Ending the Rule of Law

From the Washington Post:

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes...

Sent to the Pentagon's general counsel on March 14, 2003, by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the memo provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war. It contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president's inherent wartime powers.

"If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network," Yoo wrote. "In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions."

This practical implication of this expansive interpretation is that the president, and anyone he/she designates, is not bound by any law whatsoever. He/she can do anything as long as it is done in the name of national defense. Why stop at torture? How about summary executions? Rape? Child molestation? If that's what it takes to defend America, it's legal. The logic applies equally well. This is Mr. Yoo's argument, made on behalf of his boss, President George W. Bush.

Many of the same Republicans who could not talk enough about the "rule of law" when Bill Clinton lied under oath think exempting George W. Bush from a few laws is no big deal. Here's the problem: the genie is out of the bottle. Every president from now on will have these same powers. That includes liberal Democrats. Anyone think either of them won't try to open the door even wider? It will be fun to watch Bushies try to argue that President Obama is overstepping his authority. I can easily imagine the Obama Justice Department finding some legal logic to justify the imprisonment and torture of pro-life activists, for instance.

A ridiculous thought? Maybe. But if it happens, you can thank George W. Bush and his enablers, who have made a mockery of the very Constitution they claim to protect.

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