Signing Statement Silence

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By David Swanson

Every major pseudo peace movement organization in the country, afraid to actually urge Congress to cut off the money for the illegal occupation of Iraq, believed it was really important to set up a commission to probe contractor waste in Iraq, and to once again ban the construction and maintenance of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. Every open-government and whistleblowers group backed the expansion of protections for whistleblowers and the requirement that intelligence agencies promptly respond to congressional requests for documents.

This week President Bush signed the Defense Authorization bill into law, and then added a statement announcing his right to violate these four provisions. And the silence is deafening.

The Guardian newspaper in England, and the Boston Globe wrote serious reports.

The Associated Press wrote an article that touched on the topic but missed the point.

The Virginian Pilot wrote an article that followed Senator Jim Webb's lead and avoided the central problem.

Senators Casey, Levin, and Webb made remarks that failed to challenge Bush's abuse of power or mention the word "impeachment."

The House of Representatives maintained a total and absolute silence.

And activist groups followed suit.

And they look like fools or hypocrites. All of them.

Yes, previous presidents have written signing statements, but never to announce their right to violate laws, only to express opinions about the laws that they were going to, as a matter of their essential duty as president, enforce.

Yes, a signing statement announcing the right to violate a law, and the actual violation are two different things.

Yes, a signing statement should be meaningless.

But the Supreme Court cites them and the Bush-Cheney administration acts on them. This is not the first time Bush has given himself the right to violate bans on permanent military bases, and he has continued to violate those bans. Bush and Cheney routinely refuse to provide Congress with information, to sanction contractor abuse, and to punish whistleblowers. These behaviors will continue, just as will torture and warrentless spying and various other activities that this administration derives the right to engage in from signing statements.

The Government Accountability Office found last year that in a small sample of these signing statements the Bush-Cheney administration had already followed through on violating 30 percent of the laws it claimed the right to violate. The corporate media now spins this as glass-half-full news (more than half the time he doesn't mean it! hurray!).

Last January the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the matter, laying bare the violation of constitutional separation of powers. A Justice Department official testified that the president could violate any law he liked until the Supreme Court told him to stop.

Any fourth grader who has seen the Constitution could tell you he was wrong. Sadly, in our new reality, he was right.