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Reinvigorating the presidency

Yoo on Bush’s ‘flexibility of action’

Lawyer John Yoo, author of the notorious torture memos, offers an inventive excuse for George W. Bush’s contempt for the law:

[T]he president has broader goals than even fighting terrorism — he has long intended to make reinvigorating the presidency a priority.

Reinvigorating the presidency. Nice. As Yoo goes on to explain, new life must be breathed into this moribund office by allowing the president to ignore “wrongheaded or obsolete legislation”. And it is right that the president should do what he likes, because, you see, he knows more than anyone else: “The president has better access to expertise from the unified executive branch — including its top secret data — than the more ad hoc information Congress develops through hearings and investigations.” In other words, a president should be able to defend illegal actions by saying: “Trust me, I have top secret data that proves I can do this. You want to see the top secret data? Fuhgeddaboudit!” . . .

Yoo tells us that the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision – that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies at Guantánamo, and that Bush’s proposed military commissions for prisoners are illegal – “was less a rebuke of the presidency than a sign of frustration with Congress’s failure to update our laws to deal with the terrorist menace.” IANAL; yet much as I defer to Yoo’s status as a professor at the Berkeley School of Law, I must gently point out that this is a lie.

All this reinvigoration is necessary, Yoo ends by solemnly informing us, because in war, “flexibility of action is paramount”. There is no end to the fastidious renamings of torture by the government and its puppets. Questioning by experts, an alternative set of procedures, and now flexibility of action. Isn’t it odd how the notion of flexibility is only ever invoked by governments when they want to expand their powers beyond legal constraints? A criminal defendant who argued that the law impinged on his flexibility of action would be laughed out of court.

In the interests of reinvigorating this blog through the medium of interactivity, I ask readers to vote in the poll below. The data might come in useful for Professor Yoo’s future research.

How would you like to see the Presidency reinvigorated?
Send the president on a very long holiday
Buy the president a double-vodka-Red-Bull
Teach the president yoga, to improve his flexibility of action
Drive a syringe of adrenaline into the president's heart
Create Free Polls

  1. 1  Kevin Beck  September 18, 2006, 4:56 pm 

    What a glorious piece of Unspeak. I thought Bill Clinton was an ‘extraordinarily vigorous’ president.

  2. 2  sw  September 18, 2006, 6:58 pm 

    I do wait for the inevitable headline, “Yoo must be mad!”, or, perhaps, “Yoo must be joking!”

    What I find so fascinating is the religious undercurrent to this administration’s imagination, and Yoo’s eager attempts to provide secular, legal, natural justifications for the spiritual ascension of Bush. You allude to the President’s omniscience; there is also the omnipotence of the President; and, we see here a quality of resurrection in reinvigoration. What is less obvious, and yet most crucial, is the Christian bent given to the Three Branches of Government, which are condensed, epitomised, revealed in the Unitary Executive, the Three-in-One. Congress, part unruly child, part offspring of the President, as man made God, still subject to the Signing Laws/Word of God; the vague, amorphous Court is the Holy Spirit; and yet both come under the auspices of God Himself, the President, the Three-in-One, the Unitary Executive. The failings of the Congress and the Court are but the falling of man.

    You may not be a lawyer, but perhaps you could be more precise on how Yoo is actually lying here. It is clear to me that he is spinning with all the mud-slinging mess of a humvee stuck in a muddy ditch, and I want to believe that he is “lying” as well, but perhaps you could expand on this very serious charge. You may wish to refer to the Torture memos, where similarly strained interpretations were applied to language: it was apparent in the Torture Memo that the strained linguistic effort actually detached the interpretation from its meaning, so that they were in effect “lying” (for example, in their definition of torture, they are lying about what torture means, much as I would be lying if I defined an elephant as “a furry rodent, the size of a child’s foot, with a twitching nose, white whiskers and a peculiar taste for cheese”). But how is Yoo’s desperate spin here actually a “lie”?

  3. 3  SP  September 18, 2006, 10:56 pm 

    Because it’s not what the SCOTUS judgment actually said. Read it and see.

    I like the three branches as a Trinity: you must be on to something there.

  4. 4  sw  September 19, 2006, 6:37 am 

    Actually, I did read it. But if you are calling Yoo a “liar”, rather than a fervent and misleading spinner (a distinction worth maintaining, I think), then perhaps you could be more specific.

    For example, if you knew that, say, I went on a drunken karaoke spree in a public bar and serenaded dozens with a version of “Estoy Aqui”, and then the next night told you that I had headlined a small venue, you might call me a bit of a misleading idiot, spinning my drunken revelry into something grander than it was, and you might dismiss me as a butcher of classic Latina pop; if I told you that I had actually spent the night in a different city and so could not be culpable for trashing what is the most perfect song ever written, then I would be a liar. Spin vs Lie. A moral crux of Unspeak.

    I’m glad that you enjoy the Trinity. I would like to say that I was joking, but I wasn’t.

  5. 5  SP  September 19, 2006, 11:41 am 

    If you read it, you know that the judgment did not in fact express frustration with Congress’s failure etc. Some of the dissenting opinion did; but that’s not the judgment. Hence it is a lie.

    By the way, does the Trinity have anything to do with the third awakening? Perhaps Jesus awoke once when he was incarnated, a second time when he was resurrected, and a third time in the person of the president himself?

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