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The imperial presidency

Observing President Bush in action lately, we have to wonder if he actually watched the election returns in November, or if he was just rerunning the 2002 vote on his TiVo.

That year, the White House used the fear of terrorism to scare American voters into cementing the Republican domination of Congress. Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney then embarked on an expansion of presidential power chilling both in its sweep and in the damage it did to the constitutional system of checks and balances.

In 2006, the voters sent Mr. Bush a powerful message that it was time to rein in his imperial ambitions. But we have yet to see any sign that Mr. Bush understands that or even realizes that the Democrats are now in control of the Congress. Indeed, he seems to have interpreted his party's drubbing as a mandate to keep pursuing his fantasy of victory in Iraq and to press ahead undaunted with his assault on civil liberties and the judicial system.

Just before the Christmas break, the Justice Department served notice to Senator Patrick Leahy the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee that it intended to keep stonewalling Congressional inquiries into Mr. Bush's inhumane and unconstitutional treatment of prisoners taken in anti-terrorist campaigns.

It refused to hand over two documents, including one in which Mr. Bush authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to establish secret prisons beyond the reach of American law or international treaties. The other set forth the interrogation methods authorized in these prisons which we now know ranged from abuse to outright torture.

Also last month, Mr. Bush issued another of his infamous "presidential signing statements," which he has used scores of times to make clear he does not intend to respect the requirements of a particular law in this case a little-noticed Postal Service bill.

The statement suggested that Mr. Bush does not believe the government must obtain a court order before opening Americans' first-class mail. It said the administration had the right to "conduct searches in exigent circumstances," which include not only protecting lives, but also unspecified "foreign intelligence collection."

The law is clear on this. A warrant is required to open Americans' mail under a statute that was passed to stop just this sort of abuse using just this sort of pretext. But then again, the law is also clear on the need to obtain a warrant before intercepting Americans' telephone calls and e-mail.

Mr. Bush began openly defying that law after Sept. 11, 2001, authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a court order on calls and e-mail between the United States and other countries.

NY Times

 

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