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The power of the presidency: How has the president's job changed since September 11? (USA).

"We are a different country than we were on September 10th," President George W Bush said recently. "Sadder and less innocent; stronger and more united; and in the face of ongoing threats, determined and courageous."

President Bush's job, too, has changed since the attacks of September 11. He now leads a war against terrorism. And Presidents historically gain power in times of war.

U.S. Presidents need special powers to lead a war. But some people ask if the President has assumed too much power--at the expense of some of our cherished liberties.

Difficult Challenges

"The way the Constitution is written," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, "wartime powers rest fundamentally in the hands of the executive branch." Fleischer added that this is necessary so that the President can "conduct the war with strength and speed."

Christopher Pyle, a constitutional-law expert at Mount Holyoke College, disagrees. "The Constitution was specifically written so that the powers to conduct war would be shared by Congress and the President," says Pyle. "These are too important to be left to a single person."

There is no argument that President Bush faces difficult challenges. The September 11 terrorist attacks were the first such attacks on U.S. soil in 60 years. The attacks were carried out by people who lived in the U.S. and used our own planes against us. What is the balance between protecting liberty and protecting people's lives?

"We're battling an enemy committed to an absolute unconditional destruction of our society," says U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft. To fight terrorism, the President has claimed special powers--such as detaining (holding by the police) hundreds of people without revealing their names. Do such actions endanger our basic freedoms?

Presidential Powers

The President is the head of the executive branch of government. According to the U.S. Constitution, the President shares responsibility for running the government with the Congress (the legislative branch) and the Supreme Court and lower federal courts (the judicial branch). This division is known as the separation of powers.

The Framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure that the President would not become too powerful. But they wanted the President to be powerful enough to lead the country.

Fighting Terrorism

Under the Constitution, the President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. After the September 11 attacks, Congress authorized President Bush to "use all necessary and appropriate force" to fight terrorism. And in October, Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act. That law gives the President increased power to track down terrorists.

But Congress did not officially declare war on terrorists. Some members of Congress complain that President Bush has assumed wartime powers without getting approval from them.

Recently, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced plans to allow the government to listen in on conversations between defendants and lawyers. Normally, that would be illegal. Ashcroft also said that the government planned to interview 5,000 aliens (foreign citizens) in this country about the terrorist attacks.

Reasonable Powers?

Senator Patrick Leahy (D, Vermont) believes that the President has overstepped his powers. "This administration has preferred to go it alone, with no authorization or prior consultation with the legislative branch," said Leahy. "This is no mere technicality. It fundamentally jeopardizes the separation of powers that undergirds [supports] our constitutional system."

But others argue that the President has the power to make such decisions. Says Senator Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), "Yes, the administration has been aggressive in using all of the constitutional powers at its disposal." But such powers are reasonable Hatch adds, because terrorists "are trying to kill Americans."

Past Presidents have also assumed special powers in times of war. During the Civil War (1861-1865), President Abraham Lincoln ordered the arrest of anyone who expressed sympathy with the South. More than 13,000 people were arrested, by some estimates.

During World War 11 (1941-1945), President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Two thirds of these people were U.S. citizens. The decision was extremely popular at the time, but in 1988, the U.S. officially apologized for the action.

Can We Have Both?

Right now, opinion polls show that President Bush has wide popular support for his actions against terrorism. Whether he retains his popularity will depend on many things. One will be whether he can prevent further terrorist attacks. Another will be his success in preserving the basic freedoms of the American people.

Says Norman Siegel, a civil-liberties lawyer, "We need not choose between fairness and security. We can and must have both. We can and must hold our government accountable when it fails to defend both of those values with equal vigor."

RELATED ARTICLE: News Special: Power of the Presidency, pp. 6-8


Students should understand:

* our three-branch system of government;

* the Constitution's separation of powers;

* the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on civil rights;

* what powers the President usually has;

* why President Bush wants increased powers for the war on terrorism;

* the benefits and dangers of increased presidential powers.


Grades 5-8: * the U.S. Constitution * three-branch government * separation of powers


Present this scenario: The U.S. Treasury Department freezes assets of a charitable organization suspected of terrorist ties. Immigration agents detain aliens for weeks without saying why. Justice Department agents tap conversations between a suspected terrorist and his or her lawyer. Could this happen in the U.S.? Explain your answers.


NOTING AUTHORITY: What military power does the Constitution give the President? (He is Commander in Chief of the armed forces.)

MEETING CHALLENGES: What powers has President Bush acquired to conduct the war on terrorism? (Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act to give the executive branch powers to locate terrorists, detain immigrant suspects, and monitor phone calls and e-mail.)

EXPLORING REASONS: What motivated Congress to do this? (To effectively fight terrorism and protect Americans.)

TO DISCUSS: Why have some people criticized President Bush for the actions he has taken to fight the war on terrorism? (Some critics say he has asserted new powers, without consulting Congress. They say this violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers and erodes basic liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.)
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Author:Hanson-Harding, Alexandra
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 21, 2002
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