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The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration Paperback – April 13, 2009
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“An important book―a genuine service to national interest―on several levels.”
- Timothy Rutten, Los Angeles Times
“Chilling. . . . The portrait of the Bush administration that Mr. Goldsmith draws in this book is a devastating one. . . . Illuminating.”
- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
About the Author
Jack Goldsmith is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard University. From October 2003 to June 2004 he was assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.
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The book is an easy read and is very engaging. Goldsmith describes how he got the job at OLC and the personalities of many of the President's and Vice-President's legal advisors that he dealt with regularly. Most importantly, Goldsmith describes the most famous - and for him, most difficult - decisions that he made by withdrawing two earlier legal decisions concerning torture.
Most interestingly, and despite the misleading title (Goldsmith doesn't argue that President Bush ran a terror presidency; instead, that his presidency was overshadowed by the terror threat), Goldsmith is not very critical of the overall legal posture of the Bush presidency. Instead, he criticizes the tactics taken by many in the administration for claiming overly-broad executive power when that posture was not necessary. Instead, that extreme view has caused a reaction against the President's legal policies. He also discusses how the fears of further terror attacks drove the policies in the White House. Finally, Goldsmith argues that this new emphasis on legal opinions is the result of the criminalization of warfare and the "gotcha" investigations that pervade Washington, D.C. He claims that these attitudes unnecessarily hinder (and place in jeopardy) the intelligence and military operatives responsible for implementing policies.
This is an illuminating book, although at times it is a bit short on details that leaves the reader wanting more substance - probably because many of the issues that Goldsmith worked on were and still are classified. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the legal policies and controversies during the early years of the War on Terror.
Jack Goldsmith, conservative lawyer and law professor tells us of his appointment as Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel to the Justice Department under John Ashcroft.
The Counsel is made up of lawyers who analyze the legal ramifications of a policy the president may want to consider or promulgate. They submit their opinions on the same, and its legality. In a post 9/11 atmosphere, Goldsmith describes a White House that is anxious to expand its powers so it may fight terrorism unimpeded. This is motivated by a constant stream of intelligence that provides a daily diet of threats and plots against the USA, and a vice president's belief that any threat, no matter how marginal, must be taken as an imminent threat.
With Goldsmith's appointment in October of 2003, he began to offer his legal opinion on a number of issues. He defended these opinions at White House meetings that included the President's counsel, Alberto Gonzalez, the ever-present Vice President's Counsel, David Addington, and John Yoo who wrote several opinions giving the president carte blanche to implement virtually any policy he wanted. David Addington's long time conservatism and association with Dick Cheney gives him a great deal of power and influence. He is equally abrasive and uncompromising, insisting that presidential decisions should be without limits, and his actions not subject to the scrutiny or knowledge of the Congress or citizens of the US. He dismisses American allies saying, "They don't have a vote."
This is what eventually gets Goldsmith in a squeeze, and enhances his perception by others that he is not a team player. He begins to review some earlier opinions made shortly after 9/11. These opinions are about enemy combatant status and the legal limits of torture. He advocates that these opinions should be reversed, which alienates him from C.I.A. who have been operating under guidelines that they believed would have left them immune from prosecution. With Goldsmith's assertion that previous positions were legally untenable, this leaves several people at several levels open to legal action--retroactively. Hence, the hostility toward the author, who feels he has no option but to resign.
Then abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay unfold after he suggests reversal of opinions regarding torture and treatment. He contends that secrecy, failure to inform, and keeping Congress and the public out of the loop make it appear the government was acting illegally or immorally, a perception he contends is false. He also makes a strong point that the more success the administration had in preventing a second attack, that it "had an equally self-defeating effect of enhancing public skepticism about the reality of the threat."
The author closes by comparing the executive excesses and motives of Lincoln and FDR who were far more calculating and intuitive about public feeling and reaction. He illustrates several examples of their successful attempts through, guile, insight, and even deceit at expanding their power to preserve our freedom rather than a naked grab for power. He is very persuasive in showing the reader how President Bush's go-it-alone policies, operating in secrecy, lack of cooperation with Congress and other agencies, are ultimately self-defeating, less than pragmatic, and add to the public's mistrust of his office.
Goldsmith brought some excellent points to light. There is no doubt that he is a devout conservative and writes well and convincingly. I simply did not feel there was sufficient information to rate this book higher. This was only an appetizer, and I was looking for a feast.
This is a "one-day" book. I wish there had been more.
"The One Percent Solution"
"The Genius of Impeachment"
"The Imperial Presidency"
Most recent customer reviews
Great to read of the past president and compare to the now president of the U.S.
Would recommend purchase