How Guantanamo Damaged our Democracy

Michael Waldman shows how inconsistency destroyed legitimacy.
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TRANSCRIPT

Topic: How Guatntanamo Damaged our Democracy

Michael Waldman:  If you talk to a foreign policy expert, a military expert, not somebody who spends their time focusing on civil liberties, but hardcore foreign policy, very often they’ll tell you that the first thing the next president has to do is close the facility of Guantanamo Bay.  It has done incalculable damage to the strength and security of the United States and our reputation all around the world to have torture, to have people kidnapped by our government, which is what’s called extraordinary rendition, to have the president and the people who work for the president saying, in affect, the law doesn’t apply to them.  When the United States acts this way, we lose our moral force, and that has always been one of our great sources of strength around the world.  There are ways to protect the United States that don’t require trashing the constitution.  It’s not so much the individual rights of the people who are detained at Guantanamo Bay that’s important.  It’s also the whole system of constitutional checks and balances, which is the key way we keep our democracy working when you have a president and a congress, and a president, especially, who wants to use their power.  It’s not a surprise that after September 11th, power flowed to the executive.  That often happens after a crisis.  It often happens too much.  There’s often an overreaction and then we kind of correct it.  And that’s happened throughout the country’s history, and it’s not a surprise that there would be that kind of power surge after September 11th.  And the abuses by Bush and Cheney are not even necessarily the worst in the country’s history, but what’s different, and very alarming and really almost unheard of is their argument, which is that this is not power that President Bush has because of some emergency.  It’s not temporary.  It’s not just because of the emergency of fighting terrorism.  It’s inherent there in the presidency.  They argue that the presidency has the power of what Dick Cheney called monarchical prerogatives of the kings, which is basically the president; any president has the power of King George, as if we didn’t fight a revolution precisely to overcome that.  You know there’s nothing more dangerous that this administration has done than the theory of presidential power that they’ve pushed, which left unchecked, would change the nature of our government and our country.