Sunday, June 17, 2012

Presidents Are Acting Not Illegally More And More

When Richard Nixon told David Frost in April 1977, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal," he was talking not about political burglaries and campaign dirty tricks (though his operatives did all that, too) but a leader's sovereign powers during wartime. That Ron Howard and his screenwriter, Peter Morgan, suggested otherwise in "Frost/Nixon" was one of the few disappointments in an otherwise fine movie. Continuing his argument, Nixon said:
[I]t has been...argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.
Tom Campbell, Chapman University's law school dean, battled President Clinton over Kosovo when he was serving in Congress. He argues that when presidents grasp for broader foreign policy and war-making prerogatives, judges and Congress wax timid, and especially so since Sept. 11. On the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, John Dean, who turned on Nixon during the the Watergate investigations of 1973-74, says recent presidents have widened the realm of "not illegal" far more than 37. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Executive orders issued by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of Sept. 11 claimed power for the Oval Office to ignore U.S. laws and international treaties.

President Obama has retained some of those extraordinary wartime powers, and his use of drones to attack terrorist suspects has drawn accusations of international law violations.

"I don't think Richard Nixon, in his darkest hour, would have authorized torture," said Dean...

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