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Bush believes he is above the law

By Theodore Fuller, Roanoke Times (Virginia)

Fuller is a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech.

Most of us who are old enough to remember Watergate remember that the key lesson from that crisis was that, in the United States, no one -- not even the president of the United States -- is above the law. President Bush's willful decision to approve spying on U.S. citizens without a court order indicates that he has forgotten that crucial lesson.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act sets up clear and simple procedures whereby the president can gain approval to engage in surveillance of U.S. citizens. FISA judges are available to the president on a 24/7 basis. In case of dire emergency, the president can engage in surveillance first, and then notify the court within 72 hours. President Bush has apparently decided that these clear and simple procedures are inconvenient and that, as commander-in-chief, he can ignore them. He has done so for more than four years and now that his act has been discovered he shows no remorse.

This is not the first time that the Bush administration has asserted the president has broad powers that cannot be reviewed by any court.

The administration previously asserted that U.S. citizens can be detained by the military in the United States or anywhere in the world, labeled "enemy combatants," and held indefinitely without any charge in either civilian or military courts, and that this action cannot be challenged by the detainee -- an American citizen! -- in any court.

The Supreme Court has ruled (in the Hamdi case) that these broad claims of presidential power are unfounded. In the Hamdi case, in fact, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reminded the president that he is not above the law. She wrote: "We have long since made it clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

In addition to these two cases in which President Bush clearly believes that he is above the law, I have doubts about the legality of the torture that his administration has engaged in, as well as the "secret" prisons in Eastern Europe.

By the way, this president, who has such a cavalier attitude about the civil liberties of U.S. citizens, is the same president who facilitated the departure of 142 Saudi citizens, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, within days after Sept. 11, 2001 -- before the FBI had a chance to interview these Saudis to determine whether any of them had information that might lead to the apprehension of Osama bin Laden. I don't think the president broke the law in doing this; he merely exercised poor judgment in giving greater weight to the concerns of his friends, the Saudis, than he did to the national security interest of the United States.

President Bush and administration officials claim the Constitution gives the president broad powers. While they do not argue that the Constitution gives the president "unlimited" or "unchecked" powers, they do argue the Constitution gives the president any powers he asserts that it gives.

I think this is an area where true liberals and true conservatives can agree -- as well as strict constructionists. The framers of the Constitution had recently emerged from a long and bloody war against King George III. As schoolchildren know, they created a system of checks and balances that involves the three branches of government. FISA is an excellent example of these checks and balances.

The legislative branch created the law that is carried out by the executive branch under the supervision of the judicial branch. The framers of the Constitution did not create a system in which King George W. can legitimately claim to have the broad powers he claims to have.

I urge both houses of Congress to immediately censure President Bush for abuse of power and further urge that the House of Representatives begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush.


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