Thursday, August 26, 2004

PRRW: On Executive Power

Dahlia Lithwick returns to form as a NY Times Guest Columnist, after a brief aberration ("Babies and Bath Water").

Of the Schlesinger report, she says:

The report faults ambiguous interrogation mandates, an inadequate postwar plan, poor training and a lack of oversight. It notes that much of this confusion stemmed from the Bush administration's posture that the Geneva Conventions applied only where the president saw fit, and that the definition of "interrogation" was up for grabs at Guantánamo Bay, thus possibly at Abu Ghraib.

and then she goes farther than the report:

It [Abu Ghraib] was the direct consequence of an administration ready to bargain away the rule of law. That started with the suspension of basic prisoner protections, because this was a "new kind of war." It led to the creation of a legal sinkhole on Guantánamo Bay. And it reached its zenith when high officials opined that torture isn't torture unless there's some attendant organ failure.

As I've said before of the MBA administration, every CEO in America is accountable to the company's shareholders for things the company does under his or her watch, whether the CEO directed company employees to act in a proscribed manner or not. A CEO is not let off the hook for an accounting scandal if he quasi-absolves himself by accepting responsibility -- he resigns or is fired by the board. (Ok, except Halliburton, apparently).

This administration shouldn't wait until there is a popular din for Rumsfeld's removal -- it should proactively seek to restore the faith of its shareholders by taking steps that show it has assigned the blame. The administration should further replace Rumsfeld with someone committed to providing clear guidance to his or her subordinates on proper detention and interrogation procedures, guidance that is compliant with U.S. and international law on the subject. American strength is only respected in the world when it is tempered with respect for the rule of law.

That they don't take these steps is evidence of rot at the moral heart of the administration. The president is the most powerful person in the world, but his powers do not permit disregard for the rule of law or any exercise of executive power that tramples basic rights and principles, whether codified in our Bill of Rights or in the Geneva Convention. You may not like Geneva, but until you replace it, it is the law that we agreed to abide by.

Congress impeached President Clinton because he lied about an irrelevant question in a civil deposition. Was Clinton wrong to lie? Yes. Was it against the law? Yes. Was it a "high crime or misdemeanor"? Eh, not really so much, in my opinion.

But dear God, what does it say about your moral compass and your political motives when you will impeach Clinton for lying in a civil deposition, but not President Bush for cooking intelligence to take the country to war, for dropping people into anonymous and secret detention in contravention of their constitutional rights, for appropriating billions of dollars to be awarded in no-bid contracts to business cronies, and for refusing to take responsibility in a real, meaningful way for abuses inflicted on detainees in U.S. custody?

Of course, an impeachment is not going to happen, and would be an extreme solution anyway, considering the man is up for reelection in about 2 months anyway. This election will test the commitment of the American people; do we prefer the reassuring strength of a secretive UberExecutive or do we prefer a chief executive who at least attempts to openly function within his prescribed Constitutional role?


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