Coming Soon: A Winter of Discontent

Lost last week amid all the talk of Iraq was the talk in Washington by Senate Democrats that they intend to try to challenge or even roll back some of the Bush Administration's most contentious policies in the legal war on terrorism. For example, The New York Times last Thursday reported that incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), and outgoing Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa), "proposed legislation that would seek to restore the rights of all terrorism suspects to challenge their detentions in court." Remember, this was one of the most controversial components of the Military Commissions Act signed into law a few months ago, before the mid-term election.

The Times also reports that Senate Democrats plan to a aggressively question Administration officials about the various intelligence-gathering operations, at the National Security Agency and otherwise, that have been implemented since the terror attacks. Some of these programs, many legal experts feel, contravene federal law and the Constitution and now the Congress has the political muscle to begin to explore whether that, indeed, is the case. And that "compromise" legislation pushed by Sen. Specter that would have given Congressional approval for the NSA's warrantless spy program without decent checks and balances? Forget about it. At least not until the White House becomes more forthcoming with its legislative cousins about the scope of the program.

However it plays out, things are about to get markedly different for Administration officials who have conceived of and implemented anti-terror policies that push up against civil liberties. We are likely to see dramatic public hearings and then hear about intense private sessions between lawmakers and White House officials. We are likely to see subpoenas and court battles over what information the executive branch may or may not share with the Congress during a time of terror. And hopefully from all of this conflict and tension we are going to see emerge comprehensive anti-terror laws that not only have broad bipartisan support but which also better protect our civil liberties. When the Republicans controlled Congress, there was no incentive to go down this road. Now, there is no choice.

By Andrew Cohen |  December 12, 2006; 10:15 AM ET
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Anything is possible when you have more than one branch of government.

Posted by: MC | December 12, 2006 11:29 PM

I can't wait for the synthesis that will result from the reaction to the action. I think Hegel would like our form of govt. very much.

Posted by: Dave | December 13, 2006 07:51 AM

justice to incoherent idiots via my being present with their dis honesty...

I love a good meal.

Posted by: I would like to see public hearings in which I teach | December 27, 2006 03:44 PM

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