Although I have often been highly critical of the President, I have little doubt that Mr. Bush sincerely believes that he is acting in the best interests of the American people. However, since he also believes that God speaks through him and that Brownie (the former FEMA director) was doing a “heckuva job,” the relative purity of the man’s motives would seem immaterial in the face of his general disconnect with reality. It is more than a little unsettling to find oneself, as a citizen of this great republic, under the rule of a man who appears delusional at times, a man who, for example, believes that the law does notâ€”or ought notâ€”apply to him and his fellow rogues. I suppose that it is only a matter of time before Mr. Bush issues a signing statement which asserts that his administration might, as circumstances dictate, defy the laws of physics. If they can suspend habeus corpus, then they ought to be able to suspend gravity, as well. Why not?
In any regard, such a signing statement has yet to be issued. However, never one to simply coast on his past excesses, President Bush did recently assert, as reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere, that his administration might open people’s mail as deemed necessary:
President Bush signed a little-noticed statement last month asserting the authority to open U.S. mail without judicial warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases, prompting warnings yesterday from Democrats and privacy advocates that the administration is attempting to circumvent legal restrictions on its powers.
A “signing statement” attached to a postal reform bill on Dec. 20 says the Bush administration “shall construe” a section of that law to allow the opening of sealed mail to protect life, guard against hazardous materials or conduct “physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”
White House and U.S. Postal Service officials said the statement was not intended to expand the powers of the executive branch but merely to clarify existing ones for extreme cases.
“This is not a change in law, this is not new, it is not . . . a sweeping new power by the president,” spokesman Tony Snow told reporters. “It is, in fact, merely a statement of present law and present authorities granted to the president of the United States.”
But some civil liberties and national-security law experts said the statement’s language is unduly vague and appears to go beyond long-recognized limits on the ability of the government to open letters and other U.S. mail without approval from a judge.
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, said the government has long been able to legally open mail believed to contain a bomb or other imminent threat. But authorities are generally required to seek a warrant from a criminal or special intelligence court in other cases, Martin and other experts said.
“The administration is playing games about warrants,” Martin said. “If they are not claiming new powers, then why did they need to issue a signing statement?” [full text]