Back to Index

Is President George W. Bush above the law?

Both internationally and nationally, there is a feeling that President George W, Bush may consider himself above the law. Internationally, the refusal to join international organizations has given rise to the feeling that the US, where the UN headquarters are located, uses the UN and its related organizations only when they suit its purposes. It is habitual in US oratory to say that the US is a country of laws, as if this were not true of other countries. Now the response of President Bush to the International Criminal Court has given the impression that the US views itself above the law. At a solemn ceremony at UN headquarters, 10 countries brought the total number of nations to ratify a Rome treaty establishing the International Criminal Court to 66, six more than needed to bring the treaty into force on 1 July. The Bush administration rejected the entire concept of a permanent international war crimes tribunal. It is considering withdrawing former President Bill Clinton's signature from the Rome treaty, even though Clinton did not submit it to Congress for ratification, fearing US soldiers abroad would be subjected to prosecutions. Republican Congressmen have introduced a smattering of retaliatory legislation, the provisions of which range from forbidding any US contact with the court and punishing those ratifying the treaty to using force to free any American brought to The Hague.

It is said that President Bush does not want to be forced to appear before the court to defend his action in Afghanistan. His concern is understandable, but the result is that other leaders such as Tony Blair who cooperated with him could be tried, but he himself would go scot free. This would appear to be blatantly unfair, but I leave it to WAISers to decide what remedy what remedy should be applied.

The charge that President Bush views himself above the law domestically has received much less publicity. Hence the importance of a recent meeting of the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Steve Horn. The best feature of the US system is the holding of congressional hearings, and this one was excellent. The witnesses were four prominent archivist-historians. Stanley Kutler, author of Abuse of Power: the New Nixon Tapes; Richard Reeves, Robert Dallek and Joan Hoff. As usual, the committee was bipartisan, but, although the chairman is a Republican, all agreed that the restrictions on access to presidential papers proposed by President Bush would give the president excessive power and upset the balance which is part of the American system. The villain of the discussion was Henry Kissinger. It was shown how he manipulated presidential privilege to hide and distort his dealings with North Korea and China. The proposed restrictions would create unsurmountable barriers to research. They are already bad enough already. World War I papers are still classified, and now the number of `people who could impose secrecy and the duration of it would increase beyond belief. The playing field would not be level. If a historian brought suit to gain access to documents, the current President would be required to defend their secrecy at government expense, while the historian would be required to pay for his own lawyers. As a result, none would sue. The spectacle of a bipartisan committee, chaired by a Republican, announcing its unanimous intention to fight legislation proposed by a Republican President is so unusual that the case would seem to me clear.

Ronald Hilton - 4/15/02