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His Majesty: the President of the United States

by Charles Levendosky

Charles Levendosky is a staff writer for the Casper Wyoming Star-Tribune This article appeared in North County Times, January 13, 2002, p. F-1.


Step by step, the Bush administration is marching this nation toward an imperial presidencyó a presidency with unchecked power. And Congress has shown neither the resolve, nor the gumption to block the dangerous road President Bush has taken.

Step by secret step, the administration usurps power that belongs to Congress, the judiciary and the people. Since our first retaliatory strikes against terrorist camps in Afghanistan, the administration has

severely restricted American journalists from covering that war, as well as the domestic war on terrorism. There is too much we simply do not know about the war and the conduct of the war, or even how many civilian casualties there have been.

In November, Bush issued an order that creates military tribunals with a far greater sweep of authority than the military tribunal created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to conduct a secret trial of eight known Nazi saboteurs, who had confessed. Rooseveltís tribunals were limited to trying persons from "any nation at war with the United States."

Bushís tribunals can be used against "any individual who is not a United States citizen." There are approximately 20 million noncitizens, including resident aliens, living in the United States. They are all put at risk to be tried in secret, found guilty and have no right to appeal in any court. The judicial branch of government has no authority here, according to Bush.

The founders of this nation distrusted military justice dispensed by authority which is unchecked by civil power. They saw such proceedings as essentially lawless.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft rounded up more than 1,200 non-citizens in November, most of Middle East backgrounds, and held a number of them incommunicado for weeks and months so they could not be contacted by attorneys or their families. Hundreds are still detained.

Ashcroft, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee ó the committee which has oversight authority over the Department of Justice ó refused to answer pertinent questions about the detentions. With a truculent show of arrogance, he told the senators their oversight authority had limits. In that same testimony, Ashcroft equated dissenters with traitors. In other words, the government knows what is right. The people donít. The peopleís elected representatives in Congress donít, either.

Last month, Bush unilaterally ówithout consultation with the Senate, which has an advice and consent role regarding treaties ó terminated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, effective in six months from his announced intention.

And the march of autocratic presidential decisions continues. On Dec. 28, Bush signed the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002 (HR 2883) into law ó but on the same day issued an executive memorandum which declared that he will ignore Section 305 of the act.

Section 305 of the act amends the National Security Act of 1947 and states, in part: "Any report relating to a significant anticipated inteffigence activity or a significant intelligence failure that is submitted to the intelligence committees shall be in writing, and shall contain the following: (1) A concise statement of any facts pertinent to such report and (2) An explanation of the significance of the intelligence activity or intelligence failure covered by such report."

The Intelligence Authorization Act passed overwhelmingly by voice vote in the House and by unanimous vote in the Senate.

David G. Adler, professor of political science at Idaho State University and the editor-author of "The Constitution and the Conduct of American Foreign Policy," considers the Bush memo regarding the act "the continuation of the exercise of the imperial presidency."

Adler points out: "What Bush is saying is that Section 305 encroaches on his authority as president to determine what information Congress is entitled to. In fact, heís claiming the right to impose secrecy, to determine what Congress will be informed about. And thatís very dangerous.

"To begin with, Congress is actually the senior partner in the conduct of foreign policy, not the executive. The executive role in foreign affairs, at least under the Constitution, pales in comparison to that of Congress. And because Congress is the senior partner, it makes sense that Congress should be entitled to all information so that it can make good decisions in the area of foreign affairs.

"Section 305 is quite reasonable. It is eminently reasonable for Congress to have access to information about inteffigence activities."

In 1996, Congress tried to give away its constitutionally mandated authority by passing the Line Item Veto Act. The Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not grant the president the authority to ignore- portions of legislation that Congress had passed and the president had signed into law. If Congress cannot give away that authority, certainly a president cannot take it.

When Bush signed the Intelligence Authorization Act into law, he signed the entire act into law, not portions of it. And under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution;the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed"ówhether he agrees with them or not. Once a president signs a bill into law, heís under an constitutional obligation to duly enforce the law.

Adler suggests that congressional leaders could meet with the president formally and tell him how important it is to Congress to have that intelligence information.

"Secondly," Adler said, "if the president wonít budge, the Congress could threaten to withhold funding for any of the intelligence activities about which it will not be informed. That would bring real muscle to the field. Itís not likely now, because Congress has caved in since Sept. 11, in very dangerous ways. Itís unlikely that Congress will assert itself.

"What this means is that the president will conduct this war in greater secrecy and not even Congress will be informed about obviously important developments and our efforts in the war on terrorism."

In his assault on the U.S. Constitution, the Bush administration is really saying that it doesnít trust Congress, the elected representatives of the people, nor does it trust the people themselves.

What could be more dangerous to our form of government?


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