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When Ed Boards Attack...

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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July 15, 2007

Okay, so there’s no liberal media bias—sorry boys and girls, you know it’s true—but one has to love the New York Times editorial board. Unlike the Washington Post’s cohort of professional fence-sitters, the Times hits all of the high notes in the Gitmo debate on this fine Sunday:

President Bush, of course, wants Congress to simply endorse his arrogation of power. The Times reported recently that the White House is seeking support for legislation that would permit the long-term detention of foreigners on American soil without charges or appeal, just on Mr. Bush’s say-so. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said “the biggest challenge is finding a statutory basis for holding prisoners who should never be released and who may or may not be able to be put on trial.”Challenge? The very idea is anathema to American democracy. Congress did harm enough by tolerating Mr. Bush’s lawless detainee policies, and then by passing the Military Commissions Act. Giving the president a dictator’s power to select people for detention without charges on American soil would be an utter betrayal of their oath to support and defend the Constitution, and of the founders’ vision of America.

That Gates point can’t be overemphasized. The new defense secretary has generally been painted as something of a white hat in these debates. From what we’re told, he realizes (unlike the hardcores in the Veep’s office) that the global PR disaster that is Gitmo endangers our troops, degrades our good name (such as it is these days) and makes his job harder.That said, he’s really not on the side of angels. Here, he’s propounding something entirely novel in the law and history of warfare (life detention on executive say-so). As the Times notes, that’s a creature heretofore unseen—unless you’re counting the Eastern Bloc.As Congress goes forward in closing Gitmo, which it almost certainly will in one form or another, it cannot allow the Gates position to win the day—we cannot just close Gitmo and deny our enemies the applause line without fixing the underlying detainee policies. We cannot allow illegal, indefinite detention to quietly go underground (perhaps quite literally).Also worth checking out today, investigative reporter John Solomon takes the Bush administration to task for neutering the Office of the President’s intelligence oversight subcommittee. Solomon ties it into Gonzales’s “dictionary” dissembling to Congress over FBI and intelligence community abuses. Here’s the lede-in:

An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress.Although the FBI told the board of a few hundred legal or rules violations by its agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the board did not identify which of them were indeed legal violations. This spring, it forwarded reports of violations in 2006, officials said.

Shocked! Shocked I say! But wait, there’s more:

The President’s Intelligence Oversight Board — the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community — is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes “may be unlawful.” The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration.

I think that calls for either an LMAO, a ROTFL, or possibly uncontrollable sobbing. I’m not sure which.At least Leahy’s still beating on the attorney general. Dude, deserves it:

Separately, Gonzales wrote the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), on Friday to defend his 2005 testimony that there had been no verified civil liberties abuses during the first three years of the efforts against terrorism. The Washington Post reported last week that the FBI had sent Gonzales a half-dozen reports of violations of civil liberties and privacy safeguards before his testimony.Gonzales wrote that he did not consider the conduct in those reports to be abuses because the violations involved mistakes, not deliberate misconduct. “My testimony was completely truthful, and I stand by that testimony,” he wrote.Leahy scoffed at Gonzales’s explanation. “The American people deserve an attorney general who will fully and accurately inform the Senate and the public about violations of civil liberties. Instead, they have one who misleads Congress and then hides behind dictionary definitions,” he said.

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