Wednesday, March 04, 2009

More of Yoo

... and less of our constitutional rights (though that's getting rolled back a little now). Scott Horton at Harper's:

John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the President as commander-in-chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink. ...

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Glenn Greenwald (bold emphasis his):

Let's just look at one of those documents (.pdf) -- entitled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the U.S." It was sent to (and requested by) Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes and authored by Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and DOJ Special Counsel Robert Delahunty. But it's not a "Yoo memo." Rather, it was the official and formal position of the U.S. Government -- at least of the omnipotent Executive Branch -- from the time it was issued until just several months George Bush before left office (October, 2008), when OLC Chief Stephen Bradbury abruptly issued a memo withdrawing, denouncing and repudiating both its reasoning and conclusions.

The essence of this document was to declare that George Bush had the authority (a) to deploy the U.S. military inside the U.S., (b) directed at foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike; (c) unconstrained by any Constitutional limits, including those of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to Presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on U.S. soil and as applied to U.S. citizens. And it wasn't only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls "domestic military operations" was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the U.S. military, to turn inwards and begin spying -- in secret and with no oversight -- on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

Law professor Jack Balkin, from Balkinization (bold below is mine):

These (now-) disowned claims lie at the heart of the Cheney/Addington/Yoo theory of presidential power-- namely, that when the president acts as commander in chief Congress may not restrict in any way his military decisionmaking, including decisions about detention, interrogation, and surveillance. The President, because he is President, may do whatever he thinks is necessary, even in the domestic context, if he acts for military and national security reasons in his capacity as Commander in Chief. This theory of presidential power argues, in essence, that when the President acts in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, he may make his own rules and cannot be bound by Congressional laws to the contrary. This is a theory of presidential dictatorship.

These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush Administration in the days following 9/11.

Zachary Roth at TPM Muckraker with a summary of legal opinions, all of which happen to conflict with Yoo's:

Walter Dellinger, who ran OLC during the Clinton administration tells the New York Times that the Bradbury memo "disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were."

Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch speaking to the Washington Post, singles out the memo that allowed the administration to send detainees to countries that commit human rights abuses. "That is [the Office of Legal Counsel] telling people how to get away with sending someone to a nation to be tortured," Daskal said. "The idea that the legal counsel's office would be essentially telling the president how to violate the law is completely contrary to the purpose and the role of what a legal adviser is supposed to do."

Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington, focuses on the memo that gave the administration the power to conduct warrantless wiretapping. Writing on the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, Kerr calls the argument that FISA doesn't apply to national security issues -- which appears to be the memo's argument -- "an extremely lame analysis." He continues: "Much of the point of FISA was to regulate that."

And lastly, Yoo himself:

I think the job of a lawyer is to give a straight answer to a client. One thing I sometimes worry about is that lawyers in the future in the government are going to start worrying about, "What are people going to think of me?" Your client the president, or your client the justice on the Supreme Court, or your client this senator, needs to know what's legal and not legal. And sometimes, what's legal and not legal is not the same thing as what you can do or what you should do.

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