Meet John Yoo, legal contortionist

Some folks defend Bush’s recent legal power grabs – the signing statements, the use of “enemy combatant” status, illegal wiretapping, and so forth – by saying there’s some legal arguments that support his moves.

Um, yes. There are probably legal arguments for every hare-brained scheme imaginable. Kind of like claiming the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (“Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) supports regulatory takings bills (like, say, CI-154).

Recently, Presidential legal contortionist – er, legal advisor, John YWoo, wrote a guest editorial in the LA Times decrying the Supreme Court’s smackdown of the administration in the recent Hamdan decision. You can see from reading this tripe – er, opinion – that this guy is a piece of work and is living in fantasyland – er, Berkeley. I’m no legal scholar, but…

First, YWoo compares Bush to…heh heh…Lincoln and…no, I’m serious!…FDR during their wartime activities. Woo claims that, like those previous Presidents, Bush needs to act decisively and quickly to war situations:

Long-standing U.S. practice recognizes that the president, as commander in chief, plays the leading role in wartime. Presidents have started wars without congressional authorization, and they have exercised complete control over military strategy and tactics. They can act with a speed, unity and secrecy that the other branches of government cannot match.

Of course, FDR was working within an actual war, as declared by Congress, not a battle against an emotion, as declared by, well, Bush. It is true that both Lincoln and FDR pursued Constitutionally questionable policies – Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus for suspected Confederate spies, FDR’s Japanese internment camps – but in those cases the actions were approved of by Congress and later stopped because of their questionable legality. (In the case of the internment camps, the government was later forced to compensate the internees for the illegal seizing of property and their forced displacement.)

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is trickier and deserves its own post, but let’s just say it was pretty much just for show. And it was a Constitutional Amendment that outlawed slavery, not the EP. (Does Woo really want to compare the Bush administration’s policies of torture and illegal detainment to freeing slaves?)

The Sept. 11 attacks succeeded in part because our government was mired in a terrorism-as-crime approach that worried less about preventing attacks than about hypothetical threats to civil liberties — hence the “wall” preventing our law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing information. Our laws considered war as conflict only between nations and failed to anticipate the rise of non-state terrorist organizations that could kill 3,000 Americans, destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon in a single day.Bush invoked his constitutional authority to fight this shadowy enemy that does not wear uniforms, targets civilians and violates every rule of civilized warfare.

This is where Bush administration fantasy really kicks in. The best way to fight terrorism is, of course, using terror-as-crime techniques. Israel has demonstrated this for decades. Whenever it uses conventional armies to weed out terrorists groups – like, say, in Lebanon – it seems like the actions only exacerbate tension and create more terror. We see this in Iraq – a previously secular dictatorship that now spawns over 100 terror victims every day.

No, the best way to defeat terror is to cut off terrorist funding, use intelligence-gathering and police techniques to find and identify terrorists, then use special forces to go in and arrest or kill the b*stards. These actions should accompany efforts to eradicate the roots of terror with vigorous economic packages and investment in areas that breed terrorism. It may not be foolproof, but it’d be about a million times more successful — and cheaper –than, say, invading Iraq.

The point is that the administration is creating from terrorist groups a mysterious and powerful boogeyman to scare us into giving up power to the executive. Terrorist groups are neither. With a little more effort, the Bush administration could probably have thwarted 9/11. A competent federal crime agency can fight terror while obeying the rule of law. (Key word: “competent.”)

YWoo concludes with an attack on the Supreme Court for “interfering” in the Hamdan case:

What makes this war different is not that the president acted while Congress watched but that the Supreme Court interfered while fighting was ongoing. Given its seizure of control over some of society’s most contentious issues, such as abortion, affirmative action and religion, maybe the court’s intervention should come as no surprise.

Uh…? Did he read Hamdan? The SCOTUS basically said that courts should decide legal cases of detainees, not the military. That is, the courts should rule on the law. That’s…well…what courts do. But YWoo knows the law better than the SCOTUS! Courts are for keeping their mouths shut while Presidents do! (Seems to me this is a good way to p*ss off the judiciary…)

Now another area of the administration’s power grab is under attack. The American Bar issued a one-of-kind direct challenge to the President challenging his use of signing statements, which finally goads Arlen Specter into action.

I’m sure YWoo thinks the ABA doesn’t know what it’s talking about, either.

It’s time to face facts: Woo and Gonzalez and the rest of the administration’s legal staff are hired, not to advise the President on the rule of law, but to distort and twist the interpretation of law so that lil’ Dinky can do whatever the h*ll he wants.

Update: Oops! I wrote “Woo” instead of “Yoo” yesterday. John Woo is, of course, the action filmmaker. My apologies to Woo.

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