Thursday, September 18, 2008

through the legal looking glass

By this late date, it is not news that the Bush Administration has played fast and loose with the law—burying their wrongdoing in a mirror maze of official obfuscation, tortured logic, and secret legal opinions. What apparently is news is that flouting the law and not telling anyone isn’t technically illegal.

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Brad Miller wants the Department of Justice to come out of the dark and embrace the sunlight.

Miller, a Raleigh Democrat, introduced legislation today that would force the Justice agency to give more information to Congress about what he calls “secret law.”

Such secrecy has been used in the past, as in a memo by legal counsel John Woo in 2003 that allowed for extreme interrogation techniques, according to Miller.

The bill would require the U.S. Attorney General to tell Congress whenever the executive branch decides it is not bound by federal law.

Coming as it did on Constitution Day—the 221st anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution—this one really has to make your head spin. We actually need to pass legislation to compel the Attorney General of the United States to report to the legislative branch when the executive branch plans to ignore violate federal law.

There is apparently some sort of loophole here? That’s what the very brief article tells us, but, seriously, folks, what are we talking about: is the loophole that the White House is allowed to violate the law, or just that they aren’t somehow required to tell anyone when they do?

While I certainly support any legislation that provides for more sunlight in such matters, when the President, the Vice President, the Attorney General, or any of a number of executive branch employees unilaterally decide that some laws were made to be broken, taking them to task for not telling you seems a terribly small first step.

By all means, make the executive declare openly which laws they plan to ignore violate—and then haul them before Congress when they do.

And then punish them for their crimes.

It’s a way of doing things best summed up by the phrase “A government of laws; not a government of men.” I don’t know how they roll in Wonderland, but that’s how we handle it in the United States. . . or at least used to.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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