A version of this column appears in the Jan. 27th edition of The Moscow Times.
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2006 – Heralding a "bold new era of unity and reform" in Washington, President George W. Bush quelled a series of controversies over the limits of executive power today by signing a sweeping new measure, the Extending the Boundaries of Legality Act (EBOLA), in a gala ceremony at the White House.
The measure, passed overwhelmingly by Congress last week, acknowledges "the inherent authority of the Commander-in-Chief to take all necessary measures to preserve the security of the United States without fear of penalty or undue constraint by existing statutes, judicial rulings, foreign jurisdictions or international treaties." This immunized authority is to be exercised "at the discretion of the president," and can be "devolved upon any and all designated agents, public and private, of the executive." The act also relieves the president of the "onerous and inefficient bureaucratic requirement" of informing Congress of his actions.
EBOLA puts an end to a number of debates, investigations and court cases concerning such issues as warrantless wiretapping, domestic surveillance by the Pentagon, aggressive interrogation techniques, indefinite detention, incarceration without charges, "ghost prisoners," covert abduction, rendition of suspects to torture-practicing states, extrajudicial termination of arbitrarily designated "enemy combatants," no-bid contracts to politically-connected firms, unmasking covert agents for partisan purposes and waging unprovoked war on the basis of manipulated and manufactured intelligence.
All of these matters have now been rendered moot by EBOLA, which formally extends "the sanctity of law to all actions, past, present and future, ordered by the president in the exercise of his full plenary powers."
The measure is an outgrowth of Senate hearings that began in early February. First launched as a probe into "serious charges" that Bush's personally-ordered surveillance of American citizens without a warrant was illegal – a charge upheld by the non-partisan Congressional Research Office – the hearing quickly evolved into a ringing endorsement of unchecked presidential power by the Republican majority, joined by Democratic moderates such as Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, Clinton served as co-sponsor of EBOLA, which was introduced by Republican Senator George Allen. Many observers said Allen signaled the wiretap hearings' true direction in a CNN interview on January 22, when, citing the timely appearance of a taped message allegedly from former CIA ally Osama bin Laden, the conservative senator suddenly embraced the idea of hearings – a notion previously resisted by many on the Right.
"I find nothing wrong with having a hearing," Allen told CNN. "This maybe ought to be something that you would ratify – 'Yes, the president has this authority.'"
Once that door was open, Republican senators, working closely with top Justice Department officials and deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, moved quickly to extend their ratification of presidential authority. "How far should we go, Karl?" joked committee chairman Arlen Specter during one of many light-hearted moments of playful raillery at the hearings. "To infinity – and beyond!" replied Rove with a chuckle, quoting a line from "Toy Story," said to be one of Mr. Bush's favorite films.
Administration officials lauded EBOLA as a "great leap forward for America," ending a "dangerous era when we had to battle a 21st-century threat with 18th-century tools," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "The Founding Fathers would never have encumbered us with all these 'checks and balances' and the Bill of Rights had they known that the smoking gun of terrorism could be a mushroom cloud. "
But the Act is not just a victory for George W. Bush, it's also a "triumph of the human spirit," McClellan said. "Just as this president has brought freedom and democracy to benighted areas of the world where these blessings were never known before, so he is now bringing the light of legality to entire realms of human behavior that have long been considered beyond the reach of law. Murder, torture, kidnapping, corruption, despotism – it's time to bring these orphans in from the cold, and make a place for them at the American family table."
Yet even as he lauded the Act's innovations, McClellan also brushed aside suggestions from some critics that EBOLA represented a "radical" departure from traditional conservatism. "On the contrary, the measure is firmly rooted in the historical tradition," he said. "The notion of the 'unitary executive' – or the Leader-Principle as it is sometimes called – was actually pioneered in north-central Europe in the first half of the 20th century. It was a proven method that allowed the head of state to act with efficiency and dispatch in exercising his inherent authority to protect the public from national enemies. We are simply building upon this solid foundation as we carry the banner of civilization across new frontiers."
Democratic opposition to the bill, which effectively ends constitutional democracy in the United States, was muted in the end. Party leaders said they were "saving their ammunition for the big battles up ahead" – echoing earlier rhetoric following their equally muted responses to Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the rich, his deceitful invasion of Iraq, his environmental rapine, his worldwide gulag, his torture programs and his appointment of two Supreme Court justices clearly committed to presidential tyranny, corporate hegemony, financial corruption and the subjugation of women's bodies to state control.
Having meekly countenanced the destruction of the republic and the repression of its people, Democratic leaders were asked exactly what "battle" they were "saving their ammunition" for. "School lunches," said Senator Biden. "Our children are our future, and we will fight to the death the Bush Administration's unconscionable proposal to substitute baked beans for broccoli in the federal guidelines for dinnertime vegetables."
Links and annotations:
Lawmakers Say They Will Press Bush on Spying
Associated Press, Jan. 22, 2006
Hillary Clinton, War Goddess
Antiwar.com, Jan. 23, 2006
The Other Big Brother: The Pentagon's Own Domestic Spying Program
Newsweek, Jan. 30, 2006 issue
Republicans Gone Wild
Salon.com, Jan. 19, 2006
Molly Ivins: I will not support Hillary Clinton for president
The Free Press, Jan. 20, 2006
Top Ten Mistakes of the Bush Administration in Reacting to Al-Qaeda
Informed Comment, Jan. 24, 2006
White House Got Early Warning on Katrina
The End of 'Unalienable Rights'
Consortiumnews.com, Jan. 24, 2006
On NSA Spying: A Letter to Congress
New York Review of Books, Feb. 9, 2006 edition
The moneyed scales of justice?
Salon.com, Sept. 13, 2005
CIA Vet: Proof Bush Deceived
TomPaine.com, Jan. 13, 2006
The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 17, 2006
New York Times, Jan. 24, 2006
See You at the Bottom of the Rabbit Hole
King of Zembla, Jan. 18, 2006
Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito
New York Times, Jan. 22, 2006