Home > Uncategorized > Unchecked Power Has Terrible Consequences: 2/29/2008 – Concord Monitor

Unchecked Power Has Terrible Consequences: 2/29/2008 – Concord Monitor

Unchecked Power Has Terrible Consequences: 2/29/2008 – Concord Monitor

Since at least 2004 there has been discussion among historians about whether George W. Bush is the worst president in American history. A more interesting question is why his presidency has failed so miserably.
There is no shortage of reasons. I would begin with his slavish devotion to the superrich at the expense of the bottom 99 percent. Then, of course, there is the war in Iraq. Lying to get us into a massively destructive, unjustified war must top any short list. The pathetically inadequate and embarrassing federal response to Hurricane Katrina also deserves mention.
Those reasons, while valid, do not really get to the heart of the matter. We have never before had a president who so ruthlessly and secretively expanded the powers of the presidency beyond the limits set in the Constitution. The Bush administration set this course from its start with no mandate from the voters to do so.
George Bush and Dick Cheney have worked to create a presidency beyond checks and balances where power trumps law. And it is no accident. Since long before 9/11, Cheney and a small clique of true believers have wanted to create a monarchical presidency. Cheney’s efforts on this front date back to the 1970s. In his fine book, Takeover, Charlie Savage lays it all out.
When they ran for office, neither Bush nor Cheney were forthcoming about their views of presidential power. Even worse, Congress and the media failed to ask essential questions about checks and balances.
Consider this: The administration can now designate American citizens as enemy non-combatants. With this designation, the administration can detain people indefinitely without judicial review, suspend Geneva Convention provisions at its discretion, and torture them (as long as it is not labeled torture).
The administration can use coerced evidence to convict them in a secret trial and can withhold evidence deemed essential for national security.
It can then block review of detention practices by denying habeas corpus.
Whenever Congress has attempted to weigh in, Bush has issued a signing statement, created an ever broader state’s secret privilege or used lawyers to put his actions beyond reach. The infamous Unitary Executive Theory underpins a naked power grab.
In truth, Bush has tried to turn the United States into a third-rate banana republic. As is well known, since 9/11, the U.S. government has gotten into the business of disappearing people much like Chile in the 1970s or Argentina during the dirty war.
The practice known as extraordinary rendition involves the CIA detaining and transporting suspected terrorists to countries like Syria, Egypt, or Jordan where torture is okay. The detainees become veritable ghosts held in secret prisons called black sites. There they are tortured.
How can it possibly be acceptable for the government to run a secret detention system while denying detainees access to courts, lawyers, and the outside world? Who is being held? Where are they? What torture is going on? How many people have been murdered? Where is accountability?
On July 16, 2006, the government released a “Terrorists No Longer a Threat” list about some of the 39 people listed by six human rights groups as having disappeared after capture. We are all left to draw our own conclusions since no further detail was provided.
Since the Bush Administration tells us they hold only the worst of the worst, the matter is supposed to be closed. Yet, the experience of Guantanamo shows they have frequently swept up innocents, people who were victims of score-settling or low-level fellow travelers. There is also a disturbing history of detaining wives and children of the disappeared for leverage.
As we consider presidential candidates from both parties, questions about the scope of executive power deserve higher profile.
Considering the scope of the misdeeds as well as their unpopularity, it is amazing how much of a pass Bush and Cheney have been given. The fact that they have not been the subject of multiple criminal investigations is a wonder.
They are living proof that unchecked executive power will not be used judiciously. The founding fathers anticipated people like Bush and Cheney. That is why they rejected the model of the British king and acted to preserve checks and balances.

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