Issue Date: July 14, 2006
Disappearing ethics in government
We see that recently President Bush and Vice President Cheney have taken to lecturing the U.S. press on ethics.
They make a curious pair of teachers, considering the following actions undertaken by this administration:
The administration most recently was upset with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and others for revealing a secret program that searched the bank records of Americans through a huge international database. The program, which is undertaken without oversight, is deemed essential by the administration to the fight against global terrorism.
What I find most disturbing about these stories, said Cheney during a speech for a Republican Congressional candidate in Chicago, is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people.
The vice president is given to exaggeration and to putting things in bleak, apocalyptic terms -- to up the fear ante -- when it suits his purposes. We doubt that some sort of oversight, assuring against abuse, would jeopardize our intelligence gathering. Just as obtaining warrants for information culled from private phone communications would hardly bring the anti-terrorism effort to a screeching halt.
Republican Sen. Arlen Spector shares a healthy skepticism of the National Security Agencys domestic eavesdropping program and the secret financial tracking program. According to The New York Times, the senator was particularly troubled that the administration had expanded its congressional briefings on the financial tracking program in recent weeks after having learned that the paper was working on a story.
Why does it take a newspaper investigation to get them to comply with the law? he asked.
Good question. President Bush and Vice President Cheney have unilaterally expanded presidential power in a way that tears at the fabric of checks, balances and accountability that distinguishes the United States from a dictatorship.
We know what excesses well-meaning officials can perpetrate in the name of fighting perceived threats to national security. We saw it during the Cold War with McCarthyism and with U.S. involvement in the overthrow of governments perceived to be sympathetic to communism. Most of the time they were countries interested primarily in reclaiming control of their own resources. We know that spying on individuals and infiltration of opposition groups occurred during the civil rights and Vietnam eras.
Terrorism has become the new communism, the new enemy and the new rationale for lowering our diligence about maintaining civil liberties.
We believe, however, that far more dangerous to democracy and democratic institutions than terrorism is the administrations view that perceived threats to American security give it justification for acting above the law. So we applaud newspaper reports on matters of grave importance to the public as well as the Supreme Court decision recently handed down on military tribunals. It essentially told the administration that it could not construct a parallel judicial system that existed beyond congressional approval and the reach of any independent oversight to deal with suspects held at Guantánamo.
Secrecy and usurpation of power are enemies of democracy and democratic institutions. They quickly undermine the ethics of good government.
National Catholic Reporter, July 14, 2006
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