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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tortured logic, or Gonzo democracy

AG Torture Gonzales makes the exceedingly tortured argument that the Congressional authorization to "use all necessary and appropriate force" in response to the 9/11 attacks justifies holding American citizens as "enemy combatants" and eavesdropping on our phone calls. I'm guessing that both Hitler and Stalin had their Gonzaleses to explain why crime is legal. Here is just a taste of Gonzo's tortured logic:
Now, in terms of legal authorities, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides -- requires a court order before engaging in this kind of surveillance that I've just discussed and the President announced on Saturday, unless there is somehow -- there is -- unless otherwise authorized by statute or by Congress. That's what the law requires. Our position is, is that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes that other authorization, that other statute by Congress, to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.

Now, that -- one might argue, now, wait a minute, there's nothing in the authorization to use force that specifically mentions electronic surveillance. Let me take you back to a case that the Supreme Court reviewed this past -- in 2004, the Hamdi decision. As you remember, in that case, Mr. Hamdi was a U.S. citizen who was contesting his detention by the United States government. What he said was that there is a statute, he said, that specifically prohibits the detention of American citizens without permission, an act by Congress -- and he's right, 18 USC 4001a requires that the United States government cannot detain an American citizen except by an act of Congress.

We took the position -- the United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word "detention." And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O'Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder -- the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, "detention," she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, "authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force."

For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.
At this point, I think we should take careful note of some of the other things that the authorization to use force did not mention:
  • Arresting all bloggers who question the attorney general;
  • Nuking Massachusetts and San Francisco;
  • Letting people starve and freeze to death while continuing to cut taxes;
  • Blocking out the sun.
And many, many more things were not mentioned in that authorization, all of which Torture Gonzales could just as easily "justify" with his warped logic. And still, this one affront to logic and the Constitution is not enough. Gonzo goes on to claim that even his absurdly broad interpretation of the use of force resolution isn't really necessary, because the pResident has the right to do whatever the hell he wants anyway:
I might also add that we also believe the President has the inherent authority under the Constitution, as Commander-in-Chief, to engage in this kind of activity. Signals intelligence has been a fundamental aspect of waging war since the Civil War, where we intercepted telegraphs, obviously, during the world wars, as we intercepted telegrams in and out of the United States. Signals intelligence is very important for the United States government to know what the enemy is doing, to know what the enemy is about to do. It is a fundamental incident of war, as Justice O'Connor talked about in the Hamdi decision. We believe that -- and those two authorities exist to allow, permit the United States government to engage in this kind of surveillance.
A few members of the media tried to give Gonzo a hard time:
Q I wanted to ask you a question. Do you think the government has the right to break the law?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Absolutely not. I don't believe anyone is above the law.

Q You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation. There may be some members of Congress who might say, we never --

Q That's your interpretation. That isn't Congress' interpretation.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, I'm just giving you the analysis --

Q You're never supposed to spy on Americans.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I'm just giving the analysis used by Justice O'Connor -- and she said clearly and unmistakenly the Congress authorized the President of the United States to detain an American citizen, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word "detention" --

Q -- into wiretapping everybody and listening in on --

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: This is not about wiretapping everyone. This is a very concentrated, very limited program focused at gaining information about our enemy.
And, after claiming several times that the surveillance program should have remained secret and that the leak has hurt the country, he still has the balls to come up with this argument:
Q Now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, do you expect your legal analysis to be tested in the courts?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I'm not going to, you know, try to guess as to what's going to happen about that. We're going to continue to try to educate the American people and the American Congress about what we're doing and the basis -- why we believe that the President has the authority to engage in this kind of conduct.

Q Because there are some very smart legal minds who clearly think a law has been broken here.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, I think that they may be making or offering up those opinions or assumptions based on very limited information. They don't have all the information about the program. I think they probably don't have the information about our legal analysis.
Of course, if he had his way, they wouldn't have any information AT ALL.

And why not just ask Congress for more authority? They rubber-stamp everything anyway. Here's Gonzo's explanation:
Q If FISA didn't work, why didn't you seek a new statute that allowed something like this legally?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: That question was asked earlier. We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that -- and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program.
I NEVER thought I'd say it, but I'm beginning to miss John Ashcroft. Ashcroft was just really, really creepy. Gonzales is super-duper, incredibly, outrageously really really really creepy.