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Marjorie Cohn: What Will It Take?

What Will It Take?

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 16 May 2006

Recent revelations indicate that the President of the United States continues to flout the law.

In December, we learned that Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by wiretapping without a warrant. Two weeks ago, the Boston Globe revealed that Bush has claimed authority to disobey more than 750 laws passed by Congress. And last week, USA Today reported that he has been secretly collecting the domestic telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.

This is nothing new.

In 2003, Bush invaded a sovereign country in violation of the United Nations Charter. His administration routinely tortures prisoners, rendering some to countries that have perfected the art of torture. The US laws prohibiting torture are absolute; torture is never permitted, even in time of war.

What will it take for Congress to exercise its Constitutional authority to stop the president when he has gone too far?

Every time another instance of Bush's lawbreaking emerges, a handful of lawmakers express indignation. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) talked tough when the secret NSA program became public a few months ago. But when Bush mouthpiece Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Specter skillfully threw him softballs to dilute the thrust of the administration's illegal spying.

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"Maverick" John McCain (R-Ariz.) is busy defending Bush's Iraqi disaster and pandering to Jerry Falwell at "Liberty University."

The Republicans aren't the only ones in Congress who are asleep at the wheel. When Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) made a motion to censure Bush for his illegal NSA spying, all Democratic senators, with a couple of exceptions, ran for cover.

Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sat on their hands.

Clinton, the likely 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, is a major Bush ally when it comes to foreign policy. As our brave soldiers continue to die in his illegal, gratuitous war, Clinton opposes withdrawal any time soon. "Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately," she said. Clinton advocates leaving behind "a small contingent in safer areas with greater intelligence and quick strike capabilities" - in other words, the 14 "enduring bases" Bush is building in Iraq.

And as Bush ramps up his dangerous rhetoric against Iran, following the same game plan he used in the run-up to his Iraq war, Clinton eggs him on.

In January, Clinton challenged Bush to get tough with Iran. In a line from Bush's playbook, she told an audience at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, "We cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran - that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons."

Never mind the absence of any evidence that Iran is actually acquiring nukes.

To grease the wheels for his impending attack on Iran, Bush has nominated yes-man General Michael Hayden to head the CIA. Hayden was in charge of the NSA while it was keeping track of our phone calls. A Senate confirmation of Hayden will ensure that Bush receives the intelligence he wants to fit his policy of regime change in Iran.

Where's the accountability?

Since George W. Bush took the reins of government more than five years ago and began to systematically unravel the separation of powers and the rule of law, Congress has opened no investigations with subpoena power to hold the president accountable.

The Justice Department's "inquiry" into Bush's NSA spying program ended abruptly last week when the National Security Agency refused to grant DOJ lawyers necessary security clearances.

Bush justifies his warrantless surveillance programs as essential to keep America safe. Yet, as Frank Rich pointed out in Sunday's New York Times, these programs "may have more to do with monitoring 'traitors' like reporters and leakers than with tracking terrorists."

In an attempt to neuter the press, Team Bush has been tracking the phone numbers reporters at ABC News, the New York Times and the Washington Post call.

"What we have here is a clandestine surveillance program of enormous size, which is being operated by members of the administration who are subject to no limits or scrutiny beyond what they deem to impose on one another," the Times wrote in an editorial last week.

In response to a suit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T for its alleged participation in the government's electronic surveillance program, the Bush administration filed secret statements in a motion to dismiss. Bush contends that allowing the case to proceed would jeopardize national security.

With Bush's popularity at an all-time low, the Democrats are in a prime position to take back both houses of Congress. But even if the gerrymandering by Delay & Co. doesn't prevent a shift in Congressional power, there is no guarantee that the new power brokers in Congress would stand up to Bush. Indeed, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has ruled out impeachment of the president.

As we witness the deployment of 6,000 precious National Guard troops to the border in a photo-op designed to boost support for Republicans in the November election, we can take solace in a recent suggestion going around:

The members of Congress should resign and undocumented immigrants should take over because they will do jobs that Americans won't do.

What will it take for Congress to do its job?


Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.

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