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Friday, December 09, 2005

War Crimes Made Easy

How the Bush Administration Legalized Intelligence Deceptions, Assassinations, and Aggressive War
by Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith

How has the Bush administration gotten away with such apparently illegal acts as hiding intelligence reports from Congress, creating secret prisons, establishing death squads, kidnapping people and spiriting them across national borders, and planning unprovoked wars? Part of the answer lies in the administration's deliberate effort, initiated even before September 11, 2001, to tear down any existing legal and institutional means for preventing, exposing, or punishing violations of national and international law by American officials.

Back in 2002, Adriel Bettleheim wrote in the Congressional Quarterly that Vice President Dick Cheney "considers it the responsibility of the current administration to reclaim those lost powers for the institution of the presidency." Indeed, the Bush administration has tried to remove all conceivable restrictions on the "imperial presidency," setting its sights in particular on dismantling the Freedom of Information Act, the Intelligence Oversight Act, and the War Powers Resolution. Restoring limits on the power of the executive branch to conceal information, tell (and hide) lies, make war at its own discretion, or kidnap, torture, and kill without interference from Congress, the courts, and the public will be crucial tasks, if future Abu Ghraibs are to be prevented.

The Freedom of Information Act provides a good example of the constraints Cheney aimed to remove. Essentially a sunshine law passed by Congress in 1966, the FOIA requires that government agencies disclose their records upon written request. The Act provides nine "exemptions" to the public's right of access, but in the Clinton years Attorney General Janet Reno advised agencies that information should be released as long as it did "no foreseeable harm."

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