Over White House objections and by convincing, veto-proof margins,
Congress voted late last year to ban the torture of anyone in U.S.
government custody.

When President Bush signed that ban last month, he added a disclaimer,
saying that nothing in the ban affected his prerogatives in a time of
national emergency to fight the war on terrorism how he chose. In other
words, he reserved the right to torture even though Congress explicitly
outlawed it.

And he used the same justification for bypassing
the courts and ordering the National Security Agency to conduct
warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens.

Bush also
invoked this same authority to assert that he could hold U.S. citizens
indefinitely, without trial or counsel, simply on his say-so.

Taking an expansionist view of a new law on the treatment of the
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees, the administration insists that it
bars federal courts from any jurisdiction over the detainees,
“including application for writs of habeas corpus.” The right to be
brought before a judge is fundamental to civil liberties, but the
administration has decided it can selectively suspend that right. It
has asked the federal courts to dismiss all detainee lawsuits,
effectively leaving the detainees’ fate in the hands of a legal process
effectively controlled by the president.

The assertion of these
powers has its roots in the War Powers Act of 1973, a controversial
law, parts of which are widely believed to be unconstitutional, and
resolutions on the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq that Congress
passed post-9/11. And the White House says the emergency powers will
last as long as the war on terror _ in other words, until the president
declares the war on terror over.

Surely Congress did not intend
such broad and open-ended powers. When Congress returns from its
recess, an early and essential item of business is for lawmakers to
clarify what powers they did and did not intend the president to have
in the war on terror. It is not a good precedent that the president has
begun to attach disclaimers to laws with which he disagrees.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)