Sunday, November 19, 2006

Whose Myths?

Alberto Gonzales has often shown himself to be a scarier attorney general than John Ashcroft. Where Ashcroft was severe and authoritarian without putting much thought into his mighty hammer for the Bush administration, Gonzales has tried to provide a legal justification for his beliefs. On Nov. 18, Gonzales spoke to 400 cadets at the Air Force Academy and chided the "myths" behind criticism of warrantless surveillance and the holding of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo. The only problem is that the so-called myths Gonzales criticizes represent toe core principles promoted by the founders of the Constitution.

On the electronic surveillance front, there is nothing in the Constitution that assumes or allows global electronic networks of the National Security Agency to operate. Even if we assume a lenient stance at Echelon's existence, the post-1975 Congress created the conditions under which NSA operated with its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legislation. Following 9/11, George Bush could have broadened FISA legislation by asking Congress to broaden FISA. Instead, he simply bypassed FISA. This runs counter to everything the Constitution's authors assumed about the breakdown of authority across legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

Similarly, there are two realms in which enemy-combatant preventive detention goes against Constitutional structures. First, the very nature of a combatant outside Geneva POW constraints goes against U.S. precedent and international law. Second, the existence of prisons external to Guantanamo, where prisoners can be mistreated by the CIA separate from the lenient Guantanamo constraints, makes a mockery of treatment at Guantanamo. For those that would put all the blame for the latter on Cheney, the CIA now has admitted that the CIA "rendition" prisons were established by executive order from Bush, with advice from Gonzales.

A good amount of the blame for such nonsense, of course, can be placed on the 109th Congress, which conducted the fewest number of oversight hearings of any Congress in the last century, and virtually begged Bush to extend executive authority to the detriment of legislative and judicial. But the intellectual cover used by the White House has come from Gonzales, and the fact that the attorney general is promoting his "myths" to Air Force cadets, while calling legitimate defense of Constitutional law a new form of myth, shows the depths of depravity to which this administration has sunk.

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