“The big story of the day.” The last time I heard that phrase a Today show reporter was talking about Michael Jordan’s reture to basketball. “That will be the big story of the day,” she opined. Thirty minutes later, Katie Couric announced, “We have breaking news …” The date was September 11, 2001.
If this is not the big story of the day, it should be:
Story: “Obama releases internal Bush Justice Department memos,” CNN, 3 March 2009 – LINK
Analysis: “Secrets, Lies and Destroyed Videotapes, CBS, 2 March 2009 – LINK
This story will be all over the news and the Internet, so why bother to mention it here? Because it bears repeating again and again. It makes Watergate, CREEP and “ratf*cking” look like schoolboy pranks. That episode resulted in the resignation of a president and an eventual pardon by his successor.
The nine memos which the Bush administration refused to release - hiding behind the veil of national security - basically say that the president – in the "war on terror" – can ignore the Constitution and is not bound by U.S. laws, does not have to answer to the legislative and judicial branches of our government, is not bound by the Geneva Convention and can opt out of any U.S. treaty agreement. The memos further state that warrantless wiretaps against U.S. citizens are within the administrative branch’s powers, and that it’s appropriate to torture and to “render” prisoners to countries where torture is legal.
In one memo, John Yoo, then a deputy assistant attorney general, wrote: “"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully." He said the "Supreme Court has recognized that the government's compelling interests in wartime justify restrictions on the scope of individual liberty."
We could bring in a whole slew of legal lights to debate whether what Bush called a “war on terror” is, in fact, a “war” at all, or was Yoo continuing to tie the war in Iraq to 9/11?
So, how did the Bush administration get away with this and with keeping these memos a secret for so long? How could the CIA destroy 92 relevant videotapes which might incriminate this bunch of neoconservative hooligans?
The watchdog died.
What brought Watergate to light was vigilant and investigative reporting, something that did not exist through most of the years George W. Bush occupied the Oval Office.
Listen to the words of this conversation which took place on “Imus in the Morning” on 15 May 2005:
David Gregory, now host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” then Chief White House Correspondent, had just stated the 9/11 Commission Report refutes Vice President Dick Cheney’s continuing claim that Saddam Hussein and 9/11 were connected.
Don Imus: "Do you agree with me that he (Cheney) should be impeached?"
David Gregory: "As I said, I'm not here to make those kinds of judgments, and I know where you're trying to go with it. I've known you a long time, and I'm not a sucker. I mean it's not like I'm sitting here doing a crossword puzzle, and I'm going to get caught off guard, you know what I'm saying?"
“I’m not here to make those kinds of judgments.”
That morning I mailed Gregory a letter to 30 Rock telling him that’s precisely what he is there to do – it’s his job as it traditionally has been the job of the Fourth Estate to serve as a watchdog over government.
Gregory might never have seen my letter, but he did get tougher.
The best “puppy” in the current White House just might be the new watchdog being nourished by statements like this from the nation’s highest law enforcement official:
Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a statement today saying, "Americans deserve a government that operates with transparency and openness. It is my goal to make OLC (Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel) opinions available when possible while still protecting national security information and ensuring robust internal executive branch debate and decision-making."