Monday, December 19, 2005

Salon.com News & Politics: The President is spying on U.S.

Yesterday I wrote a bit on the wiretapping activities authorized by President Bush. What's caught my eye is how congressional leaders are very overwhelmingly concerned by this. For example Senator Arlen Spector saying "That's wrong, clearly and categorically wrong," and that they will take it up for examination when Congress returns to work next month.

Spying on Americans: Did Bush break the law? (Salon.COM War Room) Asks about the legality of Bush's actions. As I noted in yesterdays posting, the President had available a process of obtaining wiretap authority through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but he did not use it. The legal qualm is basically that he's ignoring the law.

I remember a previous president who thought he was above the law. President Nixon was tossed out.

The War Room entry refers to an old Newsweek article that contains this section:

The White House was undeterred. By Jan. 25, 2002, according to a memo obtained by NEWSWEEK, it was clear that Bush had already decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply at all, either to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. In the memo, which was written to Bush by Gonzales, the White House legal counsel told the president that Powell had "requested that you reconsider that decision." Gonzales then laid out startlingly broad arguments that anticipated any objections to the conduct of U.S. soldiers or CIA interrogators in the future. "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales wrote to Bush. "The nature of the new war places a —high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." Gonzales concluded in stark terms: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Gonzales also argued that dropping Geneva would allow the president to "preserve his flexibility" in the war on terror. His reasoning? That U.S. officials might otherwise be subject to war-crimes prosecutions under the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales said he feared "prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges" based on a 1996 U.S. law that bars "war crimes," which were defined to include "any grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. As to arguments that U.S. soldiers might suffer abuses themselves if Washington did not observe the conventions, Gonzales argued wishfully to Bush that "your policy of providing humane treatment to enemy detainees gives us the credibility to insist on like treatment for our soldiers."

The whole article talks about how the Administration has been following this line of thought: "There was a before-9/11 and an after-9/11,", saying that "after-9/11" everything was different, that this is a different kind of war, and that the old rules do not apply to this war. The article itself was written in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib disclosure and talked of the extreme torture methods being used by the military, and how clearly that scandal wasn't a few bad apples but instead an across the board policy to bring torture into use by American Military personell, and to upend America's longstanding conformance with the Geneva Convention.

Between these two we have a clear picture of a U.S. Administration that is acting above and beyond the law.

If the Rule of Law is to prevail in this country, then we who are the country need to stand for the Rule of Law. We need to demand legal accountability of our government.