Justice Department memos authorized illegal acts
A pair of memos has shed new light on the extent to which the Bush administration sought to expand presidential powers.
Time was when a president who saw himself as unbounded by laws, Congress and the American people would object, but such has been the hallmark of the Bush administration that a recently declassified memo authorizing and defending torture of prisoners, and portions of another, suggesting disregard of constitutional protections for citizens, barely drew a murmur.
Nonetheless, the Justice Department memos should trouble the public. They show the extent to which abuse of power can occur when secrecy and the pretext of national security are allowed to trump the checks and balances of government.
The torture memo from March 2003 would not have come to light but for challenges by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is seeking full release of the other.
The 2003 memo not only authorized extreme interrogation techniques but also cleared from criminal prosecution anyone who carried them out, with the justification that as commander in chief, the president did not have to conform to laws or international treaties.
The October 2001 memo, only parts of which were inadvertently disclosed, declared that in potential terrorism cases, the administration could set aside Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. It asserted that the military operating on U.S. soil could not be prevented from conducting searches even without a warrant.
The administration says it acknowledges there are constitutional limits, but has not formally withdrawn the memo. It says there could be circumstances in which such domestic military action could be applied.
If the memos sound un-American, it's because they are. A constitutional democracy doesn't allow for autocratic powers, or for shielding circumvention of laws, even by a president.
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