Harpers editor: America had a dictator for eight years
It was a casual refrain near the dawning of former President George W. Bush's political career on the national stage. Most took as a joke.
"If this was a dictatorship it'd be a heck of a lot easier," he so memorably said. "Just so long as I'm the dictator."
His presidency now a smoldering memory, Harper's contributing editor Scott Horton thinks that perhaps he wasn't kidding after all. In a March 3 column, Horton extrapolated on "George W. Bush's Disposable Constitution," expanding on his thoughts during a Thursday broadcast of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.
Since the Monday release of nine previously-secret Bush administration legal memos claiming that the president has the power to ignore the Constitution when fighting terrorism, experts have almost unanimously denounced both their legal reasoning and their conclusions.
"These memos provide the very definition of tyranny," Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Tuesday. "These memos include everything that a petty despot would want."
Olbermann's Thursday guest was just as strident as Turley in his view of the prior administration.
"We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship," wrote Horton in his Harper's article.
"Bush did not order, at any point, the military seizure of part of Cleveland," said Olbermann. "He did not imprison [DailyKos.com founder] Markos Moulitsas. This was certainly not an active military dictatorship, or a dictatorship of any kind in anybody's tangible perception.
"So, what do you say to the idea that these [memos] were just outer parameters, in the event of true internal chaos?"
"These memoranda were crafted with specific programs and projects in mind," said Horton. "The question is, exactly what? ... There's a clear focus on the use of the commander in chief powers. On the use of the military domestically in the United States.
"John Yoo says the Fourth Amendment presents no impediment. The Fourth Amendment is of course a limitation of surveillance. It creates a requirement of warrants for listening in to people's telephone conversations, for instance.
"In this case, I think it's pretty clear that this was designed to authorize the military and military agencies to engage in a sweeping program of surveillance in the United States."
In his March 3 column, Horton remarked, "These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended."
Further on in his MSNBC interview, he elaborated: "The president, if he wants, can have you squirreled away in the brig in Charleston, South Carolina, and he can have you tortured there. You have no appeal from that in these OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinions.
"Of course, that's not the law. It's a ridiculous portrayal of the law. But it's what the OLC told the president he could do."
The memos were repealed with a mere five days remaining in President Bush's term. An internal Justice Department investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility has some forecasting potentially "serious consequences" for the authors, including Yoo.
Effectively, said Horton, these controversial memos saw President Bush "freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights" during wartime "with respect to anything he chose to label as counter-terrorism operations inside the United States."
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Mar. 5, 2009.
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