Published on Monday, April 10, 2006 by WorkingforChange.com
'L'etat, C'est Moi'
Bush Declares Himself Above the Law -- Has the First American Dictatorship Already Arrived?
by Geov Parrish
In 2003, while pledging to fire anyone in his administration found to have leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Wilson to journalists, President George Bush intoned that he did not know of "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."
Pick your favorite Bush quote on this topic; there are countless good ones, now that we learn that former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, when forced by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify under oath to save his own skin, fingered both Bush and his former boss, Dick Cheney. Libby testified that they both authorized the leaking of classified National Intelligence Estimate information on Iraq in July 2003 in order to defend the administration's decision to unilaterally invade Iraq. A president who has ordered the launching of widespread investigations to find leakers in the CIA and State Department, including the polygraphing of scores of intelligence professionals, the man who wants the NSA spying and CIA gulag whistleblowers prosecuted, is himself a leaker. And the same testimony revealed that Bush was aware at every step of the way of the ongoing campaign to publicly smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Wilson. Pick your sanctimonious Bush statements about that, too.
What. A. Freaking. Hypocrite.
And, as we've come to expect, a liar. Stop the presses. We're so accustomed to the lies of George Bush being uncovered after the fact, we don't even notice any longer.
And they thought Clinton's behavior brought disgrace to the Oval Office.
Beyond those obvious morsels, however, lies the disturbing legal rationale for the Bush/Cheney leak, offered up by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (naturally) and already arrived at Scott McClellan's mouth. The White House, tellingly, has not denied any of Libby's testimony (including the Wilson conspiracy). The leak was legal and proper, the defense goes, because the president's verbal authority is enough to declassify classified information, and by authorizing its release Bush automatically declassified it.
The White House is sticking to this story even though much of the cherry-picked NEI Iraq data was formally declassified ten days after the leak, so that the Bush administration could further defend its choice to invade. According to the White House, the later declassification shows that the NEI data wasn't all that important and that the leak didn't damage national security. But that misses the point. If Bush's word is enough to declassify classified information, why did the White House feel the need to "formally declassify" the material ten days later? Wasn't the deed already done, on Bush's sole verbal authority?
Now they're claiming that's the case, and the Bush NEI leak rationale follows an all-too-familiar theme: Bush cannot break the law, because Bush is the law. He can't leak a document, because if he says it's OK to release the document it's therefore by definition not a leak. Just like torture is illegal except when George says it's not. Or warrantless domestic wiretapping is illegal, except when he authorizes it.
Bush and the people around him appear to have genuinely believed, for at least the four and a half years since 9-11, that the President by definition is incapable of breaking the law. On his sole authority laws can be ignored, overridden, or changed. Even implicitly. Even retroactively, as when some unappetizing piece of this puzzle inadvertently comes to the public's attention.
Combine this with an administration more intent on secrecy and lack of transparency than any other in U.S. history, and you have a recipe for, well, a dictatorship. Which is exactly what it appears Bush and company believe they are operating in. Oh, of course, in normal times America is a democracy, but these aren't normal times, are they? Why? Because we're at war. Why are we at war? Because the President said so. How long will the war last? Several generations. After that, presumably, the Constitution will be in force again, and Congress and the courts can re-convene if they like.
The tendency will be for this leak headline, as with so many Bush scandals before it, to slip from the news after a few days, with the gutless Republican-controlled Congress rendered irrelevant and the Republican-appointed courts years away from final rulings on any of this nonsense. But the recurrent theme of a President and his administration which believe they are above the law -- Bush on his own say-so, and the rest of them acting on his presumed authority -- is more than a scandal. It is a direct challenge to the Constitution of the United States of America. You know, the "freedom" that politicians like Bush enjoy invoking when talking about the soldiers they're sending to kill and be killed in one or another illegal, pointless War On Brown People.
It is more evident than ever that this President and Vice President need to be impeached. Not because it is or isn't politically expedient; not even because their successors might be any better, or because it will be an advantage for one or another party in 2008. But because this sort of behavior in the most powerful job in the world must be punished, in the clearest possible manner. Justice demands it. Setting an example, to try to prevent similar abuses by future leaders from any party, demands it.
Otherwise, we might as well cancel that 2008 presidential election and be done with this farce we call an electoral process. Sooner or later, should Bush go unpunished, somebody in power is going to try to do exactly that sort of thing. When they do, they'll cite national security and the need for stable and experienced political leadership in a time of war, and when they do, they'll cite the precedents set by George Bush and permitted by the Congress, courts, and American public of his day. And our country's long, mostly successful experiment in representative democracy will be over.
Perhaps it already is.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot for WorkingForChange. He can be reached by email at email@example.com -- please indicate whether your comments may be used on WorkingForChange in an upcoming "letters" column.
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