Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez appeared in front of a Senate committee to take his lumps over the Bush Administration’s policy of warrantless surveillance this week. (Don’t you just know that at the first meeting to fill this job, Bush looked at Gonzalez and said, “Hey, Alberto-rama, your initials are A.G., just like this job. That must be like, you know, kismet or something. Let’s dump the rest of these resumes and grill us up some felons.”) The Senate seems to have it in for Gonzalez. First they made him renounce torture to get confirmed in the first place. This week they forced him into defending the Administration’s position that a Congressional authorization of force trumps the Fourth Amendment.
Gonzalez did the best he could, considering he had to talk while Dick Cheney drank a glass of milk. According to Alberto the force authorization passed in the aftermath of 9/11 gives the President the authority to do virtually anything he wants, superseding even Constitutional restrictions.
Ignored by this inventive line of reasoning is the fundamental precept of our government: the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. A procedure for amending it was created for times when the original document becomes outdated in some way. Strange that a president who claims to be a strict constructionist ignores the parts of the Constitution that address anyone’s rights but his own.
Presidents have often assumed extra-Constitutional power during time of war. Gonzo cited Wilson during World War I and Roosevelt in World War II; Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War probably springs to mind. There’s a difference. Those were honest-to-Thomas Jefferson wars, where Congress asserted its Constitutional authority to declare war. That has not been done in the present case, for good reason. Who would the war be declared against? A bunch of towel-headed cartoon critics living in caves?
When will these extraordinary wartime powers end? There will never be a peace treaty. One day al-Qaeda will be gone and we’ll still be primed for action. Whoever threatens to blow something up because Daffy Duck looks like a caricature of their god will feel the full wrath of Halliburton descend upon them.
Gonzalez is essentially promoting a variation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Where’s the authority to perform warrantless searches? There’s a war on. Who says there’s a war on? There must be; we’re conducting warrantless searches, aren’t we?
How odd that a president who values privacy so dearly in his personal and administrative dealings is so quick to arbitrarily deny it to others. Then again, maybe “odd” isn’t the right word. “Scary” comes to mind.