2001 September 25

Memo to President Bush Says Congress Has No Authority to Limit His Powers on Terrorism


A memo, written on this day by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel, argued that the president had complete authority to order military action related to terrorism. The full title of the memo was “The President’s Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations Against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them.” Most important, the memo argued that Congress had no power to “place any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response…these decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.” The argument that neither Congress nor the federal courts had any authority to limit the president’s power when the president acted as commander in chief was a central theme of the Bush Administration’s policies on terrorism.

The Supreme Court rejected the argument that detained “enemy combatants” had no right of access to the federal courts, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld on June 28, 2004.

The Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush administration was a consistent source of legal justifications for unprecedented and in the view of most scholars unjustified exercises of presidential power. See, for example, the notorious “torture memo” of August 1, 2002.

Learn more, read the memo: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/torturingdemocracy/documents/20010925.pdf

Read: Joseph Margulies, Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (2006)

Follow a timeline on post-9/11 events in the war on terrorism: http://www.investigatingpower.org/timelines/9-11/

Learn more about the war on terrorism and civil liberties: Susan Herman, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy (2011)

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