Those in power have responsibility for their egregious actions:
The current dispute over whether the president had the authority to order domestic spying without warrants, despite a law against it, has put new focus on the legal officials who have guided Bush. And the qualifications of Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Miers could become a focus of the upcoming Senate hearings on the spying decision.The crux of the biscuit: our governmental system is only as good as the men and women who agree to be bound by it.
Legal advice given to the president in national security matters can hardly be of greater importance. Telling Bush that he lacks the authority to make a particular move could leave the country vulnerable to attack; assuring him that he has the power to override civil liberties could consign innocent suspects to imprisonment, abuse, or disappearance to secret holding areas in other countries.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Bush's legal advisers have cleared the way for him to hold enemy combatants without trials; eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls and e-mails; place ever-greater numbers of government documents under a veil of secrecy; imprison a US citizen indefinitely on the suspicion of terrorist links; and, according to The Washington Post, operate a secret CIA prison in an Eastern European country.
In each case, the legal official responsible for assessing the extent of Bush's powers was Ashcroft, Gonzales, or Miers.
Defining the president's powers -- when he can act alone, when he's constrained by treaties, when he must seek congressional authorization -- is extremely difficult. If there's one area of the law where the framers of the Constitution relied on the good faith of the men and women in government, it's in adhering to a system of divided powers. Nonetheless, presidents and members of Congress have often disagreed on their respective powers, and the Supreme Court has approached such cases warily, fearful of upsetting the constitutional balance of power.
The determinations of Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Miers have had great weight because they effectively cut Congress out of the decision-making, at least until the Supreme Court could weigh in. But in spying cases especially, the targets weren't aware that they were being monitored, and thus could not challenge Bush in court.
Congress recognized that when Nixon was investigated over Watergate.
Will they recognize that again?