Commentary: In America, governing by memo is unacceptable

This editorial appeared in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Without security, there can’t be liberty.

That, we get.

But without checks on government authority, there can't be a proper balancing of security and liberty, of rights and responsibilities, of essential secrecy and vital openness.

That, powerful lawyers within the Bush administration didn't seem to get. Or maybe they simply didn't believe it in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Documents made public this week by President Barack Obama's Justice Department reveal a view of unbridled presidential prerogative that should disturb all Americans – conservatives, liberals and moderates alike – who value freedom, privacy, property and the Constitution.

The memos were issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal interpretation and guidance for the executive branch. Though the existence of some of the memos and their general contents were known, the Bush administration wanted to keep them secret.

But their release helps show how far awry the thinking went, and in doing so provides a practical lesson along with a historical one.

Among the nine memos posted on the Justice Department's Web site ( www.usdoj.gov) is one that was issued just five days before Bush left office in January. Written by Steven Bradbury, who was principal deputy assistant attorney general, it seeks to make abundantly clear that several OLC opinions from 2001-03 had been abandoned, along with their unjustified extreme positions on presidential authority.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Related stories from McClatchy DC