In the five years since the 9/11 attacks, President Bush has made
good on promises to protect the nation from terrorism. But this
success has come at a price.
In dramatic announcements this week, the president acknowledged
making difficult choices that he says saved American lives. At the
same time, Bush's aggressive use of commander in chief powers is
exposing the White House to an unprecedented array of legal
challenges. Among them:
* His system for military tribunals at Guantanamo, Cuba, was
struck down as unfair and illegal by the US Supreme Court in June.
* His unilateral decision to allow the National Security Agency
(NSA) to conduct warrantless surveillance operations on American
soil was declared illegal and unconstitutional by a federal judge in
* His authorization of coercive interrogation tactics overseas
could subject American soldiers and Central Intelligence Agency
officials to war-crimes charges.
Now, the White House is asking Congress to clean up some of the
legal fallout from the war on terror. With nine weeks left until
midterm elections, political analysts say Bush will probably get at
least some help from lawmakers.
The administration is asking Congress to enact a new statutory
scheme to conduct war-crimes trials at Guantanamo. The White House
wants lawmakers to create a retroactive exemption to shield US
officials from legal liability for use of harsh, coercive
interrogation tactics. And the administration is backing efforts in
Congress to endorse the NSA's secret surveillance program.
Although his administration has been knocked on its heels in
court, Mr. Bush is on the offensive, taking his case directly to the
people in a series of speeches this week.
In comments on Thursday, he defended the NSA surveillance
program, saying it was necessary because of major changes in
communications technology since 1978 when the wiretapping law was
"The terrorists who want to harm America can now buy disposable
cellphones and open anonymous e-mail addresses. Our laws need to
change to take these changes into account," Bush said. "If an Al
Qaeda commander or associate is calling in the United States, we
need to know why they are calling, and Congress needs to pass
legislation supporting this program."
In a speech Wednesday, Bush acknowledged publicly for the first
time that the US had held nearly 100 Al Qaeda suspects in secret CIA
prisons overseas and subjected them to aggressive interrogation
He said "alternative" interrogation procedures were used by the
CIA to force reluctant Al Qaeda leaders to talk.
"This program has been and remains one of the most vital tools in
our war against the terrorists," Bush said. "Were it not for this
program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its
allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the
The Washington Post has reported that the CIA used tactics such
as water- boarding, sleep deprivation, and loud music for prolonged
Administration officials declined to discuss specific techniques.
But Bush insisted that the US does not use torture.
In his Wednesday speech, the president revealed that no Al Qaeda
suspects are currently being held in secret CIA prisons. But he said
it remains an option for future detainees. …