Considering the substance of the newly released Yoo memos, Balkin puts it plainly:



"These two disowned claims lie at the heart of the Cheney/Addington/Yoo theory of presidential power-- namely, that when the president acts as commander in chief Congress may not restrict in any way his military decisionmaking, including decisions about detention, interrogation, and surveillance. The President, because he is President, may do whatever he thinks is necessary, even in the domestic context, if he acts for military and national security reasons in his capacity as Commander in Chief. This theory of presidential power argues, in essence, that when the President acts in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, he may make his own rules and cannot be bound by Congressional laws to the contrary. This is a theory of presidential dictatorship.
...
The October 2008 and January 2009 memos are the Bush OLC's way of distancing itself from its conduct during the period when John Yoo was at OLC and when the Cheney/Addington/Yoo theory reigned supreme. It is important to recognize that these two memos are largely concerned with disowning particular broad claims of constitutional law, and they do not disown any of the Bush Administration's specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation. Indeed, after John Yoo left the OLC the Bush OLC was able to justify many of these policies without the Cheney/Addington/Yoo theory, by arguing for example, that applicable legislation should be read very narrowly or that Congress had authorized what the Bush Administration wanted to do in the September 18, 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. No one should confuse these memos with a reversal of Bush Administration policy-- instead, they are an attempt to disown a particular theory of unlimited Presidential power that was an embarrassment to the professional standards of the OLC. In this sense what is remarkable about these two memos is not that they change any concrete practices but that the OLC felt the need to reverse itself years later and to disavow a particular type of reasoning-- reasoning which sought, in secret, to justify a theory of Presidential dictatorship."


The lack of similarly alarmed comment on the Bush administration's bald assertion of unchecked authority from conservative legal sources is striking, and sad.

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