The Candidates On Executive Power


In some ways, this is one of the most important issues in this election after the astonishing power-grab by Bush and Cheney. The Boston Globe sent out a questionnaire on executive power to all the candidates. Unsurprisingly, Giuliani didn't respond, except with bland mush from Ted Olson. Only McCain and Paul among Republicans repudiated the notion that the president is above the law, can ignore treaties at will, and has the inherent power to seize, imprison and torture anyone on the planet he deems an "enemy combatant" without due process. But the most interesting responses were from Romney and Clinton. Clinton - as always - hedged. She left some space for signing statements. But she is admirably candid in some respects:

The Bush Administration has acted unconstitutionally in failing to comply with FISA, failing to adhere to Congress's prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and attempting to hold enemy combatants indefinitely at Guantanamo without review, to name a few examples. More fundamentally, I reject the basic premise of the Bush Administration's view that Executive Power is not subject to the rule of law or to constitutional checks and balances.

Romney, however, clearly represents the continuation of the de facto protectorate of the Bush-Cheney administration. He backs the use of signing statements, the right of the president to ignore treaties if he wishes, and only supports "some type of habeas corpus relief" for US citizens seized by the government. On torture, he believes that the president can torture and is under no obligation even to answer questions about it:

A President should decline to reveal the method and duration of interrogation techniques to be used against high value terrorists who are likely to have counter-interrogation training. This discretion should extend to declining to provide an opinion as to whether Congress may validly limit his power as to the use of a particular technique, especially given Congress’s current plans to try to do exactly that.

It seems to me that that kind of power is monarchical not presidential, secret and dangerous rather than open and legal. According to Romney, the president doesn't even have to say if he believes Congress can ban, say, waterboarding? A vote for Romney is a vote to continue the unprecedented and indefinite powers that Bush and Cheney have seized for themselves.   

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