Austrian right-wing populist Joerg Haider called President Bush a war
criminal on Saturday, days before Austria's government hosts Bush and European
leaders in Vienna.
Haider, whose group is part of Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's government
coalition, said Bush's meeting with his European peers on Wednesday was pointless
as he did not expect the U.S. president to pay attention to what Europe had
to tell him.
"He is a war criminal. He brought about the war against Iraq deliberately,
with lies and falsehoods," Haider said in an interview with Austrian daily
newspaper Die Presse.
"The Iraqi population is suffering terribly. Bush took the risk of an
enormous number of victims," said Haider.
Maverick Haider is a personal friend of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and visited
Iraq's former President Saddam Hussein shortly before the U.S.-led invasion
started in 2003.
Austria's attitude toward the United States has worsened over the last three
years, Die Presse reported separately, citing a Eurobarometer poll.
The poll showed 62 percent thought the United States played a negative role
for world peace, up from 56 percent in the same poll in 2003, Die Presse said,
and 49 percent found the U.S. role in fighting terrorism negative.
America's problem is again a usurping king called George
Bush's determination to impose his own reading of new laws amounts
to a power grab and subverts the US constitution
Imagine a country with a different kind of monarch from the one we are used
to. Forget the nation-binding human monarch whom Archbishop Rowan Williams praised
so deftly this week. Imagine instead a monarch who, like many of Elizabeth II's
ancestors, routinely reserved the right to override laws passed by the legislature,
or who repeatedly asserted that the laws mean something they do not say. Imagine,
in fact, King George of America.
On April 30 the Boston Globe journalist Charlie Savage wrote an article whose
contents become more astonishing the more one reads them. Over the past five
years, Savage reported, President George Bush has quietly claimed the authority
to disobey more than 750 laws that have been enacted by the United States Congress
since he took office. At the heart of Bush's strategy is the claim that the
president has the power to set aside any statute that conflicts with his own
interpretation of the constitution.
Remarkably, this systematic reach for power has occurred not in secret but
in public. Go to the White House website and the evidence is there in black
and white. It takes the form of dozens of documents in which Bush asserts that
his power as the nation's commander in chief entitles him to overrule or ignore
bills sent to him by Congress for his signature. Behind this claim is a doctrine
of the "unitary executive", which argues that the president's oath
of office endows him with an independent authority to decide what a law means.
Periodically, congressional leaders come down from Capitol Hill to applaud
as the president, seated at his desk, signs a bill that becomes the law of the
land. They are corny occasions. But they are a photo-op reminder that American
law-making involves compromises that reflect a balance between the legislature
and the presidency. The signing ceremony symbolises that the balance has been
upheld and renewed.
After the legislators leave, however, Bush puts his signature to another document.
Known as a signing statement, this document is a presidential pronouncement
setting out the terms in which he intends to interpret the new law. These signing
statements often conflict with the new statutes. In some cases they even contradict
their clear meaning. Increasing numbers of scholars and critics now believe
they amount to a systematic power grab within a system that rests on checks
and balances of which generations of Americans have been rightly proud - and
of which others are justly envious.
The Bush administration has often been charged with unilateralism in its conduct
of foreign affairs. But a similar disregard for the rule of law underlies this
domestic strategy. Article 1, section 1 of the US constitution states: "All
legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United
States." Section 7 says that if the president refuses to sign a law, the
Congress can override him. But Bush has never vetoed a bill. Instead he signs
bills into law and then unilaterally redefines them his way.
The contrast between the rhetoric of the public ceremony and the self-authorisation
in the later signing statements is large. Take, for example, the renewal of
the USA Patriot Act on March 9. In the signing ceremony Bush stressed that the
law had been a bipartisan effort involving Congress and the White House. In
the subsequent signing statement, however, he states that he does not feel bound
to report to Congress (as the act requires) and would "withhold information
the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the
deliberative processes of the executive, or the performance of the executive's
Or take the contrast after Bush signed an overwhelmingly supported congressional
bill last year outlawing the torture of detainees. On the face of it the new
law was explicit, strengthening what Bush described as "values we hold
dear" and extending a domestic ban on torture to cover US actions around
the world. But the signing statement on December 30 carefully undermined that
claim. It asserted that "the executive branch shall construe [the law]
in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president ...
as commander in chief," adding that this approach would "assist in
achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the president ... of protecting
the American people from further terrorist attacks". In other words, circumstances
might arise in which torture might still be authorised.
The Bush White House did not invent the presidential signing statement; it
goes back to the 19th century. But the frequency and ambition of Bush's signing
statements go far beyond his predecessors. Whereas earlier presidents issued
signing statements of a highly specific nature, those of Bush are repeatedly
broad and unspecific. Above all, they make claims to enhanced executive power
that impinge on profound issues of liberty such as torture or wiretapping.
Too late in the day for comfort, Bush's approach is coming under greater scrutiny.
In February the bipartisan Constitution Project warned of "the risk of
permanent and unchecked presidential power". Last week the American Bar
Association announced an independent inquiry into the practice. A powerful article
in the New York Review of Books by the veteran writer Elizabeth Drew has also
given the subject higher saliency.
To their credit, even some Bush supporters are alarmed. If Bill Clinton had
done what Bush is doing, the Republican senator Chuck Hagel has pointed out,
Congress would be up in arms. If Bush were to bequeath the powers he claims
to Hillary Clinton, the right would soon go berserk with indignation at the
threat to American values. Which is why the most pertinent comment so far on
the president's strategy has come from the anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist.
He told Drew: "If you interpret the constitution's saying that the president
is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything he wants and
can ignore the laws, you don't have a constitution: you have a king."
It is not anti-American to warn about what Bush is doing. On the contrary,
it is profoundly pro-American. In 1776 Americans issued their declaration of
independence. They demanded a new form of government in place of the "repeated
injuries and usurpations" to which they had been subjected. In the long
list of grievances that followed, the first was that King George had "refused
his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good".
That suddenly has a contemporary ring. Now, as then, America's problem is a
usurping king called George.
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