The Third Fourth Term of George Bush Is Going Splendidly

Through the four years of George W. Bush's second term, which were the first four years of this blog, I typed my fingers practically to bloody stumps over Bush's warrantless wiretapping program; his support of torture, rendition, and indefinite detention; and his use of presidential signing statements to do an end-run around the law.

It is particularly galling to me that these are policies our Democratic president continues to support.

Last Sunday, President Obama signed into law a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act, also known as the warrantless wiretapping program instituted by the Bush administration.

This followed a truly depressing display in the Democratically-controlled Senate, in which the two Democratic Oregon Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, tried to add sunshine amendments to the legislation which would at least force the administration to disclose to the public the details of the program and the legislation that underwrites its legality.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a long-time member of the Intelligence Committee, valiantly fought for a year- and-a-half for basic information about how this surveillance program affects Americans and put a hold on the bill until a debate and amendment process was scheduled. He finally got a vote to force disclosure of whether the National Security Agency is vacuuming up wholly domestic communications or searching through FISA taps for Americans, yet it failed by a vote of 42-52.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also went to the mattress over the secret FISA court opinions that determine whether we have constitutional rights to privacy in foreign intelligence investigations. He put the Senate to a vote on whether the administration should be forced to release the court opinions, supply unclassified summaries of them, or explain why they should be kept secret. That one went down 37-54. Simply put, if the public were to find out what the government is doing with our information, or how many of us are affected, the program would be "destroyed," according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
This program was illiberal, antidemocratic garbage when George Bush was running it, and it's illiberal, antidemocratic garbage while Barack Obama is running it.

Should one be tempted to justify the program in its current hands on the premise that one trusts the Obama administration not to misuse the information, I will note that the information does not disappear out the door with this administration. When the Oval Office is eventually once again occupied by another rightwing with-us-or-against-us extremist, that president will have access to all the information currently being gathered by this administration, to use as they see fit.

Which is to say nothing of how we don't really know whether we can trust the Obama administration not to misuse the information being gathered, because, thanks to the defeat of the proposed amendments, we don't even know how they are using it.

Their government operating in the dark without oversight or accountability should bother any citizen of a democratic nation.

So. That happened Sunday. Then, late Wednesday night, President Obama, in contravention of his own veto threat, signed a defense bill "that imposes restrictions on transferring detainees out of military prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But he attached a signing statement claiming that he has the constitutional power to override the limits in the law."

Let me state this plainly: President Obama promised to close Gitmo. He did not do that during his first term. Now, before his second term has even begun, he has signed a law that makes it more difficult to close Gitmo—and, further, extends the practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial.

And then he issued a signing statement saying he didn't have to follow that law, despite the fact that the American Bar Association calls the practice "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers," and despite Obama's own criticism of the use of signing statements back when Bush was issuing them left and right.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama sharply criticized Mr. Bush's use of the device as an overreach. Once in office, however, he said that he would use it only to invoke mainstream and widely accepted theories of the constitutional power of the president.

In his latest signing statement, Mr. Obama also objected to five provisions in which Congress required consultations and set out criteria over matters involving diplomatic negotiations about such matters as a security agreement with Afghanistan, saying that he would interpret the provisions so as not to inhibit "my constitutional authority to conduct the foreign relations of the United States."
One of the objections critics, myself included, had of Bush's embrace of the unitary executive theory, and the centralizing of power into the executive branch in defiance of the balance of powers and Congressional oversight, was that it would be difficult for any subsequent president to ever give up those powers. We feared Bush was forever changing the dynamic of the presidency and thus the entire federal government.

Now the One Ring is in Obama's hands, and he ain't giving it back.

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