For those who don't know their Latin, Cicero's phrase translates as "in times of war, the law falls silent." In Shakespeare, Cicero uses the phrase to describe a Rome that believed that Caesar could do no wrong. In other words, in wartime, we ought to support our government, no matter what.
Before certain people get their panties in a wad, this is not going to be some post calling for Bush's impeachment. I am dealing with the spying controversy (in the larger context of approaches to the War on Terror), but I'm merely asking some questions. First off, let it be known that I believe the President, as commander-in-chief, should have broad powers in matters of foreign intelligence, during wartime. Of course, this must always be clearly checked by Congressional, judicial, and democratic oversight, and be done within the rules. One of the problems with this current controversy is that as far the warrantless searches and wiretaps go, it appears that Bush may not have done everything on the up and up. I'm not sure if what he did was legal or not. The debate is raging as I write this--you have people like Charles Krauthammer suggesting Bush has the power, and groups like the ACLU saying that he doesn't. As I've said before, we don't even know all the details on this yet, so I think it's unfair to start even hinting about impeachment. The Republicans made a mockery of the Constitution during the 90's impeachment circus--certain anti-Bush Democrats ought not do the same.
The fact is, only a couple of high-profile Democrats have actually used the I-word, but as I said, we ought not even go there. We ought to have independent hearings on this, to decide whether Bush has the legal powers in this matter, and if not-see that he gets them-with clear limits of course. The limits are important, I must emphasize this. To be honest with you, it's not so much the spying that bothers me. Rather, it's the attitude that has risen up around this controversy. What bothers me is the idea that many have that the President has limitless power in times of war.
This didn't start with the NSA spying controversy. This goes much deeper. Secret prisons. Extraordinary rendition. Certain provisions in the Patriot Act. Criticism of the war (or any of his policies, for that matter). Most sensible people recognize that in wartime, we must find a way to balance civil liberties and security. This requires open and honest debate, and even dissent in many cases. The debate it seems, has been taken over by extremists. People on the right dismiss any talk of protecting civil liberties as aiding the terrorists. To them, dissent is disloyalty. O'Reilly calls the ACLU "the most dangerous group in the country." The press is seen as a fifth-column, deliberately undermining the war effort. Not that the incessant negativity from a lot of the press these days, especially regarding Iraq, hasn't become a nuisance, and in certain cases a hinderance. Many suggest that we should back the President no matter what, and those that don't are nothing short of traitors. Reports of possible torture are dismissed as either fantasy, or neccessary. "Who gives a damn about terrorists?" they say. Of course, we must remember that its not about being as bad as the terrorists. We'd have to go a long way to come even close to the brutality that our enemies represent. The problem is, we don't have to go nearly as far to abandon our own compass. These things are all well-established, so there's no need to dwell on them. There's no need to be high-handed.
On one extreme, we have the far-right, which thinks that basically anything goes, and liberals are at best a pathetic nuisance, and at worst, a fifth column. You need only listen to the screeds to hear this. On the other extreme is the far-Left, which thinks the greatest threat is not al-qaeda but Bush, and that the war on terror is really an excuse to take away our liberties. Keep in mind that I'm not talking about mainstream liberals here. I'm talking about the Michael Moores, the Ward Churchills, the Noam Chomskys, and the ANSWER-types. The hardcore antiwar types. The moonbats, as it were. These are the types who think the Iraq war is a war crime, an illegal and unjust war. They dismiss the millions of Iraqis who voted in the elections. While the right seems committed to ignoring the bad news, the far-Left only seems to focus on the bad news. These types will see any attempt to fight an effective terror war as unjust, so they can't be reasoned with either.
Also, it doesn't help that you have a press that only seems to feed this division, that divides us with labels and sloppy political constructs, like the Red State-Blue State nonsense.
As with many other issues, the debate on civil liberties in wartime has ceased to be a debate. The political pendulum has shifted rightward, so the right controls a lot more of the debate (contrary to their assertions).
We need to debate these issues openly and honestly, always from the standpoint of winning the terror war. The Constitution isn't a suicide pact, but it's more than "a damn piece of paper." We need to remember who the real enemy is. Enough of this "Bush is a terrorist," or "Liberals want us to lose the war" nonsense.
And getting back to the original point, the President's warmaking powers are not unlimited. Bush can, and has made mistakes. As for the press, while I too wondered why the New York Times felt the need to print umpteen Abu Ghraib stories, and while I'm troubled that the press was complicit in an illegal leak of classified info, I have to ask: What is the role of the press with regards to this matters? Can we really shoot the messenger?
Again, all these are questions I'm trying to answer. The pundits and politicians are playing their familar roles, with all the high talk and phony outrage, on both sides. All the famous quotes by Ben Franklin and others are bandied about ad nauseum. We've all spent time on our high horses, except of course for our brave troops, who fight for us every day in the trenches, asking only that we not piss on their sacrifice, or exploit them for political gain.
And that we not pull them out until the mission's done.