Looking at the various machinations of the Bush administration, the quote from King Henry II rings in my head: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
For those who don’t know the story, King Henry II appointed his friend Thomas Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 in England. King Henry II was looking at ways to control the Catholic Church in England, a threat to his royal power, and he thought by putting his guy in charge, that he could impose his will on the church. But once installed as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket’s loyalty shifted to the church and created quite a conflict between these once close friends. In 1170, Becket refused to re-instate two bishops who he had previously excommunicated for their support of the king, and when King Henry II heard this, it’s claimed that he shouted: "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest." Four knights heard this cry and went to the Cathedral in Canterbury where they attacked Becket and split his skill as he clung to the altar.
I think this quote resonates with me as I think about George Bush sitting in the White House saying “I need to torture people to get information to fight the war on terror, but the law prevents it. Will no one rid me of this meddlesome law?” And surrounding him are lawyers and other administration cronies, looking to support their liege, who work tirelessly through the night and even darker days to twist every law and statute to create at best a very shaky legal position to support torture. Or detaining of enemy combatants. Or extraordinary rendition. Or wire tapping of US citizens.
It seems that Bush’s “knights” have been working hard to rid him of those meddlesome laws. Those meddlesome laws that he swore and oath to obey.
In what it seems is the long night that is becoming the United States in the 21st century, there are beacons of light. When the military service JAG senior officers came out opposing the “military interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture), there was a flicker of hope that these atrocities would be stopped. Then the McCain amendment was passed, it seemed like a ray of hope had emerged and that the administration would finally realize that these are not meddlesome laws. These are the laws of the land. They are the laws that characterize the United States as a defender of freedom, of liberty, of democracy. They are the reason that the United States is respected and admired around the world (or was).
But Bush’s knights couldn’t let the little people stop him from carrying out his God given duty. So in another form of legalistic mumbo jumbo, the knights have come up with something called the “signing statement.” It gives the king, I mean president, the ability to sign a law, but then to basically say that he may or may not enforce, respect, or follow the law. And how quickly that ray of hope has been extinguished.
In the mean time, the president continues to spy on the US public (for their own good of course) in clear contradiction of existing laws. Oh the knights have come up with the legal framework to explain why it’s okay for the president to break the law, but let’s make no mistake that it’s breaking the law. If the FISA court was not supportive of the war on terror (which it clearly is since it’s granted all but something like 5 wire taps in the past 4 years), or if the FISA law didn’t allow for short fuse wire taps and the ability to get permission after the fact (which it does), or if the FISA system didn’t work, then I think some changes to the FISA law would be in order. But this was all done outside of the FISA system WHILE it was still working. This illegal spying and wiretapping was done in parallel with other government agencies actually using the system. So either the system works and you broke the law for no reason, or the system doesn’t work and you need to fix it. Not just ignore it when it's inconvienent. But fixing it, if it really needs fixing, would take time and effort.
But unfortunately the knights are too busy to do anything like that. They need to keep working to help build a “legal framework” to explain the next arrogant over-reach of executive power that is needed to support the never ending war on terror. Stayed tuned, you know it’s not over yet.