A Democrat Calls for Executive Accountability

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may have caused some
Democratic members of Congress to think that the constitutional
questions raised by the executive excesses of the Bush-Cheney era had
been resolved, just it may have cause some Republicans members of
Congress to start thinking about executive accountability.

But this personality-defined approach our battered system of checks
and balances is a throwback to the days of powerful monarches, when the
people of a country waited for the day when a bad king was replaced by
a good king.

The point of the American experiment was to replace the monarchy of
a bad king, George III, with a good republic where never again would
liberty and the rule of law be subsumed to the whims of royalty.

Essential to the American struggle from the start was an
understanding of the necessity of constraining the executive branch so
that no president -- be he (of she) good or bad -- could serve as what
Jefferson referred to as an "elected despot".

Ceding too much power to the executive branch, Madison warned, would allow a president to serve as "a king for four years."

Bush and Cheney served as monarchs, launching undeclared wars,
spying illegally, authorizing torture and attaching signing statements
to legislation with the intent of allowing themselves to operate
outside the rule of law.

Obama may be somewhat more responsible on some issues. After all, he
taught Constitutional law before swearing an oath to defend the

But to rely on one man, even a good man, to renew the system of checks and balances is as naive as it is dysfunctional.

Congress must act to renew the separation of powers and the whole of the Constitution.

"Over the past several years, serious questions have been raised
about the conduct of high ranking Bush/Cheney Administration officials
in relation to some of the most basic elements of our democracy:
respect for the rule of law, the principle of checks and balances, and
the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights," argues Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin,
a key member of the House Judiciary Committee. "We must restore
Americans' faith that in a democracy, we follow the rule of law and
that nobody - even the President and Vice President of the United
States - is above the law."

To that end, Baldwin has introduced the Executive Branch
Accountability Act of 2009 (H.Res. 417), which calls on President Obama
to reject and reverse the illegal actions of the Bush-Cheney
Administration and to work with Congress to restore a proper balance
between the legislative and executive branches of the federal

"President Obama has already begun the work of reaffirming American
values of justice and freedom. I commend him for his orders to close
the detention facility at Guantanamo and prohibit illegal and immoral
interrogation techniques," argues Baldwin.

But, she adds, "resident Obama's efforts to renew America must also
include restoring executive branch accountability. We had an
administration that spied on Americans, outed a covert intelligence
agent, suspended habeas corpus, held people without charges and without
access to counsel, and used torture and rendition. This measure lists
steps President Obama can take to proactively prevent any further
abuses of executive branch power and restore the public's faith in our

Specifically, Baldwin's legislation, the Executive Branch Accountability Act of 2009 calls on President Obama to:

1. Affirm our nation's commitment to uphold the Constitution;

2. Fully investigate Bush/Cheney administration officials' alleged crimes and hold them accountable for any illegal acts;

3. Hold accountable Bush/Cheney Administration officials who showed
or show contempt for the legal duty to comply with Congressional
subpoenas; disclosed the identity of any covert intelligence agent;
pursued politically-motivated prosecutions;

4. Ensure that any Bush/Cheney administration official guilty of a war
crime is prosecuted under the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Act;

5. Affirm that it is the sole legal right of Congress to declare war;
Criminalize lying to Congress and the American public about the reasons for going to war;

6. Restore the writ of habeas corpus as an essential principle of our democracy;

7. Ensure that torture and rendition are uniformly prohibited under United States law;

8. Responsibly close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp;
Ensure that Americans can bring claims against their government;

9. Immediately take affirmative steps to protect all Bush/Cheney Administration documents;

10. Publicly review potential abuses of the presidential pardon process; and

11. Further reform the use of presidential signing statements.

Here's Baldwin explaining the legislation in a video statement released by her office.

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