Fifth of 25 excerpts from The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer:
Wars have always aggrandized presidential power in America's history. Some of the country's greatest presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, broke laws in the name of safeguarding national security Lincoln infamously suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, and Roosevelt ignored the Neutrality Acts before World War II. Roosevelt also interned 120,000 Japanese-American citizens. By comparision, President Bush's infringements of Americans' civil liberties during the war on terror have been modest. But the constitutional arguments made by Bush administration lawyers in justifying its policies have been of a whole new order. While earlier presidents overstepped boundaries in times of emergency, neither Lincoln nor Roosevelt claimed the routine presidential right to do so. Nixon set the closest precedent. He argued that he had the inherent right as President to exercise such power, or as he infamously put it, "When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal." But he was forced to resign in disgrace. The Bush White House, in contrast, seized on historical aberrations, such as the darkest moments of Lincoln and Roosevelt, and turned them into doctrines of presidential perogative.
Copyright 2008 by Jane Mayer. All Rights Reserved