July 12, 2007

Bush et al. crimes are institutional, not going away

From "The Grand Inquisitors", by David Cole, New York Review of Books, July 19, 2007:

Schwarz and Huq's Unchecked and Unbalanced provides a more structural critique of executive excess in the post–September 11 era. Presidential aggrandizement, they remind us, was not invented by George W. Bush. In 1975 and 1976, Congress's Church Committee, on which Schwarz served as legal counsel, revealed extensive abuses of executive power during the cold war, including widespread illegal spying on Americans. Schwarz and Huq suggest that the problem is not just that people like Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, and Gonzales have been in power, but that institutional flaws make it all too easy for such officials to get away with unconstitutional initiatives in times of crisis. The Church Committee diagnosed four such flaws that encouraged the cold war abuses: ambiguous laws and instructions; implicit orders from high officials to violate the law; secrecy; and feeble congressional oversight. Schwarz and Huq demonstrate that despite many post-Watergate reforms, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the same institutional factors are central to understanding the Bush administration's recent torture, rendition, and warrantless wiretapping policies.

In short, where [Joe] Conason [It Can Happen Here] stresses the actions of power-hungry politicians and enabling lawyers, Schwarz and Huq emphasize the importance of structural features in the organization of our federal government. Both diagnoses capture a significant part of the story. In some sense, we have had the worst of all possible combinations: Ashcroft and Gonzales, not to mention Bush and Cheney, came to power just when they could do the most damage. They arrived in office with strong ideological commitments to unchecked power, and they exercised authority at a time when the concept of restraint was most vulnerable. If Conason's focus on particular politicians and officials is right, we might expect the problems to subside with a new administration. But if, as I believe, Schwarz and Huq's structural criticism is equally if not more correct, the problems will continue, albeit perhaps less acutely, well after President Bush leaves office.

human rights, anarchism