Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stepping through the Looking Glass

Now this is scary: finding myself agreeing with conservatives like Bruce Fein and Richard Viguerie (of all people) about important issues. Yesterday John Nichols noted in his blog at the Nation that

The Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch and have launched a vital campaign to put restoration of the Constitution on the agenda for Democratic presidential candidates -- just as the conservative American Freedom Agenda movement has done for Republican candidates.

Fein, Viguerie, and other prominent Republicans worried about Bush/Cheney’s expansion of executive power are asking Republican presidential candidates to take a very specific pledge to restore the Constitution:

* Prohibit military commissions whose verdicts are suspect except in places of active hostilities where a battlefield tribunal is necessary to obtain fresh testimony or to prevent anarchy;

* Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion in military or civilian tribunals;

* Prohibit the detention of American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants without proof of criminal activity on the President's say-so;

* Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien enemy combatants, i.e., non-citizens who have allegedly participated in active hostilities against the United States, to protect the innocent;

* Prohibit the National Security Agency from intercepting phone conversations or emails or breaking and entering homes on the President's say-so in violation of federal law;

* Empower the House of Representatives and the Senate collectively to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of signing statements that declare the intent of the President to disregard duly enacted provisions of bills he has signed into law because he maintains they are unconstitutional;

* Prohibit the executive from invoking the state secrets privilege to deny justice to victims of constitutional violations perpetrated by government officers or agents; and, establish legislative-executive committees in the House and Senate to adjudicate the withholding of information from Congress based on executive privilege that obstructs oversight and government in the sunshine;

* Prohibit the President from kidnapping, detaining, and torturing persons abroad in collaboration with foreign governments;

* Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without fear of prosecution; and;

* Prohibit the listing of individuals or organizations with a presence in the United States as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations based on secret evidence.

The CCR, HRW, and are asking Democratic candidates take a more general pledge. As far as I’m able to tell, none of the candidates of either party would be willing to take the specific pledge (since it would mean opposing policies and practices they at least tacitly support).

Federal officials in the US are required to take an oath promising to uphold the Constitution; but for all intents and purposes, that oath has become virtually meaningless. I seem to recall reading that at least one of the White House staff under scrutiny recently in the Justice Department scandals remarked that staff take an oath to faithfully serve the president, not the Constitution, which rather surprised me. I wonder if that's always been the case, or if it's another innovation by the Bush Administration...


Nancy Jane Moore said...

Bruce Fein, at least, has been raising these criticisms for several years. As I pointed out on In This Moment last year, he was one of the people criticizing Cheney's lawyer David Addington, one of the architects of extreme executive privilege. He was also part of an American Bar Association task force criticizing signing statements.

I'm not sure Fein still sees himself as a conservative Republican. Perhaps he still feels strongly about capitalism and free markets in the traditional Republican sense, but his thoughts on civil liberties are much more radical than that.

What gets me is that moderate Republicans in Congress -- people who never held extreme views -- have been unwilling to go even half as far as someone like Fein. And, of course, the Democrats have been wimpy, too, as you've pointed out. A cartoon by Walt Handelsman sums this up nicely.

Josh said...

Timmi, I don't think anyone actually believes she took an oath to serve the president; that's just what she remembered having done.

Timmi Duchamp said...

I suppose, Josh, that my hesitation to assume this was an aberration is prima facie evidence that I lack all sense of what the Bush Administration's limits are. They've scorned & perverted many of the most important traditions & institutions laid down by the Founders, & they boast that they can & do "create" "reality."

To take an extreme, hypothetical example: I have no idea what I'd make of some dismissed or disgruntled staffer coming out with the claim that The Big Dick was requiring his employees to take blood oaths to obey & support & never betray him personally. Ordinarily I'd dismiss such a story out of hand without thinking twice about it. But these people don't live in my reality. Which is to say, I don't know how to evaluate their statements.