Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Constitutional Crisis

It is difficult to pick up a newspaper without coming to the conclusion that the executive branch is pretty much in open defiance of the consitution. I finally got around to reading the Sy Hersh piece on Antonio Taguba, which describes the various ways in which the Pentagon subverted laws (American, international, Iraqi, pick one) and then lied to Congress about it. I could cite a number of passages, but this is the first one my eyes fell to. In it, Hersh describes how Rumsfeld lied to Congress about the level of his knowledge of the Abu Ghraib torture.
In subsequent testimony, General Myers, the J.C.S. chairman, acknowledged, without mentioning the e-mails, that in January information about the photographs had been given “to me and the Secretary up through the chain of command. . . . And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described.”

Nevertheless, Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse. “It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,’ ” Rumsfeld told the congressmen. “I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t.”
Meanwhile, the spectacle of Dick Cheney unfolds like a something out of a Mamet play--except that even Mamet wouldn't have the balls to ascribe positions that Cheney has actually taken. The Washington Post has done the best work excavating his activities since coming into the White House. The four-part series is full of gems, and again, the documentation of serious abuses are legion. I select this one at random:
Geneva rules forbade not only torture but also, in equally categorical terms, the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever." The War Crimes Act of 1996 made any grave breach of those restrictions a U.S. felony. The best defense against such a charge, Addington wrote, would combine a broad presidential directive for humane treatment, in general, with an assertion of unrestricted authority to make exceptions.

The vice president's counsel proposed that President Bush issue a carefully ambiguous directive. Detainees would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions. When Bush issued his public decision two weeks later
This strange scene plays out amid other scandals: the Scooter Libby trial and its collected tangle of crimes and the Alberto Gonzales/prosecutor scandal. Recently we heard James Comey describe how Bush tried to get a drugged, hospitalized John Ashcroft to sign off on his warrantless wiretapping scheme. And this is just the recent stuff.

Despite all this, the Democrats don't seem to be interested in doing much more than putting Henry Waxman and Chuck Schumer on the case. We have, on the one hand, an executive branch run amok, and on the other, a legislative branch unwilling to reign it in. On the one hand, we can be seen to be avoiding a constitutional crisis. On the other, it looks like we're deep in the middle of one.

No comments: