Presidents abusing power: L.A. Times’ hypocrisy is immense

Feb. 6, 2013

By Chris Reed

When the Bush administration responded to 9-11 by using “advanced interrogation techniques” and detaining hundreds of terror suspects indefinitely, all without offering clarity about exactly what it was doing and the legal rationales it used to justify its actions, the editorial page of The Los Angeles Times was a harsh and persistent critic. Examples:

Jan. 15, 2004

“The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday bought the Bush administration’s leaky logic on terrorism, tacitly endorsing secret detentions of hundreds of suspects after the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, by embracing the ends-justify-means reasoning in this case, the justices set a dangerous precedent as they ponder other key challenges to the administration’s anti-terror policies before them this term.”

Aug. 8, 2004

“In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Bush administration to let the hundreds of detainees it claims are terrorists meet with lawyers and challenge their imprisonment — nearly three years behind bars for some. The high court decisions were a resounding defeat for the president, who has steadfastly asserted his right to round up and put away pretty much anyone he deems a terrorist. …

“The Pentagon has let a few detainees meet with a lawyer as a goodwill gesture, providing the lawyer agrees to let officials listen in and promises not to ask about conditions of the client’s confinement or if he has been abused. However, the government is contesting almost every motion and writ, tying up the cases as it continues to claim, incredibly, that the Guantanamo detainees have no constitutional right of access. …

“Congress could step in, defining the detainees’ rights to counsel, the burden of proof that would apply in court proceedings and the limits on detention. But in a nation where Pentagon and Justice Department officials must, like the rest of us, abide by the rule of law, shouldn’t the Supreme Court’s conclusion — that even detainees are entitled to due process — be the final word?”

Jan. 8, 2006

“Terrorism presents the U.S. with an enemy unlike any we have seen before. Most Americans agree with Bush that intelligence-gathering on Al Qaeda and its spawn may require more extensive investigative authorities. But the more sweeping the powers granted the executive branch, the more vital it is that Congress provide meaningful oversight. …

“The struggle against terrorism will not end soon, and the choices we make in fighting it will help define us as a nation for decades. To allow any president to invent the law as he goes along is to invite contempt for the law for many presidencies to come.”

Feb. 7, 2006

“The administration continues to confuse Article II of the Constitution — which enumerates the president’s duties as commander in chief — with justification for disregarding the other two branches of government. Article II does give the president power, but the Constitution also has a couple of other articles — the first and third, if anyone from the administration feels like looking them up — outlining the powers of Congress and the judiciary, respectively.

“It’s hard to say what’s more disturbing: the attorney general’s unsound legal reasoning or his transparent efforts to avoid a legal conversation altogether in favor of emotional appeals aimed squarely at the court of public opinion. Practically the first words of his opening statement were: ‘Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain deadly dangerous.’

“As several senators reminded him, the hearings are not a contest to see who hates Al Qaeda more. They’re to find out about the NSA’s secret program and to see whether the White House accepts any restraints on its power.”

Feb. 14, 2006

“Gitmo … is a global embarrassment that does the U.S. more harm than good in the fight against terrorism.”

April 16, 2006

“From the beginning, President Bush essentially has argued that the post-9/11 war on terrorism authorized him to act as judge, jury and executioner of enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens. In 2004, the Supreme Court pointedly rejected this assertion of power, ruling that both U.S. citizens and foreigners detained at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba could challenge their confinement.

“‘A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens,’ Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in holding that Yaser Esam Hamdi, a Louisiana native, was entitled to a hearing before a neutral decision-maker. …

“[The U.S. should] try suspected terrorists in federal court … or in military tribunals authorized by Congress and conducted in accordance with international law.”

May 22, 2006

“Saying goodbye to Guantanamo would be more than a symbolic change of policy. Confining detainees in a geographically isolated location encourages abuses by authorities and despair and disruption among inmates; witness last week’s detainee suicide attempts and subsequent attack on guards. But appearances are important too. As British Atty. Gen. Lord Goldsmith said in calling for the closing of Guantanamo: ‘The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, of liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol.'”

Jan. 4, 2007

“However else it might modify its behavior in dealing with a new, Democratic-controlled Congress, the Bush administration is still stonewalling when it comes to sharing information about its tactics in the ‘war on terror.’ That’s a mistake.”

Dec. 13, 2007

“Congress is appropriately indignant about the revelation that the CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogation sessions at which suspected terrorists were subjected to ‘enhanced’ techniques that may have included the simulated drowning known as waterboarding. That outrage needs to be channeled into legislation that would prevent the agency from engaging in the sort of behavior captured on those tapes.”

After President Obama was elected, the Times editorialized that it was crucial he shut down Guantanamo, abandon torture, embrace due process and be open about U.S. policies.

Drone attackFour years later, Guantanamo remains open, the Obama administration is so secretive that a federal judge complains she is barely able to issue a coherent decision on administration terrorism policies, and the president asserts he can kill any American suspected of working for or with al-Qaeda, and without an indictment. Drones have been used to kill several thousand people around the world, including two Americans.

If George W. Bush had done this, just imagine what the Times would have written. But he wasn’t their guy. So here’s the Times’ mild verdict on the actions of the Obama administration.

“In the coming weeks, the Senate Intelligence Committee will have an opportunity to demand answers about targeted killings when it holds hearings on [John Brennan’s] nomination to head the CIA. He should be prepared to share the contents of the proposed ‘playbook’ and the legal authorities on which it rests. Decisions about targeted killings may rely on classified information, but the process by which such fateful decisions are made should not be a secret.”

That’s from a Jan. 28 editorial.

The outrage that vanished

Concerns about the Second Amendment to the Constitution? About a presidency without any limits on his power? About a commander-in-chief acting as judge, jury and executioner? About negative international reactions to U.S. policies?  About years of administration stonewalling?

They’ve all disappeared. The fundamental view that no president is above the law, you see, only applies to presidents that The Los Angeles Times doesn’t like.

I’m a libertarian who is unhappy with the defense policies of both Bush 43 and Obama. Due process for American citizens, at the least, has to be sacrosanct.

That said, it should be mind-boggling to any honest person, not just libertarians, to witness so much of the mainstream media tolerating presidential assassinations, including of U.S. citizens, after rebuking Bush for torture.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for an explanation from the Times’ editorial board, however.

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