Lawless presidents

· Civil Liberties, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

Since when do we have a system of Government where the President can simply “waive” away laws?

That’s from Glenn Greenwald in a well-considered and comprehensive commentary, “An Ideology of Lawlessness” at digby’s blogspot. Take a read and educate yerself.
I have to comment myself, however, on lawless precedents of American presidents since this ain’t the first time we have been confronted with suspensions of civil liberties by rogue operators. Most prominent of the lawless presidents was Lincoln who suspended the right of citizens to challenge their imprisonment in a court of law (the right to a writ of habeas corpus). The Supreme Court disagreed with him but he did it anyway – for three years (and as many as 13,000 citizens were arrested and imprisoned). By the way, the Civil War was also an undeclared war – begun with what was considered to be “an act of war”–the firing on Fort Sumter.
Second most prominent was Franklin Roosevelt, who denied rights to citizens of “Japanese ancestry”, initially imposing a curfew on them and then ordering their “removal” from “military zones on the West Coast.” The Supreme Court upheld those actions, and 100,000 Americans of “Japanese ancestry” were imprisoned for the duration of World War II.
Lincoln’s and Roosevelt’s actions were anti-constitution and denied legimate rights to citizens. We somehow allowed them to happen in that “mob mind” we get into during times of civil crisis. The extreme circumstances of the Civil War and World War II post-Pearl Harbor seem to justify the extreme attacks on civil liberties. But the question we have to ask now is what are the extreme circumstances that could possibly justify imprisonment without charges, denial of recourse to courts of law, subjection to physical torture and psychological abuse, abduction in secret and secret imprisonment, and espionage on non-combatant civilians?
The extreme circumstances appear to be coming from extreme beliefs (religious and political) verging on paranoia held by our president and his vice president and their legions of (civil) servants and officials. Even our military lawyers (Judge Advocates General or JAGs) are horrified by their lack of respect for the law. The CIA, itself a questionable institution in a civil society, has questioned the use or necessity of torture to obtain information from “enemy combatants”.
But the American people are confused. We think our safety is at risk. We want guns, big houses, and the confiscation of nail clippers on airline flights. We also don’t think we will ever end up labeled an “enemy combatant” and shoved into a cell on a razor-wire fenced beach in Cuba.
One thing that might actually arouse us to defend our civil liberties is the thought that some bureaucrat in Washington is reading our email or tracking our web browsing. Now that’s an outrage! The real issue, however, is that we just might end up being secretly abducted and spirited away to an extra-U.S. territorial prison camp on the basis of an email message which happens to include the words “bomb”, “spy” or variations on the word “Allah” (ala, alla, allen, ella, al…etc.).