Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Accountability III

Last week, the Democrats won control of both the US House and Senate. Cynics have asked what they are willing to do with this newfound power. Today, we have the first answer: hold the Bush Administration accountable for its illegal program of "extraordinary rendition":

The new chairman of the Senate armed services committee, the Democratic senator Carl Levin, revealed that he was "not comfortable" with the rendition system and said it was making the US less secure.

The extra-judicial programme has seen untried criminal suspects rounded up by CIA operatives in more than a dozen countries and sent to third states for interrogation. Some captives have allegedly been snatched off the streets and suffered torture in detention.

Asked whether he would investigate the renditions programme, including the secret prisons and missing detainees, Mr Levin replied: "Yes. Yes, yes and yes."

Holding hearings doesn't sound like much - but it is the first step towards both accountability and policy change. However, it may also be the first step towards a full-blown constitutional crisis. Vice-President Dick Cheney has already declared that he would "probably not" appear if subpoenaed to by a Congressional investigation, and instead would claim "executive privilege". This is the same "I am above the law" claim of absolute monarchical Presidential authority made by Nixon over the Watergate tapes. It was roundly defeated thirty years ago, but the question is whether a Supreme Court dominated by Bush appointees will feel the same way, or whether they will reverse the precedent of United States v. Nixon in favour of Bush's preferred constitutional theories...


We have just had a Parliamentary debate in the UK about holding an inquiry into the decision to go to war in Iraq. Tony Blair and his government argued that to hold an inquiry now would endanger our troops and fought tooth and nail to derail the debate.
A week later he is taking part in a USA inquiry into the decision to go to war.
Maybe it is safer for our troops this week.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/15/2006 12:26:00 PM

I think the question of executive privilege is more complex than you present. US v Nixon does not simply say "the executive must disclose information"; the case establishes that executive privilege exists. However, that privilege is qualified, and on the facts of that case, the Court held that it did not apply (meaning that Nixon had to turn over the tapes). Therefore, assuming that the executive were to refuse and the issue went to court, the question would not be whether Nixon was to be overruled, but whether the privilege applied to the current situation. That would depend on whether the need for disclosure outweighed the need for secrecy.

Nixon is also about a claim of executive privilege in the context of a criminal investigation. It is an open question whether a case involving executive privilege and a Congressional investigation would come out the same way.

I would also note that the current President has only appointed two members of the Supreme Court. Not quite dominating yet, and with the new composition of the Senate, that hopefully will remain the case.

Posted by John : 11/15/2006 03:04:00 PM

I'd suggest its more important to make changes than to get your revenge. in the list of priorities revenge comes way way down the list. But in 10 or more years it might be easy to get your previous leaders.

Posted by Genius : 11/15/2006 07:46:00 PM

Methinks Cheney citing 'executive privilege' has a lot less to do with letting out important information that could harm the US than with good old fashioned C.Y.A.

~ Josh

Posted by Anonymous : 11/16/2006 03:19:00 AM

I/S, please explain how the court (7 members) is "dominated" by Bush's two appointees?

And if you think Roberts and Alito are mere hacks, you haven't looked at their judicial records.

This is the sort of lazy post we expect from Jordan, not you.


Posted by Anonymous : 11/18/2006 12:05:00 AM

I concur they're not hacks, but there are nine judges on the US Supreme Court - four appointed by Presidents Bush (and 1 from Ford, and 2 each from Clinton and Reagan).

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 11/18/2006 12:48:00 AM