George W. Bush v. The U.S. Constitution

From misleading the nation on its reasons for war to fighing an unending war on terror, the Bush administration threatens our Constitution and our freedom.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)

In July 2005, 122 mem­bers of Con­gress, along with more than 500,000 Amer­i­cans, sent a let­ter to Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, ask­ing him to ver­i­fy whether the asser­tions set forth in the so-called Down­ing Street Min­utes” were accu­rate. The pres­i­dent nev­er responded.

That lack of response prompt­ed Rep. John Cony­ers (D‑Mich.), Rank­ing Mem­ber of the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, to com­mis­sion his staff to write a report exam­in­ing the administration’s manip­u­la­tion and decep­tion dur­ing the lead-up to the inva­sion of Iraq. When the New York Times report­ed in Decem­ber 2005 that Pres­i­dent Bush had approved wide­spread war­rant­less domes­tic sur­veil­lance of inno­cent Amer­i­cans, (lat­er cor­rob­o­rat­ed in May 2006 by USA Today), Cony­ers asked his staff to doc­u­ment those abus­es as well. The final report, The Con­sti­tu­tion In Cri­sis,” released in August with lit­tle atten­tion from the main­stream media, is a com­pelling indict­ment of the Bush administration. 

Acad­e­my Chica­go Pub­lish­ers recent­ly pub­lished the report as a book, titled George W. Bush ver­sus the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Below, In These Times has excerpt­ed the book’s fore­word by Rep. Cony­ers, who explains the dan­gers to the Con­sti­tu­tion posed by the Bush administration’s asser­tion of a uni­tary executive.”

Scan­dals such as Water­gate and Iran-Con­tra are wide­ly con­sid­ered to be con­sti­tu­tion­al crises, in the sense that the exec­u­tive branch was act­ing in vio­la­tion of the law and in ten­sion with the major­i­ty par­ty in the Con­gress. But the sys­tem of checks and bal­ances put in place by the Found­ing Fathers worked, the abus­es were inves­ti­gat­ed, and actions were tak­en – even if pres­i­den­tial par­dons ulti­mate­ly pre­vent­ed a full mea­sure of justice. 

The sit­u­a­tion we find our­selves in today under the admin­is­tra­tion of George W. Bush is sys­tem­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent. The alleged acts of wrong­do­ing my staff has doc­u­ment­ed – which include mak­ing mis­lead­ing state­ments about the deci­sion to go to war; manip­u­lat­ing intel­li­gence; facil­i­tat­ing and coun­te­nanc­ing tor­ture; using clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion to out a CIA agent; and vio­lat­ing fed­er­al sur­veil­lance and pri­va­cy laws – are quite seri­ous. How­ev­er, the cur­rent major­i­ty par­ty has shown lit­tle incli­na­tion to engage in basic over­sight, let alone ques­tion the admin­is­tra­tion direct­ly. The media, though show­ing some signs of aggres­sive­ness, is increas­ing­ly con­cen­trat­ed and all too often unwill­ing to risk the enmi­ty or legal chal­lenge from the par­ty in charge. At the same time, unlike pre­vi­ous threats to civ­il lib­er­ties posed by the Civ­il War (sus­pen­sion of habeas cor­pus and evic­tion of Jews from por­tions of the South­ern States); World War I (anti-immi­grant Palmer Raids”); World War II (intern­ment of Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans); and the Viet­nam War (COIN­TEL­PRO); the risks to our cit­i­zens’ rights today are poten­tial­ly more grave, as the war on ter­ror has no spe­cif­ic end point.

Although on occa­sion the courts are able to serve as a par­tial check on the uni­lat­er­al over­reach­ing of the exec­u­tive branch – as they did in the recent Ham­dan v. Rums­feld deci­sion inval­i­dat­ing the president’s mil­i­tary tri­bunal rules – the unfor­tu­nate real­i­ty remains that we are a long way from being out of the con­sti­tu­tion­al woods under the dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion of an impe­r­i­al Bush pres­i­den­cy and a com­pli­ant GOP Con­gress. I say this for sev­er­al rea­sons. The Ham­dan deci­sion itself was approved by only five jus­tices (three jus­tices dis­sent­ed, and Chief Jus­tice Roberts recused him­self because he had pre­vi­ous­ly ruled in favor of the admin­is­tra­tion) and was writ­ten by 86-year old Jus­tice Stevens. In the event of his retire­ment in the next two years, the Court’s bal­ance would prob­a­bly be tipped as he would undoubt­ed­ly be replaced by anoth­er jus­tice in the Scalia-Thomas-Roberts-Ali­to mode, favor­ing an all-pow­er­ful uni­tary” exec­u­tive. In the very first hear­ing held on the deci­sion, the admin­is­tra­tion wit­ness tes­ti­fied that the pres­i­dent is always right,” and severe­ly crit­i­cized the Court’s deci­sion. The Repub­li­can major­i­ty also appears poised to use the deci­sion to score polit­i­cal points rather than to reassert con­gres­sion­al pre­rog­a­tives: that House Major­i­ty Leader Boehn­er disin­gen­u­ous­ly declared the case offers a clear choice between Capi­tol Hill Democ­rats who cel­e­brate offer­ing spe­cial priv­i­leges to vio­lent ter­ror­ists, and Repub­li­cans who want the pres­i­dent to have the nec­es­sary tools to pros­e­cute and achieve vic­to­ry in the Glob­al War on Terror.”

Thus, notwith­stand­ing the rel­e­vance of the Ham­dan deci­sion, I believe our Con­sti­tu­tion remains in cri­sis. We can­not count on a sin­gle judi­cial deci­sion to reclaim the rule of law or res­ur­rect the sys­tem of checks and bal­ances envi­sioned by the Found­ing Fathers. Rather, we need to restore a vig­i­lant Con­gress, an inde­pen­dent judi­cia­ry, a law-abid­ing pres­i­dent, and a vig­or­ous free press that has served our nation so well through­out our history. 

I believe it is essen­tial that we come togeth­er as a nation to con­front reli­gious extrem­ism and despi­ca­ble regimes abroad as well as ter­ror­ist tac­tics at home. How­ev­er, as a vet­er­an, I rec­og­nize that we do no ser­vice to our brave armed forces by ask­ing them to engage in mil­i­tary con­flict under false pre­tens­es and with­out ade­quate resources. Nor do we advance the cause of fight­ing ter­ror­ism if our gov­ern­ment takes con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly dubi­ous short cuts with lit­tle law enforce­ment val­ue, that alien­ate the very groups in this coun­try whose coop­er­a­tion is cen­tral to fight­ing this sem­i­nal battle.

Many of us remem­ber a time when the pow­ers of our gov­ern­ment were hor­ri­bly abused. Those of us who lived through the Viet­nam con­flict know the dam­age that can result when our gov­ern­ment mis­leads its cit­i­zens about war. As one who was includ­ed on Pres­i­dent Nixon’s ene­mies list,” I am all too famil­iar with the specter of unlaw­ful gov­ern­ment intru­sion. In the face of these lessons, I believe it is imper­a­tive that we nev­er lose our voice of dis­sent, regard­less of polit­i­cal pres­sure. As Mar­tin Luther King said, There comes a time when silence is betray­al.” None of us should be bul­lied or intim­i­dat­ed when the exec­u­tive branch charges that those who crit­i­cize their actions are aid­ing the ter­ror­ists” and giv­ing ammu­ni­tion to America’s ene­mies,” or when the exec­u­tive warns that Amer­i­cans need to watch what they say,” as this admin­is­tra­tion has done.

It is trag­ic that our nation has invad­ed anoth­er sov­er­eign nation because the intel­li­gence and facts were being fixed around the pol­i­cy,” and that mil­lions of inno­cent Amer­i­cans have been sub­ject to gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance out­side prop­er legal process. It is unfor­giv­able that Con­gress has been unwill­ing to exam­ine these mat­ters or take actions to pre­vent these cir­cum­stances from occur­ring again. Since the major­i­ty par­ty is unwill­ing to ful­fill their over­sight respon­si­bil­i­ties, it is incum­bent on indi­vid­ual mem­bers of Con­gress, as well as the Amer­i­can pub­lic, to act to pro­tect our con­sti­tu­tion­al form of government. 

It should be not­ed that with­out the assis­tance of the blo­gos­phere” and oth­er Inter­net-based media, it would have been impos­si­ble for my staff to assem­ble all of the infor­ma­tion, sources and oth­er mate­ri­als that they did, and I would like to offer them my heart­felt thanks. Where­as the so-called main­stream media” have fre­quent­ly been will­ing to look past the abus­es of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, the blo­goso­phere has proven to be a new and impor­tant bul­wark of our nation’s First Amend­ment freedoms. 

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