No Comment — March 3, 2009, 7:16 am

George W. Bush’s Disposable Constitution

Yesterday the Obama Administration released a series of nine previously secret legal opinions crafted by the Office of Legal Counsel to enhance the presidential powers of George W. Bush. Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the President was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as a counterterrorism operations inside the United States.

Here’s Neil Lewis’s summary in the New York Times:

“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.”

John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the President as commander-in-chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.

We need to know how the memo was used. Bradbury suggests it was not much relied upon; I don’t believe that for a second. Moreover Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it.

It’s pretty clear that it served several purposes. Clearly it was designed to authorize sweeping warrantless surveillance by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Using special new surveillance programs that required the collaboration of telecommunications and Internet service providers, these agencies were sweeping through the emails, IMs, faxes, and phone calls of tens of millions of Americans. Clearly such unlawful surveillance occurred. But the language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.

These memos gave the President the ability to authorize the torture of persons held at secret overseas sites. And they dealt in great detail with the plight of Jose Padilla, an American citizen seized at O’Hare Airport. Padilla was accused of being involved in a plot to make and detonate a “dirty bomb,” but at trial it turned out that the Bush Administration had no evidence to stand behind its sensational accusations. Evidently it was just fine to hold Padilla incommunicado, deny him access to counsel and torture him–in the view of the Bush OLC lawyers, that is.

Among these memos was one for the files from Steven Bradbury, whom the Senate refused to confirm to run OLC, but who continued as a squatter in the position through the end of the Bush Administration. In his memo, the self-styled OLC head rejected a series of John Yoo-authored memos, noting the painfully obvious reasons why they were incorrect (for instance, Yoo’s penchant for misquoting the Constitution). He did this on January 15, 2009—as he was clearing his desk and preparing to hunt for a new job. So why did he leave the ridiculous Yoo memos in place until the last possible second? Michael Isikoff furnishes a very plausible analysis on MSNBC:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today