Bush’s Use of Power Worries Panelists

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October 11, 2007 (New York) -- Decrying “an over-reaching of executive power,” panelists at a roundtable held by the Center for Law and Culture on October 4 criticized the Bush administration for limiting civil liberties and ordering brutal interrogations of terror suspects in the name of national security.
“On the same day we’re taking a look at executive power, The New York Times’ front page story discloses U.S. endorsement of severe interrogations,” said Professor Katherine Franke, co-director of the Center, who moderated the interdisciplinary panel of two sociologists and an historian. She added that the Justice Department has ignored executive power used excessively in the current administration.
History Professor Mae Ngai, Sociology Professor Charles Tilly, both from Columbia University, and George P. Steinmetz, University of Michigan professor of sociology and German, all expressed concern that society’s rights and freedoms curtailed by the U.S. war against terror could be lost permanently.
“The message from our government is that the terror threat is ongoing; that we’ve entered a phase from which we won’t return,” said Tilly. He added, “There’s an assumption of a permanent seizure of power…unlike martial law that’s lifted at the end of an emergency.”
He decried the “de-democratization” of the U.S. since 2001. “Every civilization has had its period of lesser democracy,” he said. “Does that mean we should live with it?”
Ngai cited examples from history in which democracy has been compromised and civil liberties lost for some citizens, such as the internment of Japanese Americans in this country during World War II.
She cited the government’s response after the September 11 terrorist attack as another example: “The day after 9/11, a thousand people in the U.S. were detained, many stripped of their rights,” she said. Disregard for individual rights could become the norm rather than the exception, she added.
The current exercise of executive power is “over-reaching,” she said, adding that it’s become common for Congress “to give executive powers on a silver platter” by approving legislation that increases the president’s authority beyond constitutional limits.
The irony here is that the Constitution’s framers were afraid of the legislature’s power, not the executive’s, added Kendall Thomas, Nash professor of law and co-director of the Center for Law and Culture, commenting from the audience.
Presidents may overstep their authority in foreign, not just domestic, affairs, said Steinmetz. “The U.S. since 2001 has expanded its imperialism,” he said, citing our overthrow of the Iraqi government as an abuse of executive power.
Excessive executive powers are often implemented when the government claims that it perceives either internal or foreign threats to our security, said Ngai, who decried “our culture of self-censorship or acquiescence.”
“We read about near-torture allowed by the Justice Department,” she said.