Bush Administration's Appetite for Power is Never Satisfied
Published on Monday, September 22, 2003 by the St. Paul (Minnesota ) Pioneer Press
Bush Administration's Appetite for Power is Never Satisfied
by Rubin Navarrette
 

Now this is chutzpah. Nowhere near content with the extraordinary power it has been given to fight terrorists, the Bush administration is back demanding more. Unbowed by reports of rights being denied to hundreds of 9/11 detainees and growing criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike that anti-terrorism measures are making mincemeat of civil liberties, the White House has once again decided that the best defense is a good offense.

During a speech cynically staged to coincide with the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush pleaded that Congress "untie the hands" of law enforcement agencies and give them even more authority to apprehend potential terrorists.

Bush wants at least three things. He wants federal law enforcement agencies to be able to circumvent judges and grand juries with the issuance of "administrative subpoenas" in terrorism cases. He wants to expand federal death penalty statutes to cover more terrorism-related crimes. And he wants to make it easier to hold detainees in terrorism-related cases without bail.

ad ideas, one and all. The administration is in no position to ask for any additional power until it's ready to level with the American people about how it's using the power it already has. That hasn't happened, and it's no surprise. This is, after all, a White House that cultivated a reputation for secrecy even before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush insists that law enforcement agencies still face "unreasonable obstacles" in tracking down terrorists.

White House strategists were smart enough to put President Bush out front. They must believe that Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has been touring the country defending the administration's anti-terrorism efforts, has become a liability to the power-grabbing cause. Bush is still the administration's single-greatest asset, and so it made good political sense for him to carry the ball on this one.

The messenger may have changed, but the main strategy is still the same. Forget what you were taught in high school civics about how there are, in the United States, three equally important branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. If the folks at the White House and Justice Department could turn the rules of jurisprudence inside out and don't think they're not giving it their best shot they would have every aspect of the war on terrorism flow directly through the executive branch with no checks, no balances and no argument.

For the last two years, the White House has tried to get expanded powers to help federal law enforcement agents hunt down potential terrorists. And when it wasn't 100 percent sure it could get what it had in mind past the courts, it would lean on its Republican friends in Congress to pass new laws granting the new powers.

That is how we got the Patriot Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that makes it easier for federal agents to engage in domestic surveillance and look over people's medical and library records. Now, even some congressional Republicans such as Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin are showing buyer's remorse and going public with concerns that what the administration has in mind may go too far and infringe too much on civil liberties.

And so the White House has decided to go directly to the American people in the hopes that the citizenry will pressure Congress to give President Bush whatever he wants for as long as he wants it.

The American people shouldn't fall for it. They should see this for what it is the Potomac version of bait and switch. The administration won support for the Patriot Act by emphasizing that some of its most controversial provisions would "sunset" in five years; then, with the help of Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, it kicked off a campaign to make it permanent. It assuaged concerns about the power it had been given by emphasizing that there were limitations built in, such as the fact that judges and grand juries had to green-light surveillance requests; and now, it wants to eliminate those very limitations.

The administration promises that if it gets the tools it wants, it will protect us from terrorists. Swell.

But if it gets everything it wants, who's going to protect us from the administration?

Copyright 1996-2003 Knight Ridder

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