Standing Up To Bush
Date: Monday, April 03 @ 23:46:08 UTC
Topic: Bushfire


President Bush's secret intercepts of American citizens' communications are "more serious abuses" than President Nixon perpetrated in Watergate, according to an informed observer. John Dean, counsel to Nixon during Watergate, was on target when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Friday that Congress should fight back when a president ignores laws it has passed.

Dean argues that Bush's program of electronic surveillance without the court warrants required by law is probably much broader than Nixon's trampling on civil liberties as he sought to find dirt on his perceived political enemies.

Senator Lindsey Graham countered at the hearing that Nixon's motive was base self-interest, while Bush is seeking to strengthen national security. This is a worthwhile distinction from the South Carolina Republican, but it only underlines the cavalier manner in which Bush brushes off congressional actions and mandates. For if Bush can offer a good reason for the eavesdropping he has ordered, he will easily get a warrant from the court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 precisely to advance national security.

Instead, Bush has ignored the clear mandate of that law. This is part of a growing trend by Bush toward unilateralism in domestic as well as foreign policy. Examples include his recent use of novel signing statements announcing that, even though he has just signed a piece of legislation into law, he may not feel bound by parts of it.

Earlier last week, the Supreme Court gave encouraging signs that it will stand up to efforts by Bush to undercut its powers, at least in some cases. Five judges loudly challenged the administration's contention that it could deny some supposedly terror-related detainees a forum to assert their innocence. Some justices also questioned whether Congress could take away that right. But the outcome of that case will not be known for weeks.

In the meantime, Congress has shown itself to be all too pliant to Bush's steady consolidation of power.

Dean's appearance came as the Judiciary Committee took up a resolution from Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, to have the Senate censure Bush for "unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans..."

Only three senators, all Democrats, support censure. But the Republican chairman of the committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said that, while the resolution has no merit, "it provides a forum for the discussion of issues which really ought to be considered in greater depth than they have been."

It should not take a censure resolution to get the members of Congress to stick up for themselves. If they do not, they are as culpable as Bush.

© 2006 The Boston Globe

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