Bush's Spin on the War on Terror

Document Date: September 12, 2006

Like many of you, we at the ACLU watched President Bush’s address to the nation on Wednesday, September 6 with marked interest. Would he, at long last, come clean to the American people about the many illegal programs he’s authorized, in the name of national security, that instead chip away at our long tradition of freedom and civil liberties? Or would he again gloss over his many abuses of power and continue asserting that each of the secret programs he’s authorized have been entirely above board and lawful?

Sadly, it came as little surprise that President Bush’s speech was less than candid and forthright and was filled with half-truths and misrepresentations. So we’ve prepared this handy document to help you decipher some of his cleverly worded spin.

Read the original text of the president’s address here:

Bush’s spin on executive authority:
“…in the early days and weeks after 9/11, I directed out government’s senior national security officials to do everything in their power, within our laws, to prevent another attack.” (emphasis added)

The reality of Bush’s executive authority:
As demonstrated by the Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Judge Anna Diggs Taylor’s ruling in ACLU v. NSA, President Bush has gone well beyond the power of his office, and violated our rule of law.

In June, the Supreme Court found that that the military commissions system established by President Bush to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay is unfair and illegal. Specifically, the military commissions did not allow the defendant to see the evidence against him, did not prohibit the use of coerced testimony, allowed the use of hearsay evidence that would never be allowed in a typical criminal trial, and did not require prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence to the defendant. Without these basic protections, there would be little certainly about a defendant’s actual guilt or innocence.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor agreed with the ACLU that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program violates Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, and runs counter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed by Congress. Judge Taylor also rejected the government’s argument that the case could not proceed because of the need for secret evidence, finding that some facts about NSA wiretapping without the warrants required by law have already been acknowledged by the government.

Bush’s spin on military commissions:
“So today, I’m sending Congress legislation to specifically authorize the creation of military commissions to try terrorists for war crimes… We put forward a bill that ensures these commissions are established in a way that protects our national security, and ensures a full and fair trial for those accused. The procedures in the bill I am sending to Congress today reflect the reality that we are a nation at war, and that it’s essential for us to use all reliable evidence to bring these people to justice.” (emphasis added)

The reality about military commissions:
The reality isn’t nearly so rosy. President Bush’s draft proposal for military commissions still fails to meet the standards laid out by the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In that case, the court found the president’s initial military commission scheme was illegal because it violated Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the most basic standards regarding treatment of detainees.

The new proposal has nearly all of the same problems, and will eventually be found illegal as well. As before, the new proposal would still allow a person to be convicted based on secret evidence and would allow the use of evidence obtained as the result of horrific abuse. It would also give the president the power to designate anyone, anywhere as an enemy combatant, who would have not be given any right to challenge their detention in court and who would not necessarily even be subject to the military commissions proposed because even these procedures would be optional.

Bush’s spin on the U.S. policy of kidnapping and rendering people for torture:
“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

The reality of U.S. policy of kidnapping and rendering people for torture:
There is a growing public concern that President Bush is violating federal law and deeply held American values by ordering the secret kidnapping and transport of people to countries that are known to use torture and inhuman treatment, despite blanket assurances to the contrary.

Administration officials, backed by Department of Justice, have consistently argued that foreign nationals held at such facilities, outside the U.S., are unprotected by federal or international laws. Thus, the rendition program has allowed agents of the United States to detain foreign nationals without any legal process and, primarily through counterparts in foreign intelligence agencies, to employ brutal interrogation methods that would be impermissible under federal or international law, as a means of obtaining information from suspects. Information provided through torture is widely considered to be unreliable because prisoners will say almost anything to inquisitioners to make the pain stop.

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