(CNSNews.com) - President Bush and Vice President Cheney committed impeachable offenses by "adopting the tactics of the enemy" in response to 9/11, according to the two authors of a new book critical of the administration.
While previous presidents have sometimes overstepped their authority, the overreaching of the Bush administration is largely unprecedented, because top officials have sought to permanently expand power, Frederick Schwarz Jr. and his colleague Aziz Huq argue in their new book, "Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror."
Roger Pilon, director of the center for constitutional studies at the CATO Institute, said in response that the authors and others were trying to convert what should be political issues into legal ones to be ultimately decided in the courts.
"The last thing we want is for foreign policy to be conducted by lawyers and courts, yet we are moving increasingly in this direction," he told Cybercast News Service Tuesday.
Schwarz and Huq took part in a book discussion at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington D.C., hosted by CAP senior fellow Morton Halperin, a former member of the Nixon, Clinton and Johnson administrations and a former American Civil Liberties Union director.
Schwarz was chief counsel to the U.S. Senate's Church Committee, which investigated law enforcement agencies' conduct following Watergate.
He and Huq told audience members that a "new theory of unchecked presidential power" with roots in the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, is now taking hold under the guise of national security.
America's human rights record, international reputation and the struggle against terrorism have been greatly harmed because of "executive unilateralism," they charged.
The authors, who are attached to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, drew a parallel between the arguments set out by Bush administration officials and British monarchs and argued that the president's policies have harmed, rather than advanced, national security.
Former allies are less cooperative, and terrorists like Osama bin Laden can cite evidence of torture as a recruiting tool, Schwarz told the discussion.
Throughout American history, presidents have "reacted in ways that do not involve all three branches," Huq said. He acknowledged this was also true of Democrats, citing Franklin Roosevelt's internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Nevertheless, the transgressions of the Bush years are more disturbing and potentially more harmful, because they were done "wholly in secret" and with a dismissive attitude toward the need for accountability, he said.
'Impeachment appropriate, but unwise'
While both authors said there was compelling evidence of impeachable offenses, they argued that the legal process would be counter-productive to the nation's long-term interest and that in Schwarz's words "the wiser course is not to go down that road."
Huq pointed out that impeaching Bush and Cheney presented a particular problem in that it would result in a transfer of leadership from one party to another - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is third in line to the presidency.
Such a shift in power would be a politically awkward proposition, he said.
Instead, Congress should commit itself to heightened oversight, and "weakened" internal executive branch mechanisms should be restored, Hug said, citing the Justice Department's office of legal counsel and the office of inspector general as potentially valuable instruments for applying checks on presidential authority.
Richard Miniter, a counter-terrorism expert and author affiliated with the Hudson Institute, told Cybercast News Service the debate is largely a function of the political dominance the major political parties have enjoyed in different branches of government.
"Where you stand depends on where you sit politically," he said. While the Democrats have dominated Congress since the 1950s, the Republicans have had considerable success over that period in winning control of the White House, Miniter observed.
"Liberal thinkers tend to be skeptical of executive power," he said.
"Those who try to make the case the Constitution imposes the same restraints on the president during wartime as it does during peacetime have to come to grips with the very sparse constitutional language that would support his conclusion and our history, which over 200 years has cut in the other direction," said Pilon.
He said the congressional and judicial branches are ill-equipped to move quickly and decisively to address emergency situations.
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