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After the failure of the US federal government under the Articles of Confederation, the men working to shape the new American government—later termed the “Founders”—determine that the new government must have a president with power equal to that of Congress and the Supreme Court. The federal government itself has far more power under the new Constitution than it had under the Articles, but many Founders worry that the government will have, or take upon itself, the power to constrain or even destroy individual rights and freedoms. The government, therefore, will have strict limitations on its functions, and will be divided into three co-equal branches. Debate over whether the new government should have a single president or an executive council rages, but eventually the Founders decide that a single president could best act decisively in times of crisis. However, Congress has the strength to curtail presidential power via legislation and oversight. One of the Founders’ most crucial decisions is to give Congress, not the president, the power to declare war and commit military troops to battle. Congress must also authorize any military actions that fall short of actual war, the creation and maintenance of armies, and exercise control over how the president can call on the armed forces in emergencies. Finally, the Founders, all too aware that until the English Revolution of 1688, the King of England could use his “prerogative powers” to dispense with a law that he felt unnecessary, move to ensure that the US president cannot use a similar usurpation of power to override Congressional legislation, writing in the Constitution that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage, drawing on James Madison’s Federalist Papers, will write: “Knowing that it was inevitable that from time to time foolish, corrupt, or shortsighted individuals would win positions of responsibility in the government, the Founders came up with a system that would limit anyone’s ability to become a tyrant or to otherwise wreck the country. And over the next century and a half, the system worked as the Founders had designed it to work.” (Savage 2007, pp. 14-16)
President Theodore Roosevelt, wielding what will become known as the theory of inherent power, declares that the presidency has a “residuum of powers” to do anything not specifically forbidden by the Constitution. Without asking Congress for its approval, Roosevelt launches the project to build the Panama Canal, sends the US Navy around the world, and sends US troops to the Dominican Republic. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Roosevelt’s views… contained the seeds of the imperial presidency that would arise during the first decades of the Cold War.” Roosevelt’s successor, future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft, will disagree, and Taft’s presidency will restore some of the limits on presidential power removed by Roosevelt. (Savage 2007, pp. 17-18)
Franklin D. Roosevelt ushers in a massive expansion and reorganization of the federal government under his “New Deal,” in an attempt to counter the lasting effects of the Great Depression that began in 1929. Passed by Congress, the New Deal legislation greatly expands the federal bureaucracy (see September 8, 1939), and gives sweeping new powers over domestic issues to agencies contained within the executive branch and not always subject to Congressional oversight. The Supreme Court rules that many of these actions are unconstitutional, but when Roosevelt threatens to “pack” the Court by expanding its size and then appointing sympathizers to vote his way, the Court capitulates and upholds the New Deal legislation. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that the Court’s decision “enabl[ed] the rise of the modern administrative state inside the executive branch.” (Savage 2007, pp. 18)
President Harry Truman, without the approval of Congress, sends US troops to fight in the Korean War. Unlike his predecessor (see December 8, 1941), Truman asserts that he has the inherent right to do so as the commander in chief (see 1787 and 1793). Truman bases his decision in part on a UN Security Council resolution passed three days before—at the US’s behest—approving military aid to South Korea, which was invaded by North Korean troops on June 25. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write: “But the permission of foreign states was irrelevant to the domestic legal issue of who got to decide whether the United States would go to war. No president had ever before launched anything on the scale of the Korean War without prior permission from Congress, as the Constitution requires.” Savage will explain why Congress allows Truman to usurp its prerogatives: “[M]embers of Congress, eager to appear tough against Communism and to support a war effort, did nothing to block Truman.” (Savage 2007, pp. 19; Truman Library 3/2008)
The US Supreme Court rules that the federal government cannot seize the nation’s steel mills. In April, President Truman, fearing a nationwide strike that could impact the US war effort in Korea, ordered the seizure of all US steel mills; the lawsuit that resulted, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, quickly made its way to the Supreme Court.
Rejection of 'Inherent Powers' Claim - During oral arguments, the justices grilled Acting Attorney General Philip Perlman, demanding to know what statutes he had relied on for his arguments and asserting that the president had limitations both on his emergency wartime powers and on his ability to claim that he is the “sole judge” of the existence of, and remedies for, an emergency. The justices are not convinced by the government’s arguments for the president’s “inherent powers.” They are also troubled by repeated refusals of the government to provide facts and documentary backing for its legal arguments, and its reliance instead on claims of “national security.” The attorney for the steel industry, John Davis, quoted Thomas Jefferson in his argument: “In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Justice William O. Douglas noted that if the government’s claims were valid, there would be “no more need for Congress.”
Court Rejects Argument - In a 6-3 vote, the Court rules that the president has no inherent power to seize the steel mills. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black states: “In the framework of our Constitution, the president’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.… The founders of this nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.… This is a job for the nation’s lawmakers.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Robert Jackson writes, “No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.” In his dissent, Chief Justice Fred Vinson (see March 1952) argues that “the gravity of the emergency” overrides the Constitutional arguments accepted by the majority of the Court. “Those who suggest that this is a case involving extraordinary powers should be mindful that these are extraordinary times. A world not yet recovered from the devastation of World War II has been forced to face the threat of another and more terrifying global conflict.” (Savage 2007, pp. 123; Siegel 2008, pp. 163-164) In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will observe that the Youngstown decision “turned out to be only a pause in the movement toward an increasingly authoritarian presidency.” (Savage 2007, pp. 19)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, attempting to protect government files from Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI)‘s anti-Communist “witch hunts” and to prevent government officials from being forced to testify at the Army’s hearings on McCarthy, cites a never-before-used phrase, “executive privilege,” to resist giving over information or allowing aides to testify. While presidents have withheld information from Congress before in narrow and defined circumstances—in 1792, George Washington refused to allow Congress and the courts to obtain information about a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans along the Ohio River, for example—Eisenhower is the first to assert that the executive branch has the right to withhold any internal documents or block officials from giving testimony to other branches or agencies of the government. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that Eisenhower’s actions “creat[ed] a potentially boundless new category of government information a president could deny to Congress.” (Savage 2007, pp. 20; Weiner 6/28/2007)
The Nixon administration revamps the Bureau of the Budget into the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will describe the first OMB as “a brain trust of political loyalists who helped the president to manage the sprawling federal bureaucracy so that he would bend its work to his agenda.” By President Nixon’s second term, his top officials are dissatisfied with the results, and decide to take stronger steps. According to administration memos, the new strategy is, as Savage will write, “to politicize the bureaucracy by purging it and then restocking it with ‘Nixon loyalists’ who would ‘retake the departments.’ Agency heads were to send regular reports to Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, about their progress in ‘gaining control of the bureaucracy.’” The efforts will bear little fruit after the Watergate scandal derails the idea. (Savage 2007, pp. 304) The Reagan administration will revive the scheme (see February 1981 and After).
A US cargo ship, the SS Mayaguez, is seized by the Cambodian navy in the Gulf of Siam. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urges retaliatory action to punish the Cambodians and retake the ship, arguing that the US must let the Communist forces in Southeast Asia know that, even though the US has withdrawn from South Vietnam, the US would defend itself and its interests. President Ford agrees. Without asking or even consulting Congress, Ford, calling the capture of the Mayaguez an “act of piracy,” orders US Marines to attack Cambodian warships and storm the island of Koh Tang (sometimes spelled Kaoh Tang) where the crew of the Mayaguez is believed to be held prisoner. On May 15, some 180 Marines storm the island in a helicopter assault, with light air support. (American Merchant Marine at War 6/5/2000; Savage 2007, pp. 31-33)
Violation of Constitution, Law - Ford briefs Congressional leaders after the fact; the leaders agree that the attack is the right decision, but sharply disagree with how Ford carried out the decision. A 1971 law prohibits the use of ground forces in Cambodia, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires advance consultation with Congress “in every possible instance.” Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-OK) reminds Ford, “There are charges on the floor [of the House] that you have violated the law.” And Senate Majority Whip Robert Byrd (D-WV) asks why Ford did not inform Congressional leaders before ordering the attacks, saying, “I’m for getting the ship back, but I think you should have given them a chance to urge caution.” Ford replies: “It is my constitutional responsibility to command the forces and to protect Americans.… We have a separation of powers. The president is the commander in chief so long as he is within the law. I exercised my power under the law and I complied with the law. I would never forgive myself if the Marines had been attacked.”
'Nerve and Steel' - The Mayaguez and her crew are recovered, and Ford’s decision is hailed by media outlets such as Newsweek as a “daring show of nerve and steel,” a “classic show of gunboat diplomacy,” and “a four star political and diplomatic victory.… It was swift and tough—and it worked.” (Savage 2007, pp. 31-33)
Facts Far Different from Initial Reporting - But subsequent information shows that the initial reports of the US military action were false. The government will claim that one Marine died and 13 were wounded in the invasion of the Cambodian island. In reality, 40 soldiers die—15 in the initial assault (13 Marines and two Air Force soldiers), 23 Marines in a helicopter crash, and three Marines who are inadvertently left behind, captured by the Cambodians, and executed. Forty-four Marines and six Air Force soldiers are wounded. The US expected maybe two dozen Cambodian soldiers on the island, but in actuality well over 200 heavily armed and entrenched Cambodian soldiers were in place. The crew of the Mayaguez had never been on the island; the Cambodians had taken them to the mainland. And the Cambodian government had already publicly announced it was releasing the vessel and the crew before the attack began—Ford had not yet received the message when he authorized the Marine assault. Marines had stormed the Mayaguez and found no one on board; the crew was at sea in a fishing boat when the Marines launched their attack. It is never completely clear why the ruling Khmer Rouge releases the crew so quickly; some speculate intervention by China or Israel. But the facts of the incident, and the unexpectedly large number of deaths and injuries, are submerged in a wave of patriotic fervor that sweeps the country. A Ford administration official will later admit to Newsweek that the operation had been “the sheerest sort of jingoism,” but, he will argue, it worked to perfection, “and nobody challenges success.” Overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support for Ford and the “rescue” of the Mayaguez, Congress quickly shelves its objections to Ford’s usurpation of Constitutional principles. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “The Mayaguez incident revealed just how difficult it would be for Congress to rein in a president once troops were committed.” (American Merchant Marine at War 6/5/2000; Savage 2007, pp. 31-33)
Steven Calabresi joins the Justice Department. Calabresi is a young conservative lawyer who has clerked for appeals court Robert Bork, who failed to secure a position on the Supreme Court just months before (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society of conservative lawyers and judges, joins forces with another ambitious young Justice Department lawyer, John Harrison, and the two begin working to expand the power of the president. Calabresi and Harrison decide that an aggressive use of presidential signing statements can advance the president’s authority to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. Unfazed by a recent judicial rejection of just such signing statement usage (see 1984-1985), Calabresi and Harrison write a memo to Attorney General Edwin Meese advocating the issuing of more signing statements as part of a larger strategy to increase the president’s influence over the law. Calabresi and Harrison are interested in how what they call “activist judges” use the legislative history of a bill that became law to interpret that law’s meaning in subsequent judicial actions. The two lawyers believe that by issuing signing statements, the president can create a parallel record of presidential interpretations of potentially ambiguous laws to help guide judicial decisions. Meese approves of the idea, and in December has the West Publishing Company, which prints the US Code Congressional and Administration News, the standard collection of bills’ legislative history, begin including presidential signing statements in its publications. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call Meese’s move “a major step in increasing the perceived legitimacy of the device.” (Savage 2007, pp. 232) In 2007, Calabresi will say: “I initially thought of signing statements as presidential legislative history. I’ve subsequently come to think of them as being important vehicles by which presidents can control subordinates in the executive branch. They subsequently came to be important to the unitary executive [theory of presidential power].” (Savage 2007, pp. 234)
Ralph Tarr, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, drafts a memo explaining how the White House has issued signing statements up until now (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), and makes recommendations on how to improve the process. Tarr, acting at the behest of an aide to Attorney General Edwin Meese, issues what author Charlie Savage will call “a prescient seven-page manifesto.” Tarr writes that signing statements are “presently underutilized and could become far more important as a tool of presidential management of the agencies, a device for preserving issues of importance in the ongoing struggle for power with Congress, and an aid to statutory interpretation for the courts.” Tarr writes that signing statements have the potential to be used as a threat “with which to negotiate concessions from Congress.” The statements can also be used to tell executive branch agencies how to interpret a law: “The president can direct agencies to ignore unconstitutional provisions or to read provisions in a way that eliminates constitutional or policy problems. This direction permits the president to seize the initiative in creating what will eventually be the agency’s interpretation.” (Savage 2007, pp. 232-233)
Attorney General Edwin Meese receives a report, “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations.” Meese had commissioned the report from the Justice Department’s Domestic Policy Committee, an internal “think tank” staffed with hardline conservative scholars and policy advisers.
Recommendations for Restoring, Expanding Executive Power - The Meese report approvingly notes that “the strong leadership of President Reagan seems clearly to have ended the congressional resurgence of the 1970s.” It lays out recommendations for restoring the power taken from the executive branch after Watergate and Vietnam, and adding new powers besides. It recommends that the White House refuse to enforce laws and statutes that “unconstitutionally encroach upon the executive branch,” and for Reagan to veto more legislation and to use “signing statements” to state the White House’s position on newly passed laws. It also assails the 1972 War Powers Resolution and other laws that limit presidential power.
Reinterpreting the Separation of Powers and the Concept of 'Checks and Balances' - Perhaps most importantly, the Meese report claims that for 200 years, courts and scholars alike have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Founders’ intentions in positing the “separation of powers” system (see 1787 and 1793). The belief that the Constitution mandates three separate, co-equal branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—who wield overlapping areas of authority and work to keep each of the other branches from usurping too much power—a concept taught in school as “checks and balances”—is wrong, the report asserts. Instead, each branch has separate and independent sets of powers, and none of the three branches may tread or encroach on the others’ area of responsibility and authority. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the report claims. “But that is not joint shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.” According to the report, the White House should exercise total and unchallenged control of the executive branch, which, as reporter and author Charlie Savage will later explain, “could be conceived of as a unitary being with the president as its brain.” The concept of “checks and balances” is nothing more than an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to encroach on the rightful power of the executive. This theory of presidential function will soon be dubbed the “unitary executive theory,” a title adapted from a passage by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. (Savage 2007, pp. 47-48) Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general during the second term, will later write that though the unitary executive theory displays “perfect logic” and a “beautiful symmetry,” it is difficult to defend, because it “is not literally compelled by the words of the Constitution. Nor did the framers’ intent compel this view.” (Savage 2007, pp. 50)
Iraq invades Kuwait. In response, the US suspends National Security Directive 26 (see October 2-6, 1989), which established closer ties with Baghdad and mandated $1 billion in agricultural loan guarantees to Iraq. (Frantz and Waas 2/23/1992) The secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, begins pressing President Bush to go to war with Iraq without securing Congressional approval. His rationale is two-fold: he doesn’t need Congressional authority, and he might not get it if he asks. Cheney moves the Pentagon onto a full war footing, even going so far as to create what author and former White House counsel John Dean calls “his own concocted high-risk plans of battle, which he tried but failed to sell at the White House.” Bush will juggle Cheney’s view with that of House Speaker Tom Foley, who will give the president a document signed by 81 Democratic members who insist that if Bush wants to go to war, he needs the authorization of Congress. Dean will write that Cheney’s arguments “are based on bogus legal and historical arguments that have been made before, but no one has pushed them longer or harder than he has.” (Dean 2007, pp. 89-91) Bush decides not to follow Cheney’s advice. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will observe: “By urging Bush to ignore the War Powers Resolution on the eve of the first major overseas ground war since Congress enacted the law, Cheney was attempting to set a powerful precedent. Had Bush taken his advice and survived the political fallout, the Gulf War would have restored [former President] Truman’s claim that as president he had ‘inherent’ powers to send American troops to the Korean War on his own” (see June 30, 1950). (Savage 2007, pp. 62)
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney refuses to issue contracts for the trouble-plagued V-22 Osprey, a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) airplane designed to replace the Vietnam-era Sea Stallion helicopters. Cheney opposes the Osprey, but Congress has voted to appropriate funds for the program anyway. Cheney refuses to issue contracts, reviving the Nixon-era practice of “impounding” funds, refusing to spend money Congress has already appropriated. The practice of impoundment was made illegal by Congressional legislation in 1974; Cheney believes the anti-impoundment law to be illegal, and ignores it. Many look at Cheney’s opposition to the Osprey as an unusual example of fiscal restraint from Cheney, who is well known to favor most high-budget defense programs, but author and reporter Charlie Savage will cite the Osprey example as an instance of Cheney attempting to impose the executive branch’s will on the legislature. The Osprey will become operational in 2006. (Berler 7/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 62)
President Clinton orders the US Air Force to participate in a NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. The campaign lasts for 79 days, and constitutes the first time since the War Powers Resolution became law in 1974 that any president has deployed US forces into overseas combat for over 60 days without Congressional authorization. Clinton’s legal advisers argue that Clinton has all the authority he needs to continue the air war because on May 22 Congress passes an emergency spending bill to fund the Kosovo war, just days before the 60-day clock runs out. The War Powers Resolution explicitly forbids appropriations to count as authorization, so Clinton’s legal ground is shaky. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will note the unusual role reversal in Washington—Democrats, who had insisted that Republican presidents obey the War Powers Resolution, now stand by Clinton (or at least offer no overt criticism), and Republicans, who had argued that Congress had no right to challenge a president’s authority to conduct a war as he sees fit, now challenge Clinton’s authority under the selfsame War Powers Resolution they have previously criticized. The Congressional debate ends inconclusively when the air campaign ends. (Savage 2007, pp. 65-66)
According to reporter and author Charlie Savage, the White House staff quickly coalesces into two camps: “Bush People[,] mostly personal friends of the new president who shared his inexperience in Washington,” which includes President Bush’s top legal counsels, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both corporate lawyers in Texas before joining Bush in Washington. The second group is “Cheney People—allies from [Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s earlier stints in the federal government (see May 25, 1975, November 18, 1980, 1981-1992, 1989, and June 1996) who were deeply versed in Washington-level issues, a familiarity that would allow their views to dominate internal meetings. These included [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and other cabinet secretaries, key deputies throughout the administration, and David Addington, Cheney’s longtime aide who would become a chief architect of the administration’s legal strategy in the war on terrorism” (see July 1, 1992 and (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Savage will observe, “Given the stark contrast in experience between Cheney and Bush, it was immediately clear to observers of all political stripes that Cheney would possess far more power than had any prior vice president.”
'Unprecedented' Influence - Cheney will certainly have “unprecedented” influence, according to neoconservative publisher William Kristol, who himself had served as former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “The question to ask about Cheney,” Kristol will write, is “will he be happy to be a very trusted executor of Bush’s policies—a confidant and counselor who suggests personnel and perhaps works on legislative strategy, but who really doesn’t try to change Bush’s mind about anything? Or will he actually, substantively try to shape administration policy in a few areas, in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise be going?”
Expanding the Power of the Presidency - Cheney will quickly answer that question, Savage will write, by attempting to “expand the power of the presidency.” Savage will continue: “He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge a zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action, to undermine limits imposed by international treaties, to nominate judges who favored a stronger presidency, and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government. And Cheney’s vision of expanded executive power was not limited to his and Bush’s own tenure in office. Rather, Cheney wanted to permanently alter the constitutional balance of American government, establishing powers that future presidents would be able to wield as well.” (Savage 2007, pp. 7-9) Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say after leaving the administration: “We used to say about both [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office] and the vice president’s office that they were going to win nine out of 10 battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, because they never, never deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly, foist it on the government—and the rest of the government is all confused.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299)
Signing Statements to Reshape Legislation, Expand Presidential Power - To that end, Cheney ensures that all legislation is routed through his office for review before it reaches Bush’s desk. Addington goes through every bill for any new provisions that conceivably might infringe on the president’s power as Addington interprets it, and drafts signing statements for Bush to sign. In 2006, White House counsel Bradford Berenson will reflect: “Signing statements unite two of Addington’s passions. One is executive power. And the other is the inner alleyways of bureaucratic combat. It’s a way to advance executive power through those inner alleyways.… So he’s a vigorous advocate of signing statements and including important objections in signing statements. Most lawyers in the White House regard the bill review process as a tedious but necessary bureaucratic aspect of the job. Addington regarded it with relish. He would dive into a 200-page bill like it was a four-course meal.” It will not be long before White House and Justice Department lawyers begin vetting legislation themselves, with Addington’s views in mind. “You didn’t want to miss something,” says a then-lawyer in the White House. (Savage 2007, pp. 236)
The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, sends David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, a letter declaring that it intends to review the composition and activities of Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington is the one who issued the flat refusal to allow members of Congress to see any of the minutes or documents generated by the task force (see April 19 - May 4, 2001); in response, the members of Congress who requested the information asked GAO chief and comptroller general David Walker for help in investigating the task force. Walker is quite bipartisan, having worked for the Reagan and Bush-Quayle administrations before being appointed to the chairmanship of the GAO by President Clinton. (Savage 2007, pp. 88) Addington will reply to Walker, denying that the GAO has any authority to investigate the task force (see May 16 - 17, 2001). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call the Cheney-Addington battle with the GAO an early instance of the Bush administration’s fight to claim ever-widening presidential powers at the expense of Congress (see January 21, 2001).
In response to a General Accounting Office (GAO) demand for information about the energy task force chaired by Vice President Cheney (see May 8, 2001), Cheney’s chief legal adviser, David Addington, rebuffs the GAO, claiming that the agency has no authority under the Constitution to investigate the task force. The task force is a creature of the executive branch, Addington argues, and as an arm of the legislative branch, the GAO cannot “inquire into the exercise of authorities committed to the executive by the Constitution.” The president can keep any such government deliberations entirely secret from Congress and the public, Addington asserts, in order to guarantee the “candor” of the advice he receives. GAO chief David Walker replies to Addington, rejecting his interpretation of the Constitution. Addington will, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “follow… injury with insult,” responding to Walker’s request for information by conceding that Congress might have the right to know about the direct costs incurred by the task force, and sending 77 pages of mundane expense reports (see June 21, 2001). The highlight of those reports: task force chair Andrew Lundquist’s ordering of a pizza on his own credit card. Walker will not be cowed by Addington’s flip rejoinder. (Savage 2007, pp. 88-89)
Vice President Cheney’s top aide, David Addington, begins attending meetings of the Cheney energy task force, further emphasizing the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the General Accounting Office (GAO—see April 19 - May 4, 2001, May 8, 2001, and May 16 - 17, 2001). White House lawyer Bradford Berenson, the legal liaison on the case, is puzzled by the White House’s refusal to cooperate. Most of the information about the task force has already come out in the media, particularly the fact that almost all of the task force’s meetings have been with fossil fuel and nuclear energy corporate executives. But the White House seems willing to weather the controversy in order to keep withholding information from the GAO. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write, “The long-term payoff was an opportunity to establish a high principle of presidential power: Communications involving the office of the presidency should be secret, whatever a law passed by Congress and signed by some previous president might say.” Addington further enforces the doctrine during the regular morning meetings at the White House counsel’s office, even though he does not work for senior White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. (Savage 2007, pp. 90-91)
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seizes the new opportunities to expand the power of the presidency that present themselves as part of the government’s response to the attacks (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Bush-Cheney legal team, largely driven by Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff (see January 21, 2001), aggressively pushes for new opportunities to expand executive branch authorities.
'Bravado,' 'Close-Minded Group of Like-Minded People' - A senior White House official later tells author and reporter Charlie Savage of the “pervasive post-9/11 sense of masculine bravado and one-upmanship when it came to executive power.” In Savage’s words, and quoting the official, “a ‘closed group of like-minded people’ were almost in competition with one another, he said, to see who could offer the farthest-reaching claims of what a president could do. In contrast, those government lawyers who were perceived as less passionate about presidential power were derided as ‘soft’ and were often simply cut out of the process” (see also September 25, 2001).
Suspicion of Oversight - “The lawyers for the administration felt a tremendous amount of time pressure, and there was a lot of secrecy,” the official will say. “These things were being done in small groups. There was a great deal of suspicion of the people who normally act as a check inside the executive branch, such as the State Department, which had the reputation of being less aggressive on executive power. This process of faster, smaller groups fed on itself and built a dynamic of trying to show who was tougher on executive power.”
Addington and Yoo: Outsized Influence - While nominally the leaders of the White House legal team are Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, neither has as much influence as lawyers and staffers ostensibly of lower rank than themselves. Ashcroft is a vociferous supporter of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies, but is not a member of Bush’s inner circle and sometimes disagrees with the White House’s legal moves. Neither Ashcroft nor Gonzales have prior experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding executive power and national security. Two of the driving forces behind the White House’s push for more presidential power are Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and an obscure deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), John Yoo. Because of a dispute between Ashcroft and the Bush inner circle over who should lead the OLC, there is no official chief of the OLC until November 2002, leaving Yoo and his fellows free to be as aggressive as they like on expanding presidential power and handling the war on terrorism. When the OLC chief, law professor Jay Bybee, finally arrives, he, like Ashcroft and Gonzales, finds himself hampered by his lack of knowledge of the law as it pertains to national security. Savage will later write, “When he finally started work, Bybee let deputies continue to spearhead the review of matters related to the war on terrorism.” Yoo is only a deputy assistant attorney general, but he has “signing power”—the ability to make his opinion legally binding—and is rarely reviewed by his peers because much of his work is classified. (Savage 2007, pp. 76-78) As for Addington, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say that he was the leader of the small but highly influential group of lawyers “who had these incredible theories and would stand behind their principles [Cheney, Bush, and others], whispering in their ears about these theories, telling them they have these powers, that the Constitution backs these powers, that these powers are ‘inherent’ and blessed by God and if they are not exercised, the nation will fall. He’d never crack a smile. His intensity and emotions and passion for these theories are extraordinary.” (Savage 2007, pp. 84)
In a television interview, Vice President Cheney is asked how the US will respond to the 9/11 attacks. He first replies that there will be a military response. But he adds an oblique comment indicating the secrecy in which he and the administration intend to operate after the 9/11 attacks: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” (Cheney 9/16/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 221) In 2006, former CIA official Gary Schroen will be asked about Cheney’s comment, and he replies: “My impression at the time was that the administration was trying to send a message, and certainly CIA leadership was trying to send a message, that the gloves were off. I think what [Cheney] was probably saying was, we’re going to do things like assassination operations; we were going to go into places and not try to capture these guys, but just kill them, and that… there would be a lot of people who would object to those kind of tactics.” (Schroen 1/20/2006) In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Many interpreted Cheney’s vague remarks to have been a reference to brutal interrogation techniques.” (Savage 2007, pp. 154)
Michael Creppy, the chief US immigration judge—actually an executive branch official in the Justice Department, the title of “judge” notwithstanding—orders that all deportation hearings be closed to the public, the press, and even family members. Creppy also prohibits immigration court administrators from listing the detainees’ names or cases on public dockets. The reason is not because there is reason to believe any particular detainee is a suspected terrorist. Instead, the administration asserts, national security demands blanket secrecy because terrorist cells might read about the deportation hearings in the press, piece together bits and pieces of information, and in doing so deduce valuable information about the government’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks and terrorism in general. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “Thus, the public would just have to trust that the government had arrested and deported the right people, even though their names were kept a secret and the decision to expel them from the country was made behind closed doors. By invoking the chance that the enemy might detect a pattern in otherwise harmless information, the government would be justified in withholding everything. The implication of its theory was that the public had no right to know anything, no matter how innocuous, because any tidbit of trivial information could potentially be stitched together with other minor bits of information to conceivably provide some useful insight for terrorists.” In separate proceedings, the Detroit Free Press and several New Jersey media organizations will challenge the Justice Department’s decision in court (see August 26, 2002 and October 2, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 94)
Attorney General John Ashcroft encourages federal agencies to deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In a memo to all government departments and agencies, he states, “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.” This is a dramatic shift from the Clinton administration, which instructed federal officials to grant all information requests, using a “presumption of disclosure,” unless there was “foreseeable harm” in doing so. (Grimaldi 12/2/2002; Savage 2007, pp. 96) The New York Times notes that while the new policy was announced after 9/11, “it had been planned well before the attacks.” (Clymer 1/3/2003) In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write that Ashcroft turns the Clinton policy of foreseeable harm “on its head.” He will write: “Reviving a Reagan-era policy aimed at undermining the Freedom of Information Act, Ashcroft instructed the government to reject FOIA requests if it was at all possible to do so, under any legal reason for withholding documents—even if the information sought was harmless. And he promised to back up any decision to reject a FOIA request in court. The Ashcroft policy quickly discouraged the release of information to the public because few people were willing to go to the trouble and expense of an inevitable lawsuit.” (Savage 2007, pp. 96)
Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan presents his subordinate, associate counsel Bradford Berenson, with a draft presidential order he has written establishing military tribunals for suspected terrorists. The draft order declares that President Bush is invoking his wartime powers as commander in chief to establish a system of military tribunals, sometimes called military commissions.
Commissions More 'Flexible' - In the White House’s view, military tribunals offer several advantages over either civilian court trials or military courts-martial, as is being discussed in the interagency working group on prosecuting terrorists at the State Department (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Civilian trials would be subject to public scrutiny and media spectacle, and would pose a problem of security risks. Military courts-martial are quite rigid in their procedures and rules of evidence. Military commissions, as envisioned by Flanigan and the two other White House lawyers who put together the scheme—Berenson and David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney—would offer more “flexibility” for the use of evidence gathered either under battlefield conditions or in interrogations, evidence that might not meet the standards of either a court-martial or a civilian trial. And, as author Charlie Savage will later note, “commissions enhanced presidential power by concentrating the process in the executive branch alone.”
A 'Relic' - Savage will explain: “Under normal trials, Congress defines a crime and sets the sentence for it; the executive branch investigates and prosecutes people who are accused of committing the crime; and the judicial branch runs the trial, decides whether to admit evidence, determines whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, and hears any appeal. With a military commission, all these powers were collapsed into the hands of the armed forces and, ultimately, their commander in chief. Although fairly common in nineteenth-century conflicts, military commissions were a relic: They had not been used by the United States since World War II.”
Support from Justice Department Lawyer - Their work will be bolstered when Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin issues a secret memo declaring that the president has the inherent authority to order military commissions (see November 6, 2001). Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington never inform the interagency working group of their own work, although they made use of the working group’s research. Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington cite Philbin’s memo as the definitive word on the president’s authority. When President Bush announces the order establishing the commissions (see November 13, 2001), the order abruptly short-circuits the interagency working group and renders its work irrelevant. (Savage 2007, pp. 134-135)
According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), the Pentagon begins asking the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for assistance in developing a set of procedures for “harsh interrogations”—torture—to be used against suspected terrorists captured by US soldiers and intelligence operatives. JPRA has “reverse-engineered” a training program, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), which trains US soldiers to resist torture techniques if captured by an enemy, to produce harsh techniques to be used in interrogating suspected terrorists. (Warrick and Finn 4/22/2009)
Methods Already in Use - Military interrogators have already begun using the methods inflicted on them during SERE training on their prisoners, and SERE instructors—often having no training in interrogation procedures and no experience with other cultures—have been reassigned as interrogators. (Savage 2007, pp. 216) The JPRA program will result in the personal approval of 15 “harsh” techniques by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The policies will be adopted by US interrogators in Afghanistan, at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and at Guantanamo. (Knowlton 4/21/2009) In a June 2004 press conference, General James T. Hill, the commander of the US Southern Command (SOCOM), which oversees the Guantanamo detention facility, will say that US officials tapped the “SERE School and developed a list of techniques.” Hill will say that he was reassured by Pentagon officials that the techniques were “legally consistent with our laws.”
Methods Devised to Produce Propaganda, Not Reliable Information - Trained interrogators are, in the words of reporter Charlie Savage, “aghast at this policy.” Savage will write that unlike many Pentagon officials, Special Forces troops, and even SERE instructors, they know full well where SERE techniques originated: from the techniques used by Chinese and North Korean interrogators to torture and brutalize US soldiers during the Korean War. The Koreans and Chinese were experts at coercing American captives to “confess” to “war crimes” and other offenses; those confessions were used for propaganda purposes. “After the war,” Savage will write, the captured soldiers “all told the same story: Chinese interrogators, working with the North Koreans, had put them through a series of sustained torments” identical to those used in SERE training “until their minds had bent and they had made the false confessions.” The stories led to the concept of Chinese “brainwashing” techniques made famous by such books and films as The Manchurian Candidate. In 1963, the CIA concluded that the techniques were virtually useless at producing reliable intelligence, but worked very well in coercing victims to say whatever interrogators wanted them to say. “[U]nder sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist.” Savage will write, “Neither SERE trainers, who run scenarios by following the instructions in basic military manuals, nor their Special Forces trainees understood that the coercive techniques used in the program were designed to make prisoners lose touch with reality so that they will falsely confess to what their captors want to hear, not for extracting accurate and reliable information.” Colonel Steve Kleinman, the former head of the Air Force’s strategic interrogation program, will later comment: “People who defend this say ‘we can make them talk.’ Yes, but what are they saying? The key is that most of the training is to try to resist the attempts to make you comply and do things such as create propaganda, to make these statements in either written or videotaped form. But to get people to comply, to do what you want them to do, even though it’s not the truth—that is a whole different dynamic than getting people to produce accurate, useful intelligence.” (Savage 2007, pp. 216-217)
The Bush administration solves the dilemma surrounding a request by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) for documents from the Clinton administration (see Early September, 2001) by placing secrecy and executive privilege above a chance to potentially attack Clinton. Burton has tucked the request for the Clinton documents in with another request on a far more serious matter, possible malfeasance by an FBI office. President Bush instructs Attorney General John Ashcroft not to turn over the documents on either case, explaining that turning over the documents would violate the “national interest” by giving Congress documents related to “prosecutorial decision making.” Burton, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee, and editorial writers and commentators around the country criticize the administration over the refusal to turn over the documents, particularly the FBI information. The White House adds fuel to the controversy by claiming, both on this day and in a January 2002 letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that the refusal is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy (see January 10, 2002). The committee will secure an opinion from eminent Constitutional scholar Professor Charles Tiefer, who will show that the White House’s argument is flatly wrong. (Dean 2004, pp. 85-88)
'Your Guy's Acting Like a King' - An infuriated Burton confronts a lower-level Justice Department official sent to testify about the government’s position: “We’ve got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does not want Congress involved. Your guy’s acting like he’s king.” In his official comments, Burton accuses the Bush administration of setting a “terrible, terrible precedent” in the name of executive power. “This is not a monarchy,” Burton says. “The legislative branch has oversight responsibilities to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch.” In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Burton. “Anything that limits legitimate Congressional oversight is worrisome,” he says. “This move needs to be carefully scrutinized, particularly in an atmosphere where Congress is giving the Justice Department additional powers and authority.”
Politics over Principles - But the storm of Congressional criticism will have little lasting effect. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “[P]olitics defeated… principles. Most Republicans were unwilling to challenge Bush, and many Democrats opposed Burton’s probes of the Clinton campaign fund-raising, so few members of either party were interested in fighting the White House about it. And because Bush’s first invocation of [executive privilege] was done in part to protect Clinton and the Democrats, the gesture seemed principled rather than self-serving. It was tactically brilliant.” (Savage 2007, pp. 98)
Administration Later Turns Over Documents - After the media controversy, the administration quietly, and without public acknowledgment, will provide the FBI material to the committee. The committee’s final report on the FBI investigation will conclude with six pages of withering criticism of the administration’s fallacious claim to executive privilege. However, as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will note in 2004, the criticism from the committee is essentially meaningless to the White House, because it will garner no attention from the media and thereby cost the administration no political capital. And while some observers cannot understand why the administration would take such a hardline stand on an issue that lacks any implications for national security, the public interest, or the protection of ongoing criminal investigations, Dean will write that “it makes absolute sense if the administration’s aim is total information control.” He adds: “Accordingly, its policy remains to employ executive privilege aggressively, as long as the political price is not too high. If this administration is given a second term, there will be no price too high to expand this presidential privilege, enabling the executive branch to remain completely unaccountable.” (Dean 2004, pp. 85-88)
Court Upholds Bush Actions - In 2003, a district court will uphold the Bush administration’s refusal to turn over the documents to Burton’s committee (see March 28, 2003).
President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” (White House 12/13/2001; CNN 12/14/2001)
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” (CNN 12/14/2001; CNN 12/14/2001)
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” (Carter 2004, pp. 272-273) Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” (BBC 12/13/2001)
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” (Savage 2007, pp. 140)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a public announcement that he is planning to move Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. The number of people in US custody and destined for Guantanamo is allegedly small. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, they number eight individuals aboard the USS Peleliu and 37 at a US base near Kandahar airport. (Dawn (Karachi) 12/28/2001) Troops, earlier stationed at nearby Camp Rhino, where John Walker Lindh was detained, are being transferred to Guantanamo. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/15/2005) The reason for choosing Guantanamo for detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members is unclear. Rumsfeld says: “I would characterize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the least worst place we could have selected. Its disadvantages seem to be modest relative to the alternatives.” (Dawn (Karachi) 12/28/2001) Rumsfeld does not inform reporters of the legal opinion about to be released by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that he feels makes Guantanamo uniquely qualified to serve as a prisoner for terror suspects (see December 28, 2001). According to the OLC opinion, Guantanamo is outside the US itself, so US courts have no jurisdiction to oversee conditions or activities there. It is also not on soil controlled by any other court system. And, unlike other facilities considered for housing terror suspects (see January 11, 2002), Guantanamo is not on the soil of a friendly government with which the US has lease and status of force agreements, but rather on the soil of a hostile Communist government whose predecessor had signed a perpetual lease with the US. The base, therefore, is, according to the OLC, under the sole jurisdiction of the US military and its commander in chief, and not subject to any judicial or legislative review. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Guantanamo was chosen because it was the best place to set up a law-free zone.” (Savage 2007, pp. 145)
Justice Department legal ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack is subjected to intensive harassment and scrutiny by her employer after she consulted with a Criminal Division lawyer over the John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) case (see December 7, 2001).
Suddenly Fired - After Radack contradicts the department’s story on Lindh and his supposed failure to request legal counsel, she is suddenly fired when an unscheduled performance evaluation gives her poor ratings. Less than a year before, her performance evaluation had earned her a promotion and a merit bonus.
Leaks E-Mails to Reporter, Lindh Case Derailed - When she learns that the Justice Department has failed to turn over a number of e-mails concerning Lindh to a federal judge as requested, Radack turns over the e-mails to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. “I wasn’t in my mind saying, ‘Gee, I want to be a whistle-blower,’” she will later say. “I was just trying to correct the wrong, just trying to set something straight.” The resulting article prompts questions about the Justice Department’s honesty in discussing the Lindh case, and prompts a surprising turn of events: the department announces that it will end the Lindh case rather than hold an evidence-suppression hearing that would have probed the facts surrounding his interrogations. The government drops the worst of the charges against Lindh, and he pleads guilty to lesser charges (see July 15, 2002) and October 4, 2002).
Unspecified Allegations of 'Criminal' Behavior, Secret Reports Alleging Unfitness - As for Radack, even though the e-mails she released are not classified and she has broken no laws in making them public, the Bush administration wanted that information kept secret. She loses her job at a private law firm after the administration informs the firm that she is a “criminal” who cannot be trusted. She is subjected to a yearlong criminal investigation by the Justice Department; no charges are ever filed. “My attorneys asked what I was being investigated for and never got an answer,” Radack will later say. “There is no law against leaking. This was nonclassified stuff. I think they were just trying to get me to slip into making a false statement. Beyond that, it never seemed like they were really going to bring charges. This was just to harass me.” The administration files a secret report with the bar associations in the states she is licensed to practice law, alleging that she is unfit to practice law and recommending “discipline” against her. Because the report is secret, Radack finds it difficult to challenge the unspecified charges. (Most of the complaints against her will eventually be dismissed.)
No-Fly List - And Radack is placed on the administration’s “no-fly” list, ostensibly reserved for suspected terrorists and other criminals, forcing her to endure intensive and invasive searches every time she attempts to board an airplane.
Making an Example - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will note that Radack gained no protection from the various whistleblower protection laws on the books, mostly because those laws have no enforcement mechanisms and rely “on the willingness of high-ranking executive branch officials to obey a statute.” Savage will observe: “The whistleblower laws did nothing to help Radack when the Bush-Cheney administration decided to make an example of her, sending a clear warning to other officials who might be inclined to bring secret executive branch wrongdoing to light. And Radack would not be the last.” (Leslie 6/2003; Savage 2007, pp. 107-110)
The US prison camp at Guantanamo receives its first 20 prisoners from the Afghan battlefield. (Reuters 1/11/2002) The prisoners are flown on a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane, escorted during the final leg of the journey by a Navy assault helicopter and a naval patrol boat. The prisoners, hooded, shackled, wearing blackout goggles and orange jumpsuits, and possibly drugged, are escorted one by one off the plane by scores of Marines in full battle gear. They are interred in what reporter Charlie Savage will later call “kennel-like outdoor cages” in the makeshift containment facility dubbed Camp X-Ray. (Goldenberg 1/11/2002; Savage 2007, pp. 142-143)
Leaked Photos of Transfer Cause International Outcry - Pictures of prisoners being transferred in conditions clearly in violation of international law are later leaked, prompting an outcry. But rather than investigating the inhumane transfer, the Pentagon will begin investigating how the pictures were leaked. (Associated Press 11/9/2002)
Guantanamo Chosen to Keep Prisoners out of US Jurisdiction - The prisoners are sent to this base—leased by Cuba to the US—because it is on foreign territory and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of US law (see December 28, 2001). (Knox 9/5/2002) It was once a coaling station used by the US Navy, and in recent years had been used by Coast Guard helicopters searching for drug runners and refugees trying to make it across the Florida Straits to US soil. In 1998, the Clinton administration had briefly considered and then rejected a plan to bring some prisoners from Kosovo to Guantanamo. Guantanamo was chosen as an interim prison for Afghanis who survived the uprising at Mazar-e Sharif prison (see 11:25 a.m. November 25, 2001) by an interagency working group (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001), who considered and rejected facilities in Germany and other European countries. Group leader Pierre-Richard Prosper will later recall: “We looked at our military bases in Europe and ruled that out because (a), we’d have to get approval from a European government, and (b), we’d have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights and we didn’t know how they’d react. We didn’t want to lose control over it and have it become a European process because it was on European soil. And so we kept looking around and around, and basically someone said, ‘What about Guantanamo?’” The base may well have not been the final choice of Prosper’s group; it was still researching a Clinton-era attempt to house Haitian and Cuban refugees there that had been challenged in court when Rumsfeld unilaterally made the decision to begin transferring prisoners to the naval base. (Savage 2007, pp. 143-144)
No Geneva Convention Strictures Apply to 'Unlawful Combatants' - Rumsfeld, acting on the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, publicly declares the detainees “unlawful combatants” and thereby not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Conventions. “Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention,” Rumsfeld says. Though, according to Rumsfeld, the government will “for the most part treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent they are appropriate.” (Reuters 1/11/2002) There is no reason to feel sorry for these detainees, says Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He states, “These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 to bring it down.” (Golden and van Natal 6/21/2004)
British Officials: 'Scandalous' - Senior British officials privately call the treatment of prisoners “scandalous,” and one calls the refusal to follow the Geneva Convention “not benchmarks of a civilized society.” (Norton-Taylor 6/13/2002)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card instructs government agencies to be watchful about safeguarding records that might contain any “information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people.” Card’s order does not define terms, and agency heads are encouraged to define such cited information as broadly as possible. As a result, many government agencies begin refusing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests under a broadly, and often crudely, applied rubric of “national security.” Card’s order precipitates a cascade of new designations for non-classified information that agencies do not want to release, including “For Official Use Only,” “Sensitive but Unclassified,” “Not for Public Dissemination,” and others. The Congressional Research Service will later estimate that some 50 to 60 new designations are created by various executive agencies to keep information away from the public. In addition, some agencies allow any official or employee, from the agency head to the lowliest clerk, to designate a document as off-limits; all 180,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, for example, can designate a document “For Official Use Only” and thus keep it out of public hands. Reporter and author Charlie Savage will write in 2007: “There is no system for tracking who stamped it, for what reason, and how long it should stay secret. There is no process for appealing a secrecy decision.” Websites containing reams of government information are purged and sometimes shut down entirely. Periodic reports containing information that someone deems sensitive, or perhaps merely embarrassing, are terminated. FOIA requests are routinely stalled. Even such innocuous documents as the Defense Department’s personnel directory, formerly available for sale at the Government Printing Office, is now deemed unsafe for public consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency stops publishing chemical plants’ plans for dealing with disasters, perhaps protecting the public from inquisitive terrorists but certainly easing the pressure on the plants to keep their disaster preparation plans current and effective. The Defense Department stops selling topographic charts, used by, among others, airlines for creating flight charts and biologists for mapping species distribution, for “fear” that “those intending harm” might use the charts to plot attacks on US targets. Even old press releases written specifically for public distribution are retroactively classified. (Andrew Card 3/19/2002; Savage 2007, pp. 101-103)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signs Military Commission Order No. 1 prescribing the procedures of the military commission trials (see November 10, 2001). The order says a two-third majority is required to determine a sentence and unanimity for applying the death penalty. It fails to provide for the possibility of appeals. It also says evidence submitted before a commission “shall” be declared admissible if the presiding officer or a majority of the commission members consider that it “would have probative value to a reasonable person.” (US Department of Defense 3/21/2002 )
Fundamental Violations of Defendant Rights - Thus, if the presiding member or a majority considers a statement made under any form of coercion, including torture, to have some “probative value,” it “shall” be admitted. Professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University later says this is a break with standard proceedings in civil courts and courts-martial and calls it “clearly at odds with American military justice.” (Hendren 8/18/2004) Under the rules, the “Accused” is assigned a military officer to conduct his defense, but may select another officer. He may also retain a civilian attorney; however, he may only choose a lawyer who is vetted by the military. Unlike a military attorney, the civilian lawyer can be excluded from the trial if the presiding member of the commission decides to hold closed proceedings. This prompts Amnesty International to observe that the commissions “will restrict the right of defendants to choose their own counsel and to an effective defense.” (Amnesty International 10/27/2004) Under the rules of the military commissions the military is allowed to monitor private conversations between defense lawyers and their clients. This violates, as Human Rights Watch remarks, “the fundamental notion of attorney-client confidentiality.” (Human Rights Watch 1/9/2004)
Extraordinary Procedures for a 'Special Breed of Person' - In a discussion of the new rules, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, explains that the detainees being held in Guantanamo are “dangerous people, whether or not they go before a military commission.” He adds, “We’re dealing with a special breed of person here” and thusly new and far more draconian rules must be applied. (PBS 3/21/2002)
Battle with JAG Lawyers - Rumsfeld worked with lawyers from the Pentagon’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) office to create the procedures for the commissions. The JAG lawyers viewed the commissions as well outside the established rule of law, both in due process as mandated by the Constitution and in the protections mandated by the Geneva Conventions. But Rumsfeld and his group of political appointees considered the JAGs too closed-minded, and insisted on procedures that horrified the military lawyers—low standards for convictions, denial of civilian attorneys, imposition of the death penalty without unanimous consent of the panel of officers judging the case, and other proposed procedures. The JAGs argued that some of the proposals floated by Rumsfeld and his staff would violate their own ethical standards and put them at risk for later prosecution for war crimes if adopted. One top JAG official threatened to resign if the procedures were not brought more in line with established military law. The final version is a compromise between the two camps. Major General Thomas Romig, the head of JAG, later says that the final version still is not what the JAGs would have created on their own. As reporter and author Charlie Savage will later write, based on Romig’s comments: “While less draconian than the political appointees’ initial plans, the military commissions were still legally objectionable in several respects. The commission rules, for example, allowed secret evidence that would be kept hidden from a defendant and allowed the admission of evidence obtained through coercive interrogations [torture]. Moreover, the special trials still had no explicit congressional authorization.” (Savage 2007, pp. 138-139)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 142) Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 241)
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 250-251) Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” (Meek and Bazinet 10/19/2005) In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” (Savage 2007, pp. 357) In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 137)
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 325)
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” (US Department of Justice 8/1/2002 ) This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008)
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” (Schmidt 6/8/2004) International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. (Cannon 6/21/2004) Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. (Priest 6/27/2004)
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” (Savage 2007, pp. 155-156)
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” (Priest 6/27/2004)
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. (Lewis 6/8/2004; Bloomberg 6/8/2004; Allen and Priest 6/9/2004) Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. (Allen and Priest 6/9/2004)
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
The Bush administration embarks on a program to politicize the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD). The CRD is staffed by some 350 permanently employed lawyers who take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. For decades, the decisions on who should fill these positions have been made by civil servants and not by political appointees. The CRD is an obvious target for politicization, and until now the Justice Department has tried to ensure that no such politicization ever took place. “There was obviously oversight from the front office [where the political appointees work], but I don’t remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted,” Charles Cooper, a former lawyer in the CRD during the Reagan administration, will later recall. “I just don’t think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren’t placing any kind of political litmus test on… the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified.”
Hiring Conservatives in Place of Career Lawyers - But Attorney General John Ashcroft changes those rules, without making any sort of official announcement. The hiring committee is not formally disbanded, but it stops having meetings scheduled, and the political appointees begin making career hiring decisions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “The result of the unprecedented change was a quiet remaking of the civil rights division, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.” No longer would career attorneys be hired for their civil rights background; instead, lawyers from conservative law schools or from conservative legal organizations such as the Republican National Lawyers Association are given favorable treatment. Some of the new hires worked with Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigative team or had worked with other prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Trent Lott (R-MO). Some list themselves as belonging to prominent Christian political organizations that promote socially conservative views such as opposition to abortion and to affirmative action.
Shift towards 'Reverse Discrimination' Cases - After the new hires are in place, the division shifts its focus: instead of working on voter rights, employment discrimination, and other such cases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, the division begins working to develop “reverse discrimination” cases in favor of whites and Christians. (Savage 2007, pp. 295-297)
Driving Career Employees Away - Over the next few years, the types of cases pursued by the CRD changes drastically (see 2005, 2006, and 2006), and career attorneys with decades of service begin leaving the division in large numbers. The Justice Department will even encourage older hires to leave by offering them a buyout. Savage will write, “With every new vacancy, the administration gained a new change to use the new rules to hire another lawyer more in line with its political agenda.” CRD attorney David Becker will tell a 2006 NAACP hearing: “Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level. In the place of those experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experience.” Some supporters say that the Bush administration is merely righting an imbalance, where the CRD was previously top-heavy with liberal lawyers interested in protecting African-Americans over other groups, but one of the CRD’s top career lawyers from 1965 through 1994, Jim Turner, says, “To say that the civil rights division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things.” (Savage 2007, pp. 298-299)
White House officials, in interviews with the New York Times, describe the administration’s strategy to convince the public, Congress, and US allies of the need to confront Iraq. They say the centerpiece of the strategy will be Bush’s September 11 speech at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, which they have been planning since at least June. (The speech will not actually make a case for confronting Iraq. Bush will first make his case to the nation in his October 7 speech (see February 20, 2001).) Explaining why the White House did not launch this effort in August when the administration’s plans came under intense criticism from a number of different quarters, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tells the New York Times, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Card is the founding member of the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002 and June 9, 2008), which was formed to “educate the public” on the alleged threat from Iraq. The officials also tell the Times that one of the administration’s goals is for Congress to pass a resolution approving the use of force in Iraq within the next four to five weeks. “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it,” one administration official tells the Times. (Bumiller 9/7/2002) In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The proposed hurry-up vote on the eve of the first election since 9/11 presented a win-win scenario for the White House: If Democrats voice caution or skepticism about the proposed war resolution (see October 11, 2002), then the GOP could portray them as weak on terrorism ahead of the election, and if Democrats supported the bill, then the Bush-Cheney administration would fortify its powers by eliminating even the suggestion that it might later need to ask for permission to launch any war against Iraq” (see August 2002). By mid-September, Republican Congressional candidates will make Iraq a central issue of their campaigns, proclaiming unwavering support for Bush and attacking their Democratic opponents. In New Mexico, Republican House candidate Mike Pence will say of his opponent, John Arthur Smith, who is still considering whether or not to support the invasion, “While Smith ‘reflects’ on the situation, the possibility of a mushroom cloud hovering over a US city (see September 4, 2002) remains.” In Minnesota, Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman will attack Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone for refusing to “stand with the president.” Similar tactics will be used in campaigns around the country. As a result, almost every Democrat facing re-election joins Republicans in supporting the war authorization. Savage will write, “Thus, even though the Founders wanted Congress to make the final decision about when the United States should go to war, lawmakers abdicated their responsibility and delegated their power to the president.” (Welch 10/13/2002; Savage 2007, pp. 156-157)
Two days before the CIA is to issue an assessment (see August 2002) on Iraq’s supposed links to militant Islamic groups, Defense Department officials working in the Office of Special Plans (OSP) deliver a briefing in the White House to several top officials, including I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The briefing is entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” and is an updated version of a briefing presented in July 2002 (see July 25, 2002). The OSP, working under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, is aggressively promoting any evidence it can find to support a decision to invade Iraq (see September 2002).
The briefing claims that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is “mature” and “symbiotic,” and marked by shared interests.
It lists cooperation in 10 categories, or “multiple areas of cooperation,” including training, financing, and logistics. (Savage 2007, pp. 292; New York Times 4/6/2007; Smith 4/6/2007)
An alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi spy and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is listed as one of eight “Known Iraq-Al-Qaeda Contacts.” It claims that there is a “known contact” between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agency, a claim already rejected by the CIA. (Savage 2007, pp. 293; Smith 4/6/2007)
The briefing claims that “Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al-Qaeda attacks.” (Smith 4/6/2007)
It includes a slide criticizing the rest of the US intelligence community, which says there are “fundamental problems” with CIA intelligence gathering methods. It claims other intelligence agencies assume “that secularists and Islamists will not cooperate, even when they have common interests,” and there is a “consistent underestimation of importance that would be attached by Iraq and al-Qaeda to hiding a relationship.” (Coman 7/11/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 293; Smith 4/6/2007)
Around the same time, the briefing is also presented with slight variations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet. The slide criticizing other intelligence agencies is excluded when a version of the briefing is given to Tenet. A later report by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude the briefing was entirely incorrect and deliberately ignored intelligence by the CIA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies that contradicted its conclusions (see February 9, 2007). (Smith 4/6/2007) The CIA has already found the majority of the information in the presentation either completely false or largely unsupported by reliable evidence. (Savage 2007, pp. 293)
Unusual Briefing - This briefing, delivered at the same time the White House is pressing Congress to authorize the upcoming war with Iraq (see October 11, 2002), is, in the words of author and reporter Charlie Savage, “highly unusual.” Usually, high-level administration officials making national security decisions rely on information vetted by top-flight analysts at the CIA, in order to ensure the information is as accurate and politically neutral as possible. No CIA analyst has ever found a meaningful link between Hussein and al-Qaeda; the few reports of such claims were seen as highly dubious. But Cheney and his supporters consider the CIA slow, pedantic, and incompetent, and believe Feith’s OSP can provide better—or at least more amenable—intelligence. Savage will write: “In Feith’s shop and elsewhere in the executive branch, neoconservative political appointees stitched together raw intelligence reports, often of dubious credibility, without any vetting or analysis by professional intelligence specialists. The officials cherry-picked the files for reports that supported the notion that Iraq had an active [WMD] program and that it was working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda, ‘stovepiping’ such reports to top decision makers (and leaking them to the press) while discounting any skepticism mounted by the professionals.” (Savage 2007, pp. 292)
Dismantling Intelligence Filtering System in Favor of Politically Controlled Intelligence Provisions - What the presentation accomplishes, according to former CIA intelligence analyst Kenneth Pollock, is to support a conclusion already drawn—the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein—by using slanted, altered, and sometimes entirely fabricated “intelligence.” The White House proceeded to “dismantle the existing filtering process that for 50 years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information.” Savage goes one step farther. He will write that the presentation is part of a larger White House strategy to alter the balance of power between the presidency and a key element of the bureaucracy. By setting up a politically controlled alternative intelligence filtering system, he will write, “the administration succeeded in diminishing the power of the CIA’s information bureaucracy to check the White House’s desired course of action.” (Savage 2007, pp. 294)
The Third US Court of Appeals in Philadelphia rules 2-1 to uphold the Bush administration’s claim of blanket secrecy regarding immigration deportation hearings (see September 21, 2001). The ruling directly contradicts a ruling by the Sixth Appeals Court on the same issue (see August 26, 2002). Chief Judge Edward Becker, a Reagan appointee, rules that if a president or his top advisers decide that blanket closure of immigration deportation hearings is needed to protect national security, then the courts should defer to their judgment. “We are quite hesitant to conduct a judicial inquiry into the credibility of these security concerns, as national security is an area where courts have traditionally extended great deference to executive expertise.” Usually when two appellate courts conflict in their rulings, the Supreme Court settles the issue. However, the Bush administration does not appeal the loss in the other case, as the 9/11-related immigration sweeps are already concluded. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write, “As a result, even though four of the six appeals court judges who reviewed the… directive rejected it as unconstitutional, the administration managed to create a precedent for a presidential power to impose blanket secrecy over immigration hearings that stands in forty-six states—everywhere except the Sixth Circuit’s Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.” (Savage 2007, pp. 95-96)
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), learns disturbing information about detainees in US custody being abused at the Guantanamo detention facility. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals. Brant, an experienced law enforcement officer, finds what his task force agents tell him about interrogations at Guantanamo troubling. According to his agents, who have examined the interrogation logs, the military intelligence interrogators seem poorly trained and frustrated by their lack of success. Brant learns that the interrogators are engaging in ever-escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse, using tactics that Brant will later describe as “repugnant.” Much of his information comes from NCIS psychologist Michael Gelles, who has access to the Army’s top-secret interrogation logs at Guantanamo. (Mayer 2/27/2006; Sands 5/2008) Gelles learned of the torture techniques being used at Guantanamo while reading through those logs for an internal study. He is taken aback at what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a meticulously bureaucratic, minute-by-minute account of physical torments and degradation being inflicted on prisoners by American servicemen and women.” (Savage 2007, pp. 178) Brant will later recall that Gelles “is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists.” Therefore, when Gelles tells Brant that he finds the logs “shocking,” Brant takes it seriously. One of the most horrific cases is that of Mohamed al-Khatani (see December 17, 2002). (Mayer 2/27/2006; Sands 5/2008) Brant says that NCIS will pull its interrogators out of Guantanamo if the abuses continue, and goes to the Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, for help (see December 17-18, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 178)
District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” (Associated Press 12/9/2002) Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. (Savage 2007, pp. 112) The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. (Yost 12/6/2002) That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. (Dean 2004, pp. 76-80) Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14) In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” (Savage 2007, pp. 112-113)
The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, declines to appeal a case attempting to force Vice President Cheney to disclose his Energy Task Force documents (see May 16, 2001, February 22, 2002, and December 9, 2002). This ends a potentially historic showdown between the Congressional watchdog agency and the executive branch. (Simon 2/8/2003) It is widely believed that the suit is dropped because of pressure from the Republican Party—the suit was filed when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and this decision comes shortly after the Republicans gained control of it. (Milbank 2/8/2003) The head of the GAO denies the lawsuit is dropped because of Republican threats to cut his office’s budget, but US Comptroller General David Walker, who led the case, says there was one such “thinly veiled threat” last year by a lawmaker he wouldn’t identify. (Cornwell 2/25/2003) Another account has Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and a number of other congresspeople making the threat to Walker. (Brand and Bolton 2/19/2003) The GAO has previously indicated that accepting defeat in this case would cripple its ability to oversee the executive branch. (Milbank 2/8/2003) A similar suit filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club continues to move forward, but will ultimately be defeated by the Supreme Court (see May 10, 2005). (Milbank 2/8/2003)
Picking Its Battles - Walker explains that to continue the case “would require investment of significant time and resources over several years.” Later, he will say that he decided not to appeal the case for what reporter Charlie Savage will call “damage-control reasons.” Walker does not want to involve the GAO in what he fears will be perceived as a partisan conflict, and he does not want to risk further crippling the GAO’s ability to function by risking another negative ruling from a federal appeals court. “If the GAO was going to fight that legal battle,” Savage will write in explanation of Walker’s reasoning, “it was strategically unwise to use a case that involved records inside the White House itself instead of a less prominent part of the executive branch.” (Savage 2007, pp. 113)
Refusal to Appeal 'Stunning' - In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that he finds the GAO’s decision not to appeal the ruling “stunning.” Walker says the GAO isn’t going to challenge the ruling because it does not materially affect the GAO’s ability to function because the “decision did not address the merits” of the GAO’s arguments. The ruling, Walker says, “has no effect on GAO’s statutory audit rights or the obligation of agencies to provide GAO with information.” Dean calls this line of reasoning “wishful thinking at its best.” Dean will ask a high-level GAO official about the reported threats from Congressional Republicans. The official will reply that the threats did not worry Walker and the GAO lawyers nearly as much as the possibility that, if the GAO were to pursue the lawsuit, then, Dean will write, “the Supreme Court could do again what it did in Bush v. Gore and make Walker v. Cheney the landmark ruling ending virtually all Congressional oversight.” But lawyers for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) say that the ruling as it stands places severe restrictions on Congressional oversight. As Dean puts it: “The GAO has lost not only standing to file a lawsuit but the leverage of the threat of filing such a lawsuit, should an executive department or agency stonewall the way Cheney did. The GAO must now simply take what the White House (and its many appendages…) volunteers. This has never before been the case. [The GAO] will see only what Bush and Cheney want it to see.” The CRS notes that the ruling “calls into question the ability of Congress to delegate investigative authority to its agents;” Dean will write that this “may be the true reason for the lawsuit and for Cheney’s actions.” (Dean 2004, pp. 80-81)
'Big Win' for Bush/Cheney - Constitutional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution will call the ruling a “big win” for the Bush-Cheney administration, saying: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have an extreme and relentless executive-centered conception of American government, and it plays out every day, and there are dozens of fronts in this effort to strengthen the presidency. Power naturally gravitates to the presidency in times of uncertainty. But people are going to question putting all of our trust in an unfetttered presidency.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein is more blunt. “Now they have a precedent that they can hold over Congress’s head,” he will say. “Like a loaded gun. Forever.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15)
US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, appointed to the bench by former President Bill Clinton, rules that the Bush administration is within the law in refusing to release documents pertaining to pardons issued by Clinton to Congress (see August 21, 2001 and December 13, 2001). Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton accuses Kessler of endorsing the Bush administration’s claim of executive privilege in order to protect Clinton’s reputation. The White House hails the ruling, and spokesman Scott McClellan notes that the courts have now recognized that the privilege “applies to former, current, and future presidents.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that the ruling hands “the Bush-Cheney legal team another victory in its bid to expand the White House’s power to keep its inner workings secret.” (Savage 2007, pp. 99)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signs a memo on interrogation methods approving 24 of the 35 techniques recommended by the Pentagon working group (see April 4, 2003) earlier in the month. The new set of guidelines, to be applied to prisoners at Guantanamo and Afghanistan, is a somewhat softer version of the initial interrogation policy that Rumsfeld approved in December 2002 (see December 2, 2002). (Roth and Malinowski 5/3/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/13/2004; Roth 5/13/2004; Hendron 5/22/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004; Bravin 6/7/2004; MSNBC 6/23/2004; Cohn 6/28/2004) Several of the techniques listed are ones that the US military trains Special Forces to prepare for in the event that they are captured by enemy forces (see December 2001 and July 2002). (Risen, Johnston, and Lewis 5/13/2004)
Two Classes of Methods - The list is divided into two classes: tactics that are authorized for use on all prisoners and special “enhanced measures” that require the approval of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The latter category of methods includes tactics that “could cause temporary physical or mental pain,” like “sensory deprivation,” “stress positions,” “dietary manipulation,” forced changes in sleep patterns, and isolated confinement. (Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004; Roth 5/13/2004) Other techniques include “change of scenery down,” “dietary manipulation,” “environmental manipulation,” and “false flag.” The first 18 tactics listed all appear in the 1992 US Army Field Manual (FM) 34-52, with the exception of the so-called “Mutt-and-Jeff” approach, which is taken from an obsolete 1987 military field manual (1987 FM 34-52). (USA Today 6/22/2004) The approved tactics can be used in conjunction with one another, essentially allowing interrogators to “pile on” one harsh technique after another. Categories such as “Fear Up Harsh” and “Pride and Ego Down” remain undefined, allowing interrogators to interpret them as they see fit. And Rumsfeld writes that any other tactic not already approved can be used if he gives permission. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “In other words, there were no binding laws and treaties anymore—the only limit was the judgment and goodwill of executive branch officials. ” (Savage 2007, pp. 181) The use of forced nudity as a tactic is not included in the list. The working group rejected it because its members felt it might be considered inhumane treatment under international law. (Lindlaw 6/23/2004)
Result of Discussions among Pentagon Officials - The memo, marked for declassification in 2013 (Cohn 6/28/2004) , is the outcome, according to Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dell’Orto, of discussions between Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and General Richard Myers. (Washington File 6/23/2004) One US official explains: “There are very specific guidelines that are thoroughly vetted. Everyone is on board. It’s legal.” However in May 2004, it will be learned that there was in fact opposition to the new guidelines. Pentagon lawyers from the Army Judge Advocate General’s office had objected (see May 2003 and October 2003) and many officials quietly expressed concerns that they might have to answer for the policy at a later date (see (April 2003)). (Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004; Roth 5/13/2004)
President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. (Savage 2007, pp. 188)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that it will not permit pharmacies to sell the emergency contraception drug “Plan B” without a prescription. The drug is a “morning-after” birth-control drug that prevents fertilization and the implantation of the embryo. The agency explains to the manufacturer of the drug, Barr Pharmaceuticals, that the government is worried about the possibility that teenaged girls might not understand how to correctly use the drug without a doctor’s advice. The FDA’s decision is in direct contradiction of a federal advisory panel’s 23-4 decision to recommend approving the drug for over-the-counter sales, including to teenagers, without a doctor’s approval. The FDA’s staff recommended that the agency follow the panel’s recommendation. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Normally, agencies such as the FDA base their decisions on the information provided by their expert advisory panels—but, strangely, not this time.” A spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) says: “By overruling a recommendation by an independent FDA review board, the White House is putting its own political interests ahead of sound medical policies that have broad support. This White House is more interested in appealing to its electoral base than it is in protecting women’s health.” James Trussell, director of the office of population research at Princeton University and a member of the advisory board, says, “The White House has now taken over the FDA.” Numerous women’s groups accuse the FDA’s political appointees of overruling the experts in order to please social conservatives who believe that the “Plan B” drug encourages promiscuity and is a form of abortion. In the following months, a lawsuit will be filed to have the FDA’s decision overturned (see January 21, 2005 and After). (Harris 3/7/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 300-301)
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith (see June 17, 2004), Deputy Attorney General Jack Comey, and Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin brief reporters on the OLC’s decision to withdraw the department’s memos authorizing torture (see June 22, 2004). Comey explains that the statements about potential defenses against war crimes charges, and the commander in chief’s power to ignore anti-torture laws and treaties, are nothing more than “broad academic theories” that had never actually been relied upon to formulate policy. The “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) is “under review and will be replaced with analysis limited to the legality of actual al-Qaeda interrogation practices and the torture statutes and other applicable laws.” Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the memos causes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later term “a final burst of apoplexy among the hard-liners on the Bush-Cheney legal team.” OLC lawyer John Yoo, who authored many of the withdrawn memos, will later write that Goldsmith’s decision set “a terrible precedent” and rendered “Justice Department judgments on the law… just one more political target open to political attack and political negotiations.” Yoo will accuse Goldsmith and Comey of being “too worried about public perceptions” of the department’s work. (Savage 2007, pp. 190-191)
In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” (Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al. 6/28/2004) Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” (Dean 2007, pp. 105)
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made 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.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” (Savage 2007, pp. 193-194)
Accused terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi returns to Saudi Arabia aboard a US military jet. Earlier in 2004, the US Supreme Court ruled that the US government could not continue to hold Hamdi, a US citizen, as an enemy combatant without allowing him to challenge that status (see June 28, 2004). The US government was still free to bring charges against him but instead chose to negotiate with his attorneys about a release. In exchange for his release, Hamdi agrees to renounce his US citizenship and pledge never to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Syria, the Palestinian West Bank, or Gaza. He must also report any intent to travel outside Saudi Arabia. (CNN 10/14/2004)
'Shocking Admission' of Lack of Criminal Case against Hamdi - Andrew Cohen comments in the Los Angeles Times, “If Hamdi is such a minor threat today that he can go back to the Middle East without a trial or any other proceeding, it’s hard not to wonder whether the government has been crying wolf all these years.” He calls the release “a shocking admission from the government that there is not now, and probably never has been, a viable criminal case against Hamdi.” (Cohen 8/16/2004)
Hamdi Case Used to Set Favorable Precedent? - Author and reporter Charlie Savage will agree with Cohen. “Hamdi’s release meant that a prisoner who the White House had once sworn was too dangerous to be allowed access to a lawyer was now going free—just like hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo who were held without trial for years and then quietly released,” Savage will write. He will note that many administration critics believe Hamdi’s case had been used as a tool by the administration to get a favorable judicial precedent and, once that precedent had been put in place, the administration had no more use for Hamdi and threw him out of the country rather than actually continue with a problematic trial or legal proceeding. (Savage 2007, pp. 199-200)
US District Judge James Robertson rules that the Combatant Status Review Tribunal being held at the Guantanamo base in Cuba to determine the status of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan is unlawful and cannot continue. At the time of the decision, Hamdan is before the Guantanamo military commission. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Locy 11/9/2004) The commission system, as set up by White House lawyers David Addington and Timothy Flanigan three years before (see Late October 2001), gives accused terrorists such as Hamdan virtually no rights; in author and reporter Charlie Savage’s words, “the [Bush] administration had crafted rules that would make it easy for prosecutors to win cases.” (Savage 2007, pp. 195-196)
Violation of Geneva Conventions - Robertson, in his 45-page opinion, says the government should have conducted special hearings to determine whether detainees qualified for prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions at the time of capture. (Locy 11/9/2004) He says that the Bush administration violated the Geneva Conventions when it designated prisoners as enemy combatants, denied them POW protections, and sent them to Guantanamo. (Savage 11/9/2004) The Combatant Status Review Tribunals that are currently being held in response to a recent Supreme Court decision (see June 28, 2004) are inadequate, Robertson says, because their purpose is to determine whether detainees are enemy combatants, not POWs, as required by the Third Geneva Convention. (Locy 11/9/2004)
Rejects Claims of Presidential Power - Robertson also rejects the administration’s claim that the courts must defer to the president in a time of war. “The president is not a ‘tribunal,’” the judge says. (Locy 11/9/2004) Robertson, a Clinton appointee, thus squarely opposes both the president’s military order of November 13, 2001 (see November 13, 2001) establishing the possibility of trial by military tribunal, and his executive order of February 7, 2002 (see February 7, 2002) declaring that the Geneva Conventions do not to apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. “The government has asserted a position starkly different from the positions and behavior of the United States in previous conflicts,” Robertson writes, “one that can only weaken the United States’ own ability to demand application of the Geneva Conventions to Americans captured during armed conflicts abroad.” (Locy 11/9/2004; Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004)
Orders Military Courts-Martial - Robertson orders that until the government conducts a hearing for Hamdan before a competent tribunal in accordance with the Third Geneva Conventions, he can only be tried in courts-martial, according to the same long-established military rules that apply to trials for US soldiers. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004) Robertson’s ruling is the first by a federal judge to assert that the commissions are illegal. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004)
Hearings Immediately Recessed - When word of Robertson’s ruling comes to Guantanamo, Colonel Peter Brownback, presiding over a pretrial hearing for Hamdan, immediately gavels the hearing closed, declaring an “indefinite recess” for the tribunal. (Savage 2007, pp. 195-196)
Ruling Applauded by Civil Libertarians, Rejected by Bush Lawyers - Anthony Romero, director of the American Civil Liberties Union; Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice; and Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, all applaud Robertson’s ruling. (Savage 11/9/2004) The Bush administration rejects the court’s ruling and announces its intention to submit a request to a higher court for an emergency stay and reversal of the decision. “We vigorously disagree.… The judge has put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war,” Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says. “The Constitution entrusts to the president the responsibility to safeguard the nation’s security. The Department of Justice will continue to defend the president’s ability and authority under the Constitution to fulfill that duty.” (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004) He also says that the commission rules were “carefully crafted to protect America from terrorists while affording those charged with violations of the laws of war with fair process.” (Savage 11/9/2004)
Ruling May Affect Other Detainees - Though the ruling technically only applies to Hamdan, his civilian attorney, Neal Katyal, says it could affect other detainees. “The judge’s order is designed only to deal with Mr. Hamdan’s case,” Katyal says. “But the spirit of it… extends more broadly to potentially everything that is going on here at Guantanamo.” (Locy 11/9/2004)
Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. (Savage 2007, pp. 213)
Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” (US Department of Justice 8/15/2005; Parry 2/8/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 199) Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. (Savage 2007, pp. 199)
John Roberts is approved by the Senate to become the new chief justice of the US Supreme Court, replacing the recently deceased William Rehnquist (see September 5, 2005). Roberts, who once clerked for Rehnquist while Rehnquist was an associate justice, also served in the Reagan Justice Department and as an associate counsel to then-President Reagan. He was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. George W. Bush appointed him to the DC Circuit Court in 2001. (White House 9/29/2005) Roberts was originally nominated to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, but when Rehnquist died, Bush quickly withdrew the nomination for associate justice and refiled Roberts’s name for chief justice.
Characteristics and History - Roberts appeals to conservatives for a number of reasons; he has a powerful legal intellect, is soft-spoken, personable, and telegenic, and has not been outspoken about his views on issues like abortion and the right to privacy. Law professor Stephen Wermiel, who knows Roberts well, said in July that Roberts is not “somebody who… comes off as gruff or overbearing, which some people will recall was a factor in the [Robert] Bork hearings in 1987” (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Wermiel called Roberts’s nomination “a stroke of brilliance on the White House’s part.” One area of controversy surrounds Roberts’s work with Governor Jeb Bush of Florida during the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, where Roberts helped construct the strategies used in the Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Another is Roberts’s membership in the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative activist judges, lawyers, and legal thinkers. A third is his advocacy, during his time with the first Bush administration, for scrapping decades of law providing for the separation of church and state in order to allow prayer in public schools. (Neary 7/20/2005) Four days before President Bush nominated him to the Court, Roberts voted in favor of upholding the Bush administration’s assertions about its wartime powers in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), ruling that Bush need not consult Congress before setting up military commissions, and ruling that Bush is not bound by the strictures of the Geneva Convention. Liberals are unhappy with his stance against abortion, his representation as a private attorney of corporate mining interests seeking to dodge environmental regulations and of businesses trying to evade affirmative action requirements, as well as his attempts to curb environmentalists’ efforts to save endangered species. In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage will write that while progressives and liberals busily attacked Roberts for his positions on various “hot-button” issues, “[a]lmost lost amid the hubbub was” Roberts’s “unwavering commitment to the [expansion of] presidential power,” dating back to his 1980-81 clerkship under Rehnquist and his tenure as a White House lawyer under Ronald Reagan (see June-July 1983, October 1983, February 13, 1984, and May 16, 1984). (Savage 2007, pp. 251-255)
Quick Confirmation - The Senate agreed to expedite Roberts’s confirmation process in order to allow him to preside over the next session of the Supreme Court in October, and so gave its members little time to peruse his record. Roberts sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and is confirmed by a 78-22 vote. Roberts hit a brief snag when he divulged that he had met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just six days before hearing oral arguments in the Hamdan case, had met with Vice President Cheney and a select coterie of top White House officials while considering his verdict, and had met with Bush for the president’s final approval on the Court nomination the same day that he handed down his favorable ruling. Though 22 Democrats vote against his confirmation, because Roberts’s ascension to the Court does not change the ideological balance among the nine justices (Roberts is replacing the equally conservative Rehnquist), Senate Democrats decided not to filibuster his nomination. (Dean 2007, pp. 154-155; Savage 2007, pp. 252)
After President Bush successfully places conservative judge John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court (see September 29, 2005), he names White House counsel and personal friend Harriet Miers to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor on the Court.
Firestorm of Criticism - The media reacts adversely to this; Miers is said to be insufficiently qualified for the position and to have been chosen because of her loyalty to Bush. Her nomination is further derailed by opposition from hard-line conservatives, who do not believe she is conservative enough in her beliefs, particularly on abortion. Miers is certainly a weak choice from most viewpoints—she has no constitutional law experience and lacks a reputation as a strong legal thinker. She has never been a judge, nor even published an academic law journal article. Even conservative stalwart Robert Bork, who is still a center of controversy from his failed Court nomination (see July 1-October 23, 1987), calls Miers’s nomination “a disaster on every level.” When a letter Miers had written Bush for his birthday in 1997 is published in the media—in which Miers gushed over Bush in breathless, almost schoolgirlish prose, calling him “cool!” and “the best governor ever!”—the derision hits a fever pitch. When she submits a questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee listing her background and qualifications for the job, a questionnaire almost devoid of pertinent and specific information, the ranking members of the committee threaten to have her do it over, a humiliation she avoids by withdrawing her name from consideration.
Trumped-Up Dispute over Executive Privilege - The Senate asks to see Miers’s White House memos to judge the quality of her legal work, and the White House refuses, citing executive privilege. Many view the dispute as a trumped-up conflict designed to allow the Bush administration to save what little face it can in the debacle; neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer had suggested engineering just such a “conflict” to stage “irreconcilable differences over documents” that would allow the Bush White House to withdraw Miers’s nomination over the issue.
Withdrawal - Miers indeed asks Bush to withdraw her nomination, and Bush cites the documents dispute in announcing the decision to pull Miers from consideration: “It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House—disclosures that would undermine a president’s ability to receive candid counsel,” Bush says. “Harriet Miers’s decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers—and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.” Bush settles on another nominee, Samuel Alito, to replace O’Connor (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006). (Savage 2007, pp. 262-266; Dean 2007, pp. 155)
Staunch Advocate for Expanded Executive Power - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that, in his view, the Bush administration chose Miers for a simple reason: she is a staunch advocate for the continued expansion of presidential power. “Miers… could be counted on to embrace Bush’s expansive view of presidential powers,” he will write. Miers is quite loyal to Bush “and, through him, the institution he represented.” Miers’s adoration of Bush on a personal level would further guarantee her “solid support for any presidential claim of power that might come before the Court,” he will write. “Like Roberts before her, she was an executive branch lawyer who identified with the task of defending the prerogatives of the president.” On the questionnaire she submits to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Miers writes that as White House counsel, she has gained significant constitutional experience in “presidential prerogatives, the separation of powers, executive authority, and the constitutionality of proposed regulations and statutes.… My time serving in the White House, particularly as counsel to the president, has given me a fuller appreciation of the role of the separation of powers in maintaining our constitutional system. In that role, I have frequently dealt with matters concerning the nature and role of the executive power.” (Savage 2007, pp. 265-267)
The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” (Savage 2007, pp. 220)
Federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, widely considered to be such a reliably conservative supporter of the Bush administration that he is a potential Supreme Court nominee and the author of a highly favorable ruling in the Jose Padilla detention case (see October 9, 2005), is infuriated by the administration’s decision not to charge Padilla with the lurid array of terrorism-related charges it had alleged in Luttig’s courtroom (see November 22, 2005). Luttig believes that he and the rest of the appeals court judges were misled into making a ruling favorable to the administration. Luttig issues a supplementary opinion accusing the White House of manipulating the judicial process to ensure the Supreme Court could not review the precedent his opinion set. The Padilla indictment raises serious questions about the credibility of the government’s accusations against Padilla, and, Luttig writes, leaves “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even justifiably, by mistake.” Luttig and his colleagues take the unusual step of blocking Padilla’s transfer from military custody into the hands of the Justice Department. The move is aimed at attempting to keep the possibility open of a Supreme Court hearing on the Padilla matter, and giving the Court the chance to reverse Luttig’s precedent. The Court will quickly overrule Luttig’s attempt to keep Padilla in military custody and will dismiss Padilla’s appeal because he is no longer classified as an enemy combatant. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write: “Just as Luttig had feared, the maneuver ensured that his precedent—written on the assumption that the administration was telling the truth when it said it had good evidence that Padilla was plotting attacks on US soil—was left intact.” Luttig’s move sours his relations with the White House and dooms whatever chance he may have had to be nominated for the high court. He will soon resign from his life-tenured position on the appeals court and take the position of general counsel for Boeing. (Savage 2007, pp. 200-201)
The Justice Department (DOJ) issues a 42-page “white paper” detailing its arguments that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006) is legal. The DOJ reiterates two previous arguments (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005)—that Congress implicitly authorized the program in 2001 when it authorized the Bush administration to begin military actions against al-Qaeda (see September 14-18, 2001), and that the president has the authority as commander in chief to conduct such a program—even though these arguments have been thoroughly refuted (see January 9, 2006) and overridden by the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling (see December 15, 2005 and July 8, 2006). In its paper, the DOJ declares that if necessary, it will attack the legality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to stop that law from “imped[ing]” the president’s power to order domestic surveillance. In essence, according to columnist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, the DOJ is asserting that the president’s powers are limitless as long as he or she declares a given action necessary to battle terrorism. “Because the president has determined that the NSA activities are necessary to the defense of the United States from a subsequent terrorist attack in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, FISA would impermissibly interfere with the president’s most solemn constitutional obligation—to defend the United States against foreign attack,” the DOJ claims. Neither Congress nor the court system has the right to limit or even review the president’s powers, according to the DOJ. Greenwald calls the DOJ’s argument “a naked theory of limitless presidential power.” In fact, Greenwald argues, the DOJ is asserting that FISA itself is unconstitutional, because no law can in any way limit the president’s power to conduct foreign policy or protect the nation’s security. The document is part of a larger Bush administration defense of the USA Patriot Act, and part of the administration’s push to convince Congress to reauthorize that legislation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends the document to Congress. Justice Department official Steven Bradbury says, “When it comes to responding to external threats to the country… the government would like to have a single executive who could act nimbly and agilely.” (US Department of Justice 1/19/2006 ; Glenn Greenwald 1/20/2006; Leonnig 1/20/2006)
Dubious Legality - The program has already been found to be of questionable legality by two reports recently released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (see January 5, 2006 and January 18, 2006). And author James Bamford, a US intelligence expert who has written extensively about the NSA, says that the Justice Department’s arguments are specious in light of Congress’s clear intent in its 1978 passage of FISA to block warrantless wiretapping, and its demonstrated lack of intent to allow any such operations within US borders in the October 2001 legislation. “You could review the entire legislative history in the authorization to use military force and I guarantee you won’t find one word about electronic surveillance,” he says. “If you review the legislative history of FISA, you will find Attorney General Griffin Bell testifying before the intelligence committee saying this was specifically passed to prevent a president from claiming inherent presidential powers to do this again.” (Leonnig 1/20/2006)
Self-Contradictory Justifications - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write of the “shaky foundation” supporting the administration’s “two-pronged attacks on critics of the wiretapping program and the Patriot Act,” which some officials have claimed authorizes the program. “Beneath the simplistic rhetoric, the administration’s position was self-contradicting,” Savage will write. If Bush has the inherent presidential authority to order warrantless wiretapping, then he needs no authorization from the Patriot Act or any other legislation. But if Congress is endangering the nation by delaying in reauthorizing the Patriot Act and thusly not rendering the program legal, then the wiretapping program is illegal after all. The memo attempts to “paper… over” this problem by claiming that, while Bush has the inherent authority to do whatever he feels is necessary to protect the country, the Patriot Act’s extra police powers are still necessary in “contexts unrelated to terrorism.” Savage will write, “In other words, the administration’s own position, hidden in the fine print, was that the Patriot Act was superfluous and irrelevant to the war on terrorism—a somewhat absurd stance made necessary by their desire to say the wiretapping program was legal.” (Savage 2007, pp. 315)
Failure to Address Probable Beginning of Program Before Attacks - The Justice Department says nothing about the program apparently beginning well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the detainees at Guantanamo, releases a report on the status of 517 prisoners currently incarcerated at the detention facility. Denbeaux bases his report on documents released by the US military. Eighty-six percent of the detainees had been sold to the US by either Northern Alliance or Pakistani soldiers in Afghanistan during the height of military operations in 2001, with little hard evidence that the captives sold to the Americans were actually Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters. Military analysts concluded that only 8 percent of the Guantanamo detainees had committed attacks on US forces or its allies, and another 30 percent of the detainees were likely members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or other radical Islamist groups before their capture, though they themselves had not fought. Over 60 percent of the detainees—some 310 of the 517 detainees—had no ties to terrorist or radical groups whatsoever. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Such facts might have emerged had the detainees been given hearings before a ‘competent tribunal,’ a right guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and obeyed by the United States in every war up to and including the Gulf War.” (Denbeaux and Denbeaux 2/7/2006 ; Savage 2007, pp. 147-148)
Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of the president’s wartime authority and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens (see December 15, 2005). “This is a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United States,” Fein tells the committee. “The theory invoked by the president to justify eavesdropping by the NSA in contradiction to FISA (see April 30, 1986 and October 23, 2001) would equally justify mail openings, burglaries, torture, or internment camps, all in the name of gathering foreign intelligence. Unless rebuked it will lie around like a loaded weapon, ready to be used by any incumbent who claims an urgent need.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write concerning Fein’s statement: “[A] president had secretly claimed the power to ignore a law, and then he had acted on that power. In so doing, the Bush-Cheney administration unleashed imperial power. Even if they had not personally abused their power, there was no guarantee that future presidents would show the same restraint. Moreover, there was no difference in principle between the warrant law [FISA] and any other law that regulates how the president can carry out his national security responsibilities. By demonstrating that a president can set aside a statute or treaty at will, the administration had set a precedent that future presidents, liberal and conservative alike, would be able to cite when they, too, wanted to violate a legal restriction on their power.” (Savage 2007, pp. 133-134)
Legal scholars and constitutional experts decry President Bush’s claim that he can ignore or disobey laws with impunity. An examination by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage finds that to date, Bush has claimed the authority to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office (see January 20, 2001 and After, After September 11, 2001, January 27, 2002, November 5, 2002, March 12, 2004 and After, November 6, 2003, December 2004, December 17, 2004, Dec. 23, 2004, January 17, 2005, August 8, 2005, October 18, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 23, 2006). He claims that as president, he has the power to override any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. While the Constitution assigns Congress the power to write the laws and the president the duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Bush asserts that he has no mandate to “execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional. Administration spokespersons have repeatedly said that Bush “will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution,” but it is Bush who decides what is and is not constitutional. Many legal scholars disagree with Bush’s position, and accuse him of attempting to usurp Congressional power for himself.
Philip Cooper - Law professor Phillip Cooper says over the Bush administration’s tenure, it has relentlessly worked to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House. “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government,” Cooper says. “This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”
Christopher Kelley - Political science professor Christopher Kelley notes that Bush uses signing statements to abrogate Congressional powers in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional mandates. “He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises—and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” Kelley says.
David Golove - Law professor David Golove says Bush has besmirched “the whole idea that there is a rule of law” because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore. “Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional,” Golove says. To the extent that Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Golove notes, he threatens to “overturn the existing structures of constitutional law.” When a president ignores the Court and is not restrained by a Congress that enables his usurpations, Golove says, the Constitution can be made to simply “disappear.” Golove adds, “Bush has essentially said that ‘We’re the executive branch and we’re going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.’”
Jack Beerman - Law professor Jack Beermann says: “The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they’re not taking action because they don’t want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans. Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party.”
Steven Calabresi - Former Justice Department official Steven Calabresi, who came up with the idea of using signing statements to counter Congressional powers during the Reagan administration (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), now says, “I think what the administration has done in issuing no vetoes and scores of signing statements (see September 2007) is not the right way to approach this.”
Bruce Fein - Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein says: “This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.” (Savage 4/30/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 243)
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that the government has the right to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information. “There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility,” he says during an ABC News interview. “That’s a policy judgment by the Congress in passing that kind of legislation. We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected.” Asked if he is considering prosecuting the New York Times for revealing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005), Gonzales says the Justice Department is trying to determine “the appropriate course of action in that particular case.” He continues: “I’m not going to talk about it specifically. We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity.” Experts believe that Gonzales is probably referring to the 1917 Espionage Act, which prohibits government officials from passing classified information to anyone without proper clearance; those same experts say that the Espionage Act was never intended to apply to the press. Furthermore, journalists are protected from such prosecution by the First Amendment. Gonzales says that while the Bush administration respects the right of freedom of the press, “it can’t be the case that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity.” (Liptak 5/22/2006) Thirty years ago, then-White House chief of staff Dick Cheney recommended such prosecution against a journalist who revealed the existence of a Cold War-era submarine program (see May 25, 1975). In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that in 1975, the attorney general had scuttled the idea. Now, the attorney general is embracing the idea. (Savage 2007, pp. 175-176)
The Bush administration imposes what reporter and author Charlie Savage will later call “unprecedented controls” on scientists working with the US Geological Survey (USGS), an agency that studies environmental issues such as global warming and endangered species. Now, USGS scientists must submit research papers and prepared speeches to White House officials for approval prior to dissemination. The rules also require the scientists to let the public affairs office know about “findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.” USGS scientists say that the restrictions mean that government officials are monitoring and censoring their work. “The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research,” says Jim Estes, a marine biologist who has worked for USGS since the 1970s. “But to me it feels like they’re doing this to keep us under their thumbs.” (Savage 2007, pp. 106-107)
Two weeks after a newly Democratic Congress is sworn in, President Bush issues an executive order directing every agency head to “designate one of the agency’s presidential [political] appointees to be its regulatory policy officer [RPO].” These officers are, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, “the president’s political enforcers, apparatchiks embedded inside each bureaucracy and empowered ‘to ensure the agency’s compliance’ with his mandates as the professionals went about making decisions on new regulations.” No new regulations or rules can be implemented without the approval of the RPO, allowing them to stop new regulations “before outsiders could learn that agency professionals had identified a health, safety, or environmental problem they thought was worth fixing.” The rule also prevents any rules from being enacted until an agency can identify a specific “market failure” that justifies government intervention instead of allowing businesses to identify and handle problems themselves. Congress had already decided that certain problems, particularly health and safety issues, should be handled through regulation. But now, Bush officials get to override Congress’s intent and allow permissive standards even when a regulation is justified. Business groups hail the decision as an aggressive new attempt to reduce “burdensome” regulations. Critics say that Bush is trying to reward special interests by choking off new rules corporate interests may oppose. The aspect of the order that gets little media attention is the abrogation of Congressional intent and the usurpation of power to the executive branch. The order “achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government,” says law professor Peter Strauss. “Having lost control of Congress, the president is doing everything he can to increase his control of the executive branch.” (Savage 2007, pp. 306-307)
Author and reporter Charlie Savage observes that the Bush administration went far beyond the Reagan-era vision of a “unitary executive” (see April 30, 1986). He writes that the administration decided early on—perhaps before taking office in January 2001—to combine the “unitary executive” theory with the older concept of the “inherent powers” of the presidency (see 1901-1909 and June 30, 1950). Savage writes: “The new and improved Unitary Executive Theory said that Congress could not regulate any executive power, but the theory said nothing about the potential scope of such power. When fused, the two theories transformed any conceivably inherent executive power into an exclusive one. The president could do virtually anything, without any check by Congress.” Savage notes that most legal experts from across the political spectrum have roundly rejected both theories, as has the Supreme Court (see June 2, 1952 and June 1988). “The Bush-Cheney administration legal team regularly ignored the existence of such precedents in its secret advisory opinions” (see November 16-17, 1987 and September 25, 2001). The Bush administration also used an unusual reading of Alexander Hamilton’s discussion of the executive branch’s “unity” in the Federalist Papers, article 70, in which Hamilton advocated that the president’s powers should not be limited by a body of lawmakers. As Savage points out, most legal scholars call this reading “extremely misleading,” and note that Hamilton was writing about the Founding Fathers’ decision to have a single president instead of an executive committee. In fact, Hamilton explicitly repudiated the idea of a “unitary executive” in Federalist 69. Savage writes: “Over and over again, the presidentialists’ most important legal writings failed to make any mention of Federalist 69, even as they selectively quoted tidbits of Federalist 70—and quoted them out of context—as proof for their power to act beyond the limits of statutes passed by Congress.” Conservative law professor Richard Epstein calls the Bush administration’s legal theory “just wrong,” and its lawyers’ failure to acknowledge Federalist 69 “scandalous.” Epstein says: “How can you not talk about Federalist 69? All you have to do is go on Google and put in ‘Federalist Papers’ and ‘commander in chief,’ and it pops up.” (Savage 2007, pp. 124-127)
President Bush has abused his prerogative to issue “signing statements” that state the White House’s interpretion of Congressionally passed laws (see Early 2005), according to former White House counsel John Dean and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.
History - Signing statements have no weight in law, but presidents have traditionally used them to state their belief that a particular legislative provision is unconstitutional, and on rare occasion (before the current president) to state their refusal to enforce that provision. Since Jimmy Carter’s administration, various Justice Department officials have said presidents can refuse to enforce a particular provision of signed, legally binding legislation. (Dean 2007, pp. 112-116) A group of young conservative lawyers in the Reagan administration decided that signing statements were a powerful, and stealthy, way to expand presidential power.
Dean: Bush's Use of Signing Statements 'Extraordinary' - However, Dean says that Bush has used signing statements far more extensively than any president before him. Dean notes that, while presidential signing statements themselves are not illegal or inherently wrong, “[i]t is Bush’s abuse of them that is extraordinary.” Dean writes there has been no concerted effort to find out if Bush is just saying he will not comply with the inordinate number of legislative provisions he has objected to, or if he is refusing to comply with them in practice. If the latter is the case, Dean writes, “he should be impeached immediately… because it would be an extraordinary breach of his oath” of office.
Tribe: Bush's Signing Statements 'Bizarre,' 'Reckless' - Dean cites Tribe, who said in 2006, “[W]hat is new and distressing [about Bush’s use of signing statements] is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views—and the suspicion that the president either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won’t be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches—declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.” (Dean 2007, pp. 112-116; Green 2007) Political science professor Christopher Kelley agrees. Kelley, who studied the Bush administration’s use of signing statements, says: “What we haven’t seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House. That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration.”
Signing Statements Supplanting Vetoes - In another disturbing trend, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, Bush is using signing statements to supplant the traditional presidential veto. By mid-2007, Bush had vetoed just two bills. In contrast, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, vetoed 37 bills. George H. W. Bush vetoed 44, and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Legal experts studying Bush’s signing statements conclude that Bush and his legal team are using signing statements to function almost as line-item vetoes, a power the president does not have. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Founding Fathers wanted the president to either accept a Congressional bill or reject it entirely, and if Congress overrode the veto, then the president had no other recourse than to follow the new law. But now, Savage writes, “the Bush-Cheney administration had figured out that if a president signed a bill and then instructed the government to consider selected provisions null (see December 30, 2005), he could accomplish much the same thing. Moreover, it was an absolute power because, unlike when there is a regular veto, Congress had no opportunity to override his legal judgments.” (Savage 2007, pp. 230-231)
The campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) says that if elected, McCain would retain the right to operate his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans. Like President Bush, McCain believes that the president’s “wartime” powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight. McCain’s campaign is also backing off on earlier assertions that more oversight is needed for telecom companies accused of illegally cooperating with the NSA’s domestic spying program; the campaign now says that McCain is for “unconditional immunity” from prosecution for telecoms. Campaign spokesman Doug Holtz-Eakin says: “[N]either the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.… We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.” The Article II citation has long been used by Bush officials to justify their contention that a president’s wartime powers are virtually unlimited. McCain’s stance directly contradicts a statement he made in December 2007, when he told Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage: “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.… I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” McCain’s campaign is so far refusing to respond to requests to explain the differences between his December assertions and those made today. (Singel 6/3/2008)
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