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Torture's Smoking Guns

"Mr. Bush signed the two measures into law. But he then issued a so-called signing statement in which he instructed the executive branch to view parts of each as unconstitutional constraints on presidential power.

"In the authorization bill, Mr. Bush challenged four sections. One forbid the money from being used 'to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq'; another required negotiations for an agreement by which Iraq would share some of the costs of the American military operations there.

"The sections 'purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations,' including as commander in chief, Mr. Bush wrote.

"In the other bill, he raised concerns about two sections that strengthen legal protections against political interference with the internal watchdog officials at each executive agency. . . .

"The White House has defended Mr. Bush's use of signing statements as lawful and appropriate. But in 2006, the American Bar Association called the device 'contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.'

"Mr. Bush has used the signing statements to assert a right to bypass more than 1,100 sections of laws. By comparison, all previous presidents combined challenged about 600 sections of bills."

As I noted in my October 1 column, Bush's first signing statement in eight months actually came two weeks ago, appended to a $630 billion-plus stop-gap spending bill and vaguely objecting to "certain provisions similar to those found in prior appropriations bills passed by the Congress that might be construed to be inconsistent with my Constitutional responsibilities."

Last-Minute Rule-Making Watch

Alicia Mundy writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Bush administration officials, in their last weeks in office, are pushing to rewrite a wide array of federal rules with changes or additions that could block product-safety lawsuits by consumers and states.

"The administration has written language aimed at pre-empting product-liability litigation into 50 rules governing everything from motorcycle brakes to pain medicine. . . .

"This year, lawsuit-protection language has been added to 10 new regulations, including one issued Oct. 8 at the Department of Transportation that limits the number of seatbelts car makers can be forced to install and prohibits suits by injured passengers who didn't get to wear one.

"These new rules can't quickly be undone by order of the next president. Federal rules usually must go through lengthy review processes before they are changed. Rulemaking at the Food and Drug Administration, where most of the new pre-emption rules have appeared, can take a year or more. . . .

"The use of rulemaking to protect corporations from product liability was discussed from early in the Bush administration, said former Bush domestic-policy adviser Jay Lefkowitz, who was instrumental in the process. . . .

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