Sunday, January 22, 2006

Above the law

President George W. Bush has made it very apparent that he considers himself above the law. There are no lack of examples that are now well known by the American people ... at least, those who are not sticking their heads in the sand to avoid cognitive dissonance.

Those who have researched the details of the facts surrounding the gathering of intelligence about WMD in Iraq know that the president actively conducted a campaign of deceit against the American people. He believed that the law did not apply to actions he had to take to get buy-in for the invasion of Iraq. Of course, the president wouldn't have let the American people stop him from deposing Saddam Hussein anyway. The Downing Street Memo showed us that the Iraq War was a foregone conclusion. It is irrefutable evidence that the president had decided before July 23, 2002, that he was going to invade Iraq, even though the US Constitution says he must first get the authorization of congress.

It's not just American law which the president thumbs his nose at. The Geneva Conventions are international treaties that forbid torture. Although the US is party to these laws, its military force and intelligence agencies have been exposed as returning to the use of torture under the command of president Bush.

The latest news which serves as another example of the president acting as if he were above the law is only public because of a leak. The president has ordered the NSA to conduct electronic surveillance of communication with thousands of American citizens without a court order. Although the program, which spies on both telephone calls and email, has been ongoing for the past four years, the president has not requested a subpoena from a FISA court to approve the action to this day. Clearly, the president believes he is not subject to Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights.

However, there is an even more sinister way in which the president thinks he is above the law which few Americans know about. It turns out that during his first term, the president scribed an unprecedented 108 signing statements when executing legislation. Signing statements are addenda written by the president to bills passed by congress. However, the statements give the terms and conditions of the bill which the president desires. In other words, while the legislature thinks he's signing their bill into law, the president is actually writing and executing his own law.

For example, congress recently passed a defense appropriation bill with an amendment that forbids torture. It was the amendment sponsored by Senator John McCain which the president and vice president Dick Cheney vigorously fought to defeat. However, after congress passed the appropriation bill anyway, the president would look bad vetoing it because it would mean not providing funding to the war he started. The president's solution was to add his own signing statement to the bill. The statement, written in convoluted legaleze so the average American would not understand it, said basically that the president is not subject to the bill and would disobey the law as he sees fit.

The president obviously considers himself above the law. Unfortunately, his signing statements demonstrate that he also considers himself the author of the law. Hopefully, the Supreme Court won't support one of his signing statements in the future to establish legal precedence for this impunity.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The hearing no one hears

Congressman John Conyers held a hearing yesterday into president Bush's warrantless domestic spy program. Sadly, not a word about the hearing was heard in the mainstream media. Granted, the hearing was relegated to the basement of the Rayburn building during a congressional recess when you'd think that plenty of hearing rooms would be available. However, that alone should have been provocative enough to get traction in the media because of the manner in which the hearing got its "unofficial" status.

Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, the committee which is obligated to investigate when the executive ignores the law. As such, Conyers appealed to congressman James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the committee, to initiate investigation of Bush's espionage program. Unfortunately, albeit not surprisingly, Sensenbrenner has not scheduled one.

Sensenbrenner is a Republican and, like the rest of his GOP cohort in the House, he protects the president from exposure to anything that brings his administration into question, regardless of what impeachable offenses the president commits. Just as when Sensenbrenner refused to call hearings to investigate whether the president deceived the nation to go to war in Iraq, even after the Downing Street Memo became public, Conyers was denied an official hearing room to conduct his investigations. And just as in those hearings, not a single Republican congressman showed up at yesterday's hearing.

They weren't the only no-shows. Conyers also invited attorney general Alberto Gonzales to the hearing but neither he nor anyone else from the administration attended. You would think that Bush supporters would want to attend the hearing. After all, if the accusations against him were truly spurious, as Bush would have you believe, they would be easy to expose as such. However, the truth is more likely that no Republicans attended because they have no ammunition with which to defend Bush. Consequently, the hearing will likely be dismissed as a partisan affair.

Nonetheless, you can still hear it thanks to C-Span. If you have RealPlayer installed on your PC, you can hear the entirety of yesterday's hearing at (the same URI as in the first hyperlink at the top of this post to the blog):

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Opponents of Bush's espionage program line up

President Bush staunchly defends authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on American citizens over a period of years without requesting a subpoena to do so from a judge. He seems to be unashamed of his actions, claiming that both the Constitution and Congress granted him the permission to do so. However, more and more people on Capitol Hill are coming forward to say that what the president did was a shameful act.

This is occurring on both sides of the aisle. Even the Republican senator Alan Specter is questioning the president's action. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has called for hearings into the matter. But he has not stopped there: since the committee will not have those hearings until after the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee, Judge Alito, senator Specter claims he will incorporate questioning related to the legality of the president's action into the confirmation hearings. Showing clear concern for the length to which Bush is stretching presidential war powers, Specter told Wolf Blitzer today that he has already begun discussing the issue with attorney general Alberto Gonzalez.

As you would expect, the president is already under intense fire from the other side of the aisle. In fact, the 'I' word is now being tossed around. In an email he sent to Americans last week, congressman John Conyers added the approval of unwarranted espionage against Americans to "impeachable offenses" on which he's calling for the president to be investigated. He and a couple dozen other congressmen wrote the president a letter requesting information justifying the legality of his action (which Bush is sure to ignore, just as he does every letter Congress sends to him).

That's not the only 'I' word being tossed around. Also speaking to Wolf Blitzer today, senate minority leader Patrick Leahy unambiguously referred to what the president ordered as "illegal spying on Americans." Congresswoman Jane Harman, on the other hand, was originally somewhat sympathetic to Bush's espionage program. The president briefed the "gang of eight" on his espionage program -- "brief" being the operative word -- claiming the top-secret briefings as when Congress supposedly approved his program. However, as Harman learned more about what Bush told (or, more accurately, did not tell) the gang of eight about the program in strict confidence before she joined the House Intelligence Committee, Harman now says those briefings were illegal.

At the request of a number of congressmen, the Congressional Research Service investigated presidential authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance to gather foreign intelligence information. Their 44-page analysis found that:
It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here under discussion, and it would likewise appear that, to the extent that those surveillances fall within the definition of "electronic surveillance" within the meaning of FISA or any activity regulated under Title III, Congress intended to cover the entire field with these statutes.
Their report also disclosed that Alan Specter's Senate Judiciary Committee stated that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was designed "to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrantless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it."

However, legislators are not the only authorities questioning the president. A former NSA official, Russ Tice, wrote letters to both the House and Senate judiciary committees. In his letter Tice said, "I intend to report to Congress probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted while I was an intelligence officer with the NSA and with the Defense Intelligence Agency." Why is Tice a "former" official? Because he was dismissed from the NSA after he became a whistleblower.

Of course, Bush says Article II of the Constitution of the United States gives him the martial power to legally order his espionage program. However, if you justify Bush's action under war powers, then you're giving the executive branch permission to spy on Americans indefinitely. The "war on terror" is not a traditional combat between two nations where one will eventually prevail over the other, it's a rhetorical war against a scourge of society. As such, much like the rhetorical war on drugs, it will never be won and it will never end. Just as mankind has abused drugs since the first time we discovered the effects of things like hallucinogenic mushrooms and fermented juice, mankind has also utilized terrorism since the first time one man discovered he could control another through fear (just read the Bible for ancient examples) and will continue to have terrorists until we become extinct from the face of this planet.

"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

Monday, January 02, 2006

A picture is worth a thousand words

They say "a picture is worth a thousand words." A friend of mine sent me a picture he created yesterday. It's simple but it holds a lot of meaning. So, to save myself a thousand words' worth of keystrokes, I decided to publish his picture instead of writing a post today. Without further ado, here it is:

The picture reminds me a bit of a This Modern World comic I saw once with a similar message. Click here to check it out. But for today's picture, a tip of the hat goes to my friend, Dan Stanton.