Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: The Constitution Protects Only So Far

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Constitution Protects Only So Far

Is there room anymore for outrage? I'm getting awfully tired. These days outrage seems to shift to resignation far too quickly. The release to the public of the John Yoo torture memo on Tuesday demands so much more than throwing up our hands. In a sense, it's the foundation piece for the contempt that the current administration (and the GOP in general) has shown for the concept of the United States as a nation of laws. Although this memo has previously been referred to, this is the first time that we've seen it in black and white. And evil doesn't get much more banal than this. Read it yourself (in two parts) if you want the full experience. It appears to be fairly straightforward, but if you follow them closely, the arguments turn back on themselves and become quite convoluted.

At its heart, the memo claims that the president is immune to certain laws that get in the way of fighting terrorism. And not only particular laws, but aspects of the Constitution, as well. That's quite a trick. The Constitution defines the American government and spells out its structure. The office of president was created by the writers of the Constitution through the Constitution. According to John Woo Yoo, though, the president has superseded that document. War powers granted to the president by Congress, another body created by the Constitution, trump limits written into the Constitution. That's some trick if you can pull it off.

Although the subject at hand is fighting terrorism through torture and our own terror tactics, in essence this is a legal argument putting forth that if the president (or his representative) does it, it can't be illegal. And is this Congress making the argument? The courts? No, just the president's lawyer. It's exactly the same if I had to defend myself in court and my lawyer insisted, "Whatever Doug may have done, it can't be illegal because, well, he's Doug." No, somehow I don't think that would fly, either.

Although later administrative memos have set aside the letter of this memo, it's quite clear that the spirit of it is still in full effect in the White House's day-to-day activities. I've got to get to work this morning, but there's plenty more commentary from Glenn Greenwald, Christy Hardin Smith at firedoglake, and a lot of other people if you do a quick Google. In fact, I'm sure you can find plenty of other columnists writing on the subject to fit to any political position you'd prefer.

POSTSCRIPT--Aargh! John Yoo wrote the various torture memoranda, and John Woo is a successful film director. I hate typos.


At 4:02 PM, April 03, 2008, Anonymous stevie t said...

Doug, the part where you said "Whatever Doug may have done, it can't be illegal because, well, he's Doug" sounded eerily familiar.... Yes, I have it--it's the logic you used as a babysitter (of me) when you were 16 and I was 6.

W just never moved beyond his adolescent thinking. But I guess we already knew that.

At 4:53 PM, April 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, my cynical side comes forward with the distinct suspicion that the Dems have little interest in reining in W because they want all of those expanded presidential powers for themselves should they be in the White House a year from now. So if the Democrats don't want to rein it in and the Republicans don't want to rein it in, I guess that leaves it up to the electorate to care enough to do something about it. I'm afraid things will have to be far past the point of no return in order for THAT to happen.

But like I said, I'm cynical that way.


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