Bush quietly seeks to
make war powers permanent
indefinite state of war
By John Byrne
Story' -- As the
nation focuses on Sen. John McCain's choice of running mate,
President Bush has quietly moved to expand the reach of
presidential power by ensuring that America remains in a state
of permanent war.
Buried in a recent proposal by the Administration is a sentence
that has received scant attention -- and was buried itself in
the very newspaper that exposed it Saturday. It is an
affirmation that the United States remains at war with al Qaeda,
the Taliban and "associated organizations."
Part of a proposal for Guantanamo Bay legal detainees, the
provision before Congress seeks to “acknowledge again and
explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict
with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who
have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are
dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”
The New York Times' page 8 placement of
the article in its Saturday edition seems to downplay its
importance. Such a re-affirmation of war carries broad legal
implications that could imperil Americans' civil liberties and
the rights of foreign nationals for decades to come.
It was under the guise of war that President Bush claimed a
legal mandate for his warrantless wiretapping program, giving
the National Security Agency power to intercept calls Americans
made abroad. More of this program has emerged in recent years,
and it includes the surveillance of Americans' information and
"War powers" have also given President Bush cover to hold
Americans without habeas corpus -- detainment without
explanation or charge.
Jose Padilla, a Chicago resident arrested in 2002, was held
without trial for five years before being convicted of
conspiring to kill individuals abroad and provide support for
But his arrest was made with proclamations that Padilla had
plans to build a "dirty bomb." He was never convicted of this
charge. Padilla's legal team also claimed that during his time
in military custody -- the four years he was held without charge
-- he was tortured with sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation,
forced stress positions and injected with drugs.
Times reporter Eric Lichtblau notes that the measure is
the latest step that the Administration has taken to "make
permanent" key aspects of its "long war" against terrorism.
Congress recently passed a much-maligned bill giving
telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for their
participation in what constitutional experts see as an illegal
or borderline-illegal surveillance program, and is considering
efforts to give the FBI more power in their investigative
"It is uncertain whether Congress will take the administration
up on its request," Lichtblau writes. "Some Republicans have
already embraced the idea, with Representative Lamar Smith of
Texas, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee,
introducing a measure almost identical to the administration’s
proposal. 'Since 9/11,' Mr. Smith said, 'we have been at war
with an unconventional enemy whose primary goal is to kill
If enough Republicans come aboard, Democrats may struggle to
defeat the provision. Despite holding majorities in the House
and Senate, they have failed to beat back some of President
Bush's purported "security" measures, such as the telecom
Bush's open-ended permanent war language worries his critics.
They say it could provide indefinite, if hazy, legal
justification for any number of activities -- including
detention of terrorists suspects at bases like Guantanamo Bay
(where for years the Administration would not even release the
names of those being held), and the NSA's warantless wiretapping
Lichtblau co-wrote the Times
article revealing the Administration's eavesdropping program
along with fellow reporter James Risen.
He notes that Bush's language "recalls a resolution, known as
the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress
on Sept. 14, 2001... [which] authorized the president to 'use
all necessary and appropriate force' against those responsible
for the Sept. 11 attacks to prevent future strikes. That
authorization, still in effect, was initially viewed by many
members of Congress who voted for it as the go-ahead for the
administration to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban,
which had given sanctuary to Mr. bin Laden."
"But the military authorization became the secret legal basis
for some of the administration’s most controversial legal
tactics, including the wiretapping program, and that still gnaws
at some members of Congress," he adds.
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