Friday, July 13, 2007

The Great Stone Wall

If George Bush's Stone Wall of Secrecy was an actual wall instead of just a metaphor it could, like the Great Wall of China, be viewed from space. Hell, probably from the moon, with the naked eye. Okay, Mr. Magoo could see this wall from Saturn, with his eyes closed.

A few events over the past few days have brought this guiding principal of the worst American administration in history into the light; the American people must, at all costs, be treated like mushrooms - ie. kept in the dark and fed loads of horseshit.

First on the agenda is Bush's directive to ex-White House Counsel Harriet Miers to defy a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about what she might know regarding the firing of eight US Attorneys on Dec. 7, 2006. The reasons given by the administration have never held water. The alternative reasons obvious to everyone point to criminal acts, including obstruction of justice and violations of The Hatch Act of 1939. Said act prevents the administration from using governmental powers to further partisan objectives. Miers' no-show sparked a lively debate in the house over whether she should be found in contempt of the house. Some of the myths perpetrated by the Republican representatives, notably Chris Cannon (R - UT) amount to the same old line that the Democrats are just taking partisan politically-motivated shots at the administration because they can.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D - CA) responded ably;
Rep. Sanchez presented a detailed legal argument in which she rejected the claims of executive privilege that Miers was relying on. She dismissed them as 'novel' legal reasoning that was not in keeping with long-standing precedent.

"Those claims are not legally valid, and Ms. Miers is required, pursuant to the subpoena, to be here now," "No one is here on behalf of the White House to assert that claim...a statement from the president is legally required in order for the claim to be legally valid."

She added that the Bush White House's went beyond that of President Richard Nixon, who eventually allowed his counsel John Dean to testify in the Watergate probe.

The parallel to the Meirs story is the testimony of Sara Taylor, erstwhile aide to chief Republican/neocon political strategist - hers in front of the SENATE Judiciary Committee. Her testimony is unremarkable other than demonstrating the epidemic of amnesia that has already characterized Department of Justice officials seems to have infected the White House as well. One other point of interest is in Taylor's inadvertent disclosure that she was torn between her desire to tell the truth to the committee and her oath 'to the President.*' This of course triggered quite a reaction from Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, who pointed out that her loyalty is supposed to be to the Constitution.
Taylor honored a subpoena (which was good), but honored Bush’s suspect claim to executive privilege (which was bad). She ended up repeatedly telling the senators that she couldn’t remember, couldn’t explain, or couldn’t talk about anything of interest. She invoked Fred Fielding’s name 24 times, and mentioned his letter about privilege 35 times.

But even more annoying, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, was that Taylor was selective when it came to what was privileged information. In short, when she liked the question and wanted to answer it, Taylor testified. When she didn’t, she claimed she was forbidden from speaking.

The 'suspect claim to executive privilege' referred to 35 times by Taylor is contained in a letter from White House Counsel Fred Fielding (Miers' successor in the post.) You can read it in this article at Salon News. Calling it suspect is putting it mildly. It is an elaborate piece of legal fiction from salutation to signature. The title of Salon's article, Absolute Immunity? questions the claim Bush is making, which is far beyond even the failed claims of the Nixon administration. And I'm sure they deliberately chose the adjective absolute, which is most often applied to the noun dictator.

The first thing one should observe here is that the concept of Presidential Privilege is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, but that Congressional authority (and responsibility) for oversight are. Then one should notice that the body of the letter relies specifically on an assertion of privilege made by the Nixon administration. This assertion was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, compelling Nixon to hand over the infamous White House tapes. Shortly after that ruling was made, Nixon resigned.

The thing is, Bush's crimes are much, much more grievous than those of the Nixon administration - thus the need for a much, much higher wall of secrecy. The problem is that in Nixon's time freedom of the press had not yet been compromised at the corporate level. The question the media should be asking at every White House presser, but of course isn't, is this: "Mr. President, if you really have nothing to hide, why are you doing everything you can, including breaking several laws, to hide it?"

* - Here's the video of what is becoming known as Sara Taylor's 'Führer Oath' testimony. Note that even when her mistake is pointed out to her she still explains that she interprets her oath to the Constitution as meaning loyalty to the personal will of George W. Bush.
Oath to the President?
Update: The oath of office is defined by Article VI of the Constitution. The texts of the oath the President takes, and a somewhat different oath taken by the Vice President, Congressmen, Senators, and cabinet members can be found here.

The practice of taking oaths comes down to us from religious traditions. "Abraham had Eliezer take hold of his genitals, hence the derivation of the term "testimony" from "testicles". (Wikipedia, referring to Genesis, 24, 2) The ancient Essenes abhorred the very idea of taking oaths, and it is condemned in the Dead Sea Scrolls on the grounds that one should be honest and forthright without recourse to such artifice.

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