unbiased analysis of things relating to politics and philosophy

Monday, October 26, 2009

Imbalances in American politics: Circumventing Congress, the Constitution, and International Law

George W. Bush was potentially the most regressive president in American history. During Bush’s presidency, he succeeded in bypassing congress and the courts; violating a number of sections of the constitution, along with the Geneva Convention, and the UN Charter. The current Bush administration has gone further than all previous administrations in its attempt to fundamentally alter the American system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts. In the course of Bush’s presidency (2001-2009) we have witnessed many events that clearly violated domestic and international law; underneath these events are a number of calculated decisions made in order to bypass the constitutionally instated system of checks and balances, and congress. The Bush administration, from their collective self interest went even farther in their pursuit to alter the American political system than the memorable Nixon administration.
Under the recent Bush administration, a series of events have occurred that violated the constitution, and the obligations held to the citizens. One such event in which the Bush administration knowingly violated constitutional obligations to its people was the “data mining” done by the National Security agency (NSA) to spy on citizens, which circumvents the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and violates the fourth amendment of the American constitution. In 2005, George W. Bush admitted to the New York Times that he had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans
“NSA is "data mining" literally millions of calls - and has been given
access by the telecommunications companies to "switching" stations through
which foreign communications traffic flows” (John W. Dean).

The FISA was set up in the aftermath of President Nixon’s Watergate scandal to prevent future unlawful surveillance, but, unfortunately, President Bush was able to circumvent these regulations and execute a surveillance program of larger and more unethical proportions. Processing the private information of millions of American citizens clearly violates the constitution’s fourth amendment right against warrantless search and seizure, and also undermines the trust the people have in the President. Another event that marked the imbalance of power in the American political system is the war in Iraq. The decision to bypass the United Nations (UN) to invade Iraq was a deliberate violation of a number of International, and Domestic laws. The invasion breached the UN Charter by taking pre-emptive military action. The UN Charter specifically states that all members must: “settle their international disputes by peaceful means” and “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (article 2, paragraphs 3-4). The Bush administration justified this pre-emptive attack with the fear that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) were hidden within the country, none of which have been found. This invasion not only violated UN charter, but undermined the power of congress, the courts, and the American people to judge when war is necessary. There are many more examples of a further altered balance in power in the American government, such as their decision to bypass the Geneva Convention in American prisons abroad like those in Cuba, and Iraq. The now famous American detention camp in Guantanamo bay, Cuba, is known for its cruel and unorthodox treatment of captives. The Secretary of defense under the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, told reporters that “he had approved the use of harsh interrogation measures” amounting to torture - such as the use of muzzled dogs, water torture, and sleep deprivation up to 72 hours. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention, which states that prisoners must be “humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence” (Article 27, fourth Geneva Convention). The actions facilitated by the Bush administration arguably amounted to torture, and have been pointed to as an enabling factor leading to the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Another shocking fact is that “Bush asserted the right to keep nearly five hundred enemy combatants in detention in Guantanamo, of whom only ten were charged with a crime” (Power Grab). This violates the prisoner’s right to Habeas corpus, a fundamental principal in the American constitution which guarantees relief of unjust detainment (article 1 section 9). George W. Bush signed a document where he virtually granted himself immunity of international law.
“I determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world” (The Guardian)
The Bush administration fell short of its obligations to its citizens and the world by deliberately violating the Geneva Convention and the American constitution to allow unfair treatment of captured enemy combatants. Under the recent Bush administration, a number of actions violated domestic and international laws such as: The UN Charter, The Geneva Convention, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These violations are evidence that the Bush administration has fundamentally altered the division of power, and the system of checks and balances in the American system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts.

A great deal of criticism arose of the many violations of domestic and international law during Bush’s presidency, begging the question – where was congress when it came time to limit the abuse of presidential authority? As is stated in the Constitution of the United States, the function of congress is to make laws and provide for the general welfare of the states and its citizens. When put through congress, a bill called the McCain amendment was posed to prohibit the inhumane treatment of prisoners. The McCain amendment was passed, but unfortunately the senators overlooked a subtle yet important section providing additional information pertaining to the bill, known as a signing statement. This signing statement that Bush provided in this amendment said “[Bush's] power as Commander-in-Chief gives him the authority to bypass the very law he had just signed” (Jennifer Van Bergin). This reveals a clear imbalance in the power the president is supposed to hold. In order to circumvent restrictions on the presidency set in the constitution, George Bush decided he could interpret these signing statements he slipped through congress as permission to bypass these intrinsic laws of the nation. Patrick Leahy, currently senator of Vermont had strong words of protest for Bush’s use of signing statements.
"This practice poses a grave threat to our constitutional system of checks
and balances. During his five years in office, President Bush has quietly -- yet consistently -- used his bill signing statements to assign his own interpretations
to laws passed by Congress" (Patrick Leahy)
The Bush administration used an alternative interpretation of the laws that were in their way to justify many of their actions, not only the signing statements, but even the constitution itself. The theory of a Unitary Executive is laid out in the constitution as a means for the president to act as the chief executive, particularly regarding matters of national security (vesting clause, article 2). A major part of the theory of having a unitary executive is the responsibility of the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, however, Bush absolutely disregards his obligations to execute these laws in good faith. The events that occurred during the Bush administration in no way reveal any intent of good faith – but often the opposite, these actions show shameless self interest and blatant disregard for public wellbeing. The Bush administration bypassed congress, the courts, violated the constitution systematically and did so with obvious intent. The system of checks and balances within American politics have, until now been an effective restriction that draw a line between where the power lies between the executive, legislative, and Judicial branches of government. Bush has refused to enforce laws that protect whistle-blowers and provide safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. The department of justice is a cabinet department of the American government, poised to ensure fair and impartial justice within the government and to the citizens.
Maurice Hinchey, a Representative from New York received a letter from a member of the department of justice stating that essentially they were unable to do their job investigating this impeachable issue.
“People within the Bush administration have blocked an investigation
into the role that members of the Justice Department played in establishing
and executing this secret domestic spy program”

This is evidence implies an imbalance of power between the president, congress, courts, and the system of checks and balances that keep order between them are askew. Somebody within the Bush administration directly ordered a system check be disarmed so that the president’s constitution-violating decision could stand. The Bush administration has clearly circumvented the system of checks and balances set by the constitution, despite direct opposition within congress and in the courts. The evidence presented against the Bush administration shows them as unprecedented in their pursuit to fundamentally alter the foundations of American politics.

The only administration to rival the Bush administration in its attempt to skew power amongst the 3 branches of government is the Nixon administration. Richard Nixon, The 37th president of United States was impeached in 1974. The event that sparked the removal of Nixon from office is commonly called the Watergate scandal. The Watergate scandal consisted of: Nixon’s ordering a governmental organization to illegally wiretap political opponents, various illegal actions taken to cover up the illegal wiretap (bribes, etc), and a blatant misuse of power in a final attempt to cover up Nixon’s crimes. There were three facets of the Watergate scandal that gave grounds for this impeachment: Obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of congress. The most serious of the actions include bribery, unlawfully utilizing agencies of the executive branch, and obtained classified information from the IRS. The Watergate scandal was essentially Richard Nixon’s ill thought out attempt to gain an edge over political opponents, and his reckless attempt to cover up this scandal with a series of progressively more questionable and immoral actions leading up to his impeachment. While the issue of wiretapping is consistent between the Nixon and Bush administrations; Nixon’s motivation to violate the constitution, and bypass congress was brash and destined for failure. The motivation behind the Bush administrations’ political violations was a unbridled pursuit of power and a deliberate attempt to fundamentally alter the foundations of politics in the USA. The main difference between the two administrations is; where Nixon’s actions were ill thought out, Bush’s actions were systematic, and deliberately posed to fundamentally alter the American political system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts.

In the course of Bush’s presidency (2001-2009) we have witnessed many events that clearly violated domestic and international law with systematic intent. Underneath these events are a number of calculated decisions made by those within the Bush administration in order to alter the division of power and the system of checks and balances within the American system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts. The Bush administration, more than any previous administration went much farther in their pursuit to alter the American political system to the advantage of the presidency against both congress and the courts.