in good government. Poor governing adds inefficiencies and burdens to liberty, society, economy and culture. Liberty and prosperity are impossoble when a people are trapped under poor government or a tyrannical arm of government.

Charles Harpur believed that the biggest drag on a people was the avarice and greed of a poor political system. It is a social burden on the moral and ethical fabric of the people. A good recent example is the AWB, it appears to have been encouraged, and is now being excused or explained away. Poor government hurts more than just farmers who got payed less for their wheat than Saddam Hussein.

Anyone who is interesed in good government should be permanently suspicious of the executive and political parties. Especially when an individual and party hold power across two arms of government. Australian parliament embeds the executive in the legislative, which means we have to be doubly vigilant over the executive’s behaviour.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

Reading the partisan rubbish spouted by the New York Times would be a waste of effort.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Shorter EP: “Na,na,na I can’t hear you”.

I’d just like the RWDBs to think for a moment if the Supreme Court in 2000 had behaved in a less blatantly partisan way, and 9/11 happened on Gore’s watch.

Don’t you think that, apart from blaming 9/11l on Gore (yes, yes, I know – there are plenty on the left trying to blame it on Bush), you’d be screaming for impeachment if Gore had publicly taken the attitude, with each signing of a Bill, tnat “the law is whatever I interpret it to be”, and if said interpretation resulted in arbitrary detainment, torture and wiretapping?

As I’ve said before, terrorists come and go (there’s been plenty before al Quaeda) but Big Brother is forever.

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

The Supreme Court didn’t behave in a partisan way in 2000. It ruled according to the Constitution, despite enormous partisan pressure from Gore supporters.

As for the law, it’s up to the courts to interpret that — and they interpreted it in such a way as to allow Bush’s wiretaps, and those of Clinton before him. So I doubt they’d rule any differently if it was Gore instead of Bush or Clinton.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

“As for the law, it’s up to the courts to interpret that —

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Conservative governments have good intentions, Nick, so it’s alright …

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

“We can’t think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers —

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

The Clinton Administration believed that the President’s inherent powers under the Constitution included the ability to perform warrantless searches. Wiretaps are a form of search.

“The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes,” Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 14, 1994, “and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General.”

“It is important to understand,” Gorelick continued, “that the rules and methodology for criminal searches are inconsistent with the collection of foreign intelligence and would unduly frustrate the president in carrying out his foreign intelligence responsibilities.”

Executive Order 12333, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, provides for such warrantless searches directed against “a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.”

Reporting the day after Gorelick’s testimony, the Washington Post’s headline —

Evil Pundit
15 years ago

Link for the above quote.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

EP

I hadn’t been aware of the Clinton situation. Two important things arise from the above quote. First, it establishes, as I said above, that there has NOT been any court decision on the legality of warrantless wiretaps, either under Clinton or Bush. It is merely executive government assertion of power in both cases. Thus your statement above that “it’s up to the courts to interpret that —

Cameron Riley
15 years ago

Ken, However both are equally clearly in breach of FISA.

According to Clinton he did not do warrantless wiretapping;

My attitude was that once the Congress had spoken on it and given us the tools that we needed, we used it,” he said. “We used the law. We either went there and asked for the approval or, if there was an emergency and we had to do it beforehand, then we filed within three days afterward and gave them a chance to second guess it, because I thought it was a good —