Bush Administration Considered More Extensive Suppression of Civil Liberties to Fight Terrorism

Newsweek  reports on recently released memos showing that the Bush administration was considering far more extensive violations of civil liberties after the 9/11 attacks than we have  experienced:

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Justice Department secretly gave the green light for the U.S. military to attack apartment buildings and office complexes inside the United States, deploy high-tech surveillance against U.S. citizens and potentially suspend First Amendment freedom-of-the-press rights in order to combat the terror threat, according to a memo released Monday.

Many of the actions discussed in the Oct. 23, 2001, memo to then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s chief lawyer, William Haynes, were never actually taken.

But the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel—along with others made public for the first time Monday—illustrates with new details the extraordinary post-9/11 powers asserted by Bush administration lawyers. Those assertions ultimately led to such controversial policies as allowing the waterboarding of terror suspects and permitting warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens—steps that remain the subject of ongoing investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. The memo was co-written by John Yoo, at the time a deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo, now a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, has emerged as one of the central figures in those ongoing investigations.

In perhaps the most surprising assertion, the Oct. 23, 2001, memo suggested the president could even suspend press freedoms if he concluded it was necessary to wage the war on terror. “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,” Yoo wrote in the memo entitled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activity Within the United States.”

This claim was viewed as so extreme that it was essentially (and secretly) revoked—but not until October of last year, seven years after the memo was written and with barely three and a half months left in the Bush administration…

On Jan. 15, 2009—with only five days left before Bush left office—Bradbury also rescinded three other legal memos written during the president’s first term that claimed broad powers to unilaterally suspend treaties, bypass restrictions on domestic surveillance and take other actions to combat terrorism without the approval of Congress. Bradbury said in a separate legal memo that the claims made in these earlier memos were based on unsound legal reasoning and should not be viewed as “authoritative.” But he offered no explanation for why he waited until the waning days of Bush’s presidency to withdraw them.

The most controversial, and best known, of Yoo’s legal opinions was his Aug. 1, 2002, memo that effectively approved the president’s right to disregard a federal law banning torture in ordering the interrogation of terror suspects. An accompanying (and still unreleased) memo from the same day approved the CIA’s authority to use “waterboarding” (or simulated drowning) against terror suspects.

On September 11, 2001 our country and our way of life were subjected to a terrorist attack. The Bush administration let down the nation, and the values we were founded upon, by so quickly being willing to ignore these values. While many of these extraordinary powers were never used, those who support our system of government should have immediately rejected these ideas, as opposed to waiting until the final days of their administration to rescind them.

George Bush took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Instead this was considered to be optional after September 11.

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