Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Those Secret Memos

The more I hear about those secret memos put out by the Bush administration’s Department of Justice, the more creeped out I get.

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

Some of the positions had previously become known from statements of Bush administration officials in response to court challenges and Congressional inquiries. But taken together, the opinions disclosed Monday were the clearest illustration to date of the broad definition of presidential power approved by government lawyers in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

[…]

The opinion authorizing the military to operate domestically was dated Oct. 23, 2001, and written by John C. Yoo, at the time a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and Robert J. Delahunty, a special counsel in the office. It was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked whether Mr. Bush could use the military to combat terrorist activities inside the United States.

The use of the military envisioned in the Yoo-Delahunty reply appears to transcend by far the stationing of troops to keep watch at streets and airports, a familiar sight in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The memorandum discussed the use of military forces to carry out “raids on terrorist cells” and even seize property.

“The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty wrote to Mr. Gonzales. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, they said, since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force.

The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

I realize that these memos were considered to be just the neo-con musings of people like Mr. Yoo and that every administration has drawn up contingency plans for every circumstance from the tragic — such as nuclear attacks on Washington, D.C. — to the farcical — such as invading Canada. But given the behavior and the cavalier attitude the Bush administration demonstrated against civil rights and freedoms all in the name of fighting “terrorism” — as if a tactic was the enemy — makes me feel that there were certain members of the Bush White House who would not object to warrantless arrests and military occupation, and those people weren’t just lawyers jerking off to pictures of Jack Bauer on 24; I’m sure Karl Rove and Dick Cheney could defend them without breaking a sweat.

Apparently they had some second thoughts about these paeans to tyranny because a week before the Bush administration left office, one of the lawyers made an attempt to say “never mind” and repudiate them.

In a memorandum dated this Jan. 15, five days before President George W. Bush left office, a top Justice Department official wrote that those opinions had not been relied on since 2003. But the official, Steven G. Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel, said it was important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions,” and he used the memo to repudiate them formally.

Mr. Bradbury said in his memo that the earlier ones had been a product of lawyers’ confronting “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.”

Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better, and if there is any justice, somebody — or some body, like the United States Congress — should look into them.

The neo-cons will say that in the face of nameless, faceless terrorists who hate freedom and want to destroy our way of life, all bets are off. Really? Look in the mirror.