When the Democrats won the Congress in 2006, progressives demanded that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hold the Bush administration for its many sins, not least of them the seizure of power from both the legislative and judicial branches, with its use of illegal surveillance, its radical redefinition of the term “enemy combatant,” and its denial of civil liberties to whomever its leaders felt unworthy of such liberties — Constitution be damned.
I sat in a meeting the new speaker convened with a group of bloggers in 2007, listening to Nancy Pelosi make her case for why the Congress’s energies would be better spent working on bread-and-butter issues, including health-care reform. The thinking seemed to be that once the Congress got some good stuff done, the problems of the Bush imperial presidency would disappear with the subsequent election of a Democrat.
Would that it were so. It seemed a dubious proposition to me. If the Congress was unwilling to impeach Bush or hold war-crimes hearings, the very least it could do was to pass laws that would return power to the branches from which it originated. But that was not to be. And with that decision of inaction the Constitution was broken rather bad, in a way that Barack Obama, the constitutional law professor, seems quite content with.
While in a great many respects, Barack Obama is a far more reasonable and small-D democratic president than was George W. Bush, there’s not a lot of daylight between the two on the matter of executive power. As the nation’s chief executive, Barack Obama likes executive power very much, thank you.
Just look at his administration’s position on the holding of detainees at the American-run Bagram Prison in Afghanistan. The administration contends that habeas corpus extends to none of the detainees at Bagram — even those picked up outside of Afghanistan and shipped there deliberately to avoid allowing non-Afghan detainees rights they would otherwise be entitled to. Bagram, as a war-zone facility, is not required to accord such rights to its denizens; the American obligation to the Bagram detainees begins and ends with the Geneva Conventions, and there are serious doubt as to whether the treatment of the Bagram prisoners meets the basic international standard for the treatment of prisoners of war.
Last month, a federal appeals court upheld the administration’s position, overturning an earlier decision by a lower court. As described by the New York Times editorial board:
What makes the ruling especially distressing is that the extravagant claim of executive power upheld by the court — to create a law-free zone at the Bagram lockup — was dreamed up by Mr. Bush and subsequently embraced by President Obama. The appellate court ruled that there was no right to federal court review for the detainees, who say they were captured outside of Afghanistan, far from any battlefield, and then shipped to Bagram to be held indefinitely in harsh conditions.
As the world continues to become unglued by crisis upon crisis, progressives would do well to step back momentarily and come up with a plan for restoring the Constitution. Without that, any and all national progress will rest on the whim of the chief executive, whomever he or she shall be.
Short but sweet. Obama's given us some progress on DADT and healthcare (even if I'm critical of what degree and the details of the bill passed) ~but he's still crappy on executive power~. Not a big surprise.
I mean, this isn't even news. Mostly posting to stir things up. SUP GUYS.