This hasn’t been a very good week for the Bush administration. The week started with evidence that Bush’s Iran policy was as flawed as his policy on Iraq:
A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.
Things got worse by midweek as questions about Bush policy extended to the use of torture, highlighted by news that the CIA had destroyed tapes witih potentially incriminating evidence in a manner reminiscent of Rose Mary Woods and the Watergate tapes:
The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.
The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terrorism suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. The tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.
In a statement to employees on Thursday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A.” and that they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value.
The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.
At the end of the week we learned that Bush might not even bother to destroy evidence if he broke the law as he revived Richard Nixon’s philosophy that “when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave a speech informing Congress of what he learned in reviewing legal views held by the Bush administration:
- An executive order cannot limit a President.There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.
- The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President’s authority under Article II.
- The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations.