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It is time to speak truth to US power

Financial Times Editorial

Published: October 8 2007 20:24 | Last updated: October 8 2007 20:24

Since the attacks of September 11 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush has sought to cast a cloak of legality over the wrongs that it has committed in the name of fighting terrorism.

Mr Bush seems to think that legal sleight of hand can be used to justify almost any tactic to battle terrorists ? including, it emerged last week, simulated drowning and other cruel interrogation techniques that Alberto Gonzales, his former attorney-general, appears to have authorised by secret legal memorandum.

Time and again, Mr Bush has twisted the law to serve his own national security goals. He has given the rule of law a bad name, and devalued the US constitution ? all in the name of protecting the American people.

But now the US Supreme Court has a chance to pierce this veil of spurious legality, and reveal the constitutional and legal abuses inherent in the anti-terrorism crusade ? from the treatment of detainees at Guant?namo Bay in Cuba, to the torture of terrorism suspects in secret prisons overseas, to the unwarranted surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of US citizens.

Court cases challenging the legality of these policies have finally made their way to the top court, and civil liberties groups are pleading with the justices to take them up. The court has already agreed to hear a case testing the constitutionality of a 2006 law stripping Guant?namo detainees of the right to challenge their detention in federal court.

As soon as Tuesday, the court could announce whether it will also hear a case involving the ?renditions? of terrorism suspects in secret prisons overseas. The justices are also being urged to hear a case testing the right of Americans to challenge the government?s secret surveillance programme in court.

In both the renditions and the surveillance case, the administration is refusing to answer the charges against it, claiming the mantle of state secrecy to stay out of court.

These cases give the justices the chance to undertake a comprehensive review of Mr Bush?s post-September 11 national security policies. They should not pass up this opportunity.

The genius of American democracy is that it gives each branch of government ? the executive, the legislature and the judiciary ? the power to check abuses by every other branch. Mr Bush has abused his power, and Congress has failed to hold him to account; it is time the Supreme Court did so.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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