Secrecy News

Congress Poised to Transfer Power to the Executive

Instead of defending Congressional prerogatives, Congress appears eager to transfer new, unchecked authority to the President in the name of combating terrorism.

A bill on military commissions for trial of enemy detainees that was approved in the House this week would permanently alter the complexion of the U.S. government by authorizing abuse of prisoners, curtailing prisoner access to the judicial system, and other previously unthinkable steps.

For critical perspectives on the military commissions bill, see “The Blind Leading the Willing” by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, September 27, and “Rushing Off a Cliff,” New York Times (editorial)(free reg. req’d), September 28.

The September 27 House debate, leading to approval of the bill, is here.

The September 27 Senate floor debate on the bill is here.

Meanwhile, House Democrats said that pending legislation on domestic intelligence surveillance would dismantle existing checks and balance and traduce the Constitution.

H.R. 5825, the Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act, “is a dangerously broad bill that would turn FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates domestic intelligence surveillance] on its head by making warrantless surveillance the rule rather than the exception,” the House Democrats said.

“[Its] vague definitions and broad loopholes allow the Executive Branch to conduct electronic surveillance of telephone calls and e-mail in the United States without court orders and without meaningful oversight.”

Their views, detailed in a dissent to a new report of the House Intelligence Committee, were rejected along party lines by the Republican majority.

See “Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act,” House Report 109-680, part 1, September 25.