Saturday, July 14, 2007

Unchecked and Unbalanced

Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror (Hardcover)
Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Aziz Z. Huq

A timely July 6, 2007 book review in the New York Times praises "Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror":

"In their chilling and timely book Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, and Aziz Z. Huq, who directs the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center, argue that the Bush administration’s “monarchist claims of executive power” are “unprecedented on this side of the North Atlantic,” and that its “executive unilateralism not only undermines the delicate balance of our Constitution, but also lessens our human liberties and hurts vital counterterrorism campaigns” by undermining America’s moral authority and standing in the world."

The NYT book review also notes:

"“Making the executive supreme makes the nation no safer — either from its enemies or its own worse impulses,” the authors conclude. “Indeed, the abiding genius of the Founding Generation was its rejection of the idea that unchecked unilateral power is ever properly vested in any one branch of government. Our government was framed ‘to control itself,’ as James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers. ‘Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.’ Dividing powers between three branches, the Founders harnessed human passions in the cause of limited government. Madison, again writing in the Federalist Papers, provided the enduring explanation for this division of government: ‘The accumulation of all power, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’ ”

This book could not be more urgently necessary to fully understanding the horrifying implications of an American administration that has acted outside the law and our Bill of Rights.

As the NYT review additionally reminds us:

"Like many reporters Mr. Huq and Mr. Schwarz point out that expanded executive power was not a response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 but the realization of a vision that conservatives like Dick Cheney had harbored since the 1970s, when they grew aggrieved over post-Watergate reforms that put the brakes on presidential power. That conservative backlash gained ground during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and it was articulated in 1987 in the minority report of the Iran-contra committee. (The minority committee included Mr. Cheney and counted among its staff a young lawyer named David S. Addington, who years later in his role as the vice president’s legal counsel and chief of staff would play a major role in formulating the administration’s post-9/11 legal strategy.)

According to Mr. Huq and Mr. Schwarz the Iran-contra committee’s minority report asserted that “the Chief Executive will on occasion feel duty bound to assert monarchical notions of prerogative that will permit him to exceed the laws,” and it also argued that “the President’s inherent powers” had historically allowed the executive to act “when Congress was silent, and even, in some cases, where Congress had prohibited an action.”

As Mr. Schwarz and Mr. Huq see it, the Bush White House’s “broader efforts to seize unfettered control of national security policy and to eliminate the checks and balances imposed by Congress and the courts” is exemplified by its post 9/11 decision “to ignore legal constraints on torture.” In February of 2002 President Bush signed an order declaring that “none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world,” a decision that would set the nation on a slippery slope toward torture, leading to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and other United States-run prisons."

These are just some of the Bush administration's startling assaults on the Constitution and democracy.

Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford. George Herbert Walker Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra participants to keep himself out of jail. George W. Bush "commuted" Scooter Libby's conviction to keep himself and Cheney from being impeached and possibly imprisoned.

If Congress continues to avoid holding authoritarian, law-breaking, monarchal Republicans accountable, our Constitution and existence as a democracy may pass the point of no return.

It may have passed that point already.

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