Three separate stories tonight—one on television, two on radio—addressed the idea that the Bush Administration has created what many have called an Imperial Presidency—a presidency that believes itself above the US courts, above the necessity to honor long-standing government treaties, and above international law.
The first of the three stories was the much ballyhooed 60 Minutes segment about Murat Kurnaz, a German traveling in Pakistan who was nabbed three months after 9/11 and transported to Afghanistan where he says he was tortured severely. It seemed to matter little that the FBI, U.S. intelligence and German intelligence had reportedly concluded that Kurnaz was innocent of the terrorism charges brought against him. He was subsequently transferred to Guantanamo where charges against him fell further apart. In 2002, German intelligence agents wrote their government, saying, “USA considers Murat Kurnaz’s innocence to be proven. He is to be released in approximately six to eight weeks.” Instead, Kurnaz was kept in Guantanamo for an additional three and a half years.
When contacted, the US Department of Defense responded to 60 Minutes in letter form that called Kurnaz’ accusations outlandish and unsubstantiated.
The second two stories were on this week’s This American Life. In one episode, TAL tells about the more than a hundred foreign women who got married to Americans, then had their spouses die less than two years after the marriage. The US government responded to their grief and loss by curtly informed the widows “You’re no longer married to Americans. Your citizen application is denied. Now get out of the country.” The widows went to court over the matter, and the court told the government that it had to let the women stay. But the US government ignored the court and told them they have to leave anyway.
Story three was about an American couple who lived on the Canadian border and decided to build a retaining wall inside the ten-foot buffer zone that is on either side of the international boundary. The International Boundary Commission told the Americans that they couldn’t have the wall inside the buffer zone and would have to take it down. The Americans sued the Commission, the bi-national entity created by a 1925 treaty to inspect and oversee the US Canada border. And that’s when the Bush administration stepped in….
You can hear the rest on This American Life here. (The promos up now, and podcasts will be available of the program in a few days)
In a way this is all an old issue. We have long been aware that in instances ranging from FISA to signing statements, when the Bush administration doesn’t like a law or a legal ruling it pretty much does what it pleases regardless of restrictions placed on it by Congress or courts.
But the real question is, what will happen next January when we have a new president? Wll he or she keep the newly established Imperial presidency, or dismantle it.