Where are the Elders?


March 4, 2009 by J. Madson

So where are the elders of the church? The constitution has been hanging by a thread and what do we hear? not even a peep or a mutter?

For all of those Bush defenders out there, I’m sure today’s newly released memos only confirm your views that everyone critical of bush must suffer from some derangement syndrome or be a shrill liberal. Leaving aside the 92 tapes we now know were purposefully destroyed to obstruct justice at the behest of the white house (a felony), there is still that small matter of the bill of rights.

We all of course know that the bill of rights was an unnecessary appendage to the constitution. Surely we can trust those who rule over us to protect our liberty. In reality, absent the BoR, the constitution would not have been ratified because those with wisdom realized that government was force and those in power would quickly abuse it. The purpose of the BoR was meant to protect certain liberties and guarantee the federal government would never engage in certain conduct. Of course, that was until the bush administration and the lawyers got hold of the constitution.

In a memo called “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activity Within the United States,” Yoo argued that the president could use the military domestically to seize property, raid homes, and violate the fourth amendment. It was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked whether Mr. Bush could use the military to combat terrorist activities inside the United States. In the memos released today we learn the following about the Oct 23, 2001 memo:

“The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty wrote to Mr. Gonzales. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, they said, since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force. The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

Glen Greenwald summarizes the legal conclusions of the Oct 23 memo:

The essence of this document was to declare that George Bush had the authority (a) to deploy the U.S. military inside the U.S., (b) directed at foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike; (c) unconstrained by any Constitutional limits, including those of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to Presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on U.S. soil and as applied to U.S. citizens.

In the memos, the following powers were prescribed to the president: that judicial precedents approving deadly force in self-defense could be extended to allow for eavesdropping without warrants; that Congress lacked any power to limit a president’s authority to transfer detainees to other countries; that Congress had no right to intervene in the president’s determination of the treatment of detainees (a proposition that has been invalidated by the Supreme Court); that the president could engage in sweeping warrantless surveillance by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (using new surveillance programs that required the collaboration of telecommunications and Internet service providers, these agencies were sweeping through the emails, IMs, faxes, and phone calls of tens of millions of Americans); and even more frightening that the president could deploy military units and military police powers on American soil.

John Yoo suggested that the Posse Comitatus Act could be treated as suspended. These memos gave the President the ability to authorize the torture of persons held overseas and in the case of US citizen, Jose Padilla the ability to violate habeas corpus, deny Padilla counsel, and torture him.

Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was seized at O’Hare Airport. Padilla was accused of being involved in a plot to make and detonate a “dirty bomb,” but at trial it turned out that the Bush Administration had no evidence to stand behind its sensational accusations. Evidently it was just fine to hold Padilla incommunicado, deny him access to counsel and torture him–in the view of the Bush OLC lawyers, that is.

Scott Horton, constitutional attorney, summarizes the memos in this manner

John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the President as commander-in-chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Jack Balkin, a Yale Law Professor described the memos as:

“reasoning sought, in secret, to justify a theory of Presidential dictatorship.”


6 thoughts on “Where are the Elders?

  1. Grégoire says:

    Aren’t you an Elder in the Mormon Church? You’re doing something now, by writing. Maybe some General Authority will see your article and be motivated to write himself. Maybe not. Either way you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and that’s what matters.

    There’s a tendency toward superstitious worship of authority in every organization. It’s always easier to look outside ourselves for someone else to do the heavy lifting. Marx called this fallacy _The Cult of The Individual_. It’s a very dangerous fallacy, because it sets up a scenario in which a dictator can take over and do whatever he wants. People start hanging portraits of Stalin, Mao, George W Bush or the President of the LDS Church, and they voluntarily take a tranquilizer and sit in their easy chairs. Then the dictator suspends Habeas Corpus and we wonder why. Some are more guilty than others (and they should be dealt with) but we’re all ultimately responsible.

    Be of good cheer (to steal an old Mormon phrase from my youth). You’re doing something, which is more than most, and if everyone does something, everything will get done.

  2. J. Madson says:


    the part about the elders was more rhetoric than anything else. i constantly hear about he constitution hanging by a thread and it is often done in a very partisan, its the democrats, manner. What is discouraging to me is that so many are entrenched in left/right politics and more so to the right among mormons that when we have a president try to dismantle constitutional protections and an R next to his name there is little if any outrage among the people.

  3. Grégoire says:

    Dear J.,

    It’s all good, and I enjoy rhetorical questions (and answers).

    From my own Rip Van Winkle perspective, the LDS Church has actually come a long way. In the early 1990s, people involved in the era’s equivalent to the Mormon Worker movement could count on being excommunicated days after their involvement was discovered. After that they’d have their family and friends disown them, spread rumors that they were crack addicts and pornographers.

    This was a really effective political tactic. The people involved would be neutralized, because they’d spend the next ten years being angry at the LDS Church rather than trying to promote progressive politics.

    When I first stumbled across some mention of your paper, I predicted that everyone involved would be excommunicated in short order. That was, what, two years ago? If the LDS Church has done anything to you guys, it’s slipped past me unnoticed.

    With that in mind, I can’t help but see the bright side of things. You guys are moving faster than the church, and you’re right to criticize, but individuals are always more forward thinking than large groups. As a part of the organization you have the power to move things in the right direction.

    Best to you, and thanks for writing this up. Your articles are always interesting.

  4. Robert says:

    I absolutely agree with what you wrote. An interesting article I just read was http://voices.washingtonpost.com/white-house-watch/2009/03/bushs_secret_dictatorship.html and it talks about how with these documents that came out show how much Bush was a dictator. And your article really brings it out as well.

    It shows how much we’ve lost the idea of our country. Our forefathers would be pissed if they saw the country this way, especially Washington.

    Along the lines of your title… I love the church, and the community it has provided for my wife and I. But I would be so scared of a Republican LDS member taking the white house (Romney in this last race). So if we argued against his views like we do Bush, not only would be anti-american for disagreeing so strongly with the president, we’d be accused of apostasy for defying a member with such power of a country. And the line would be blurred between him and the Prophet. Not on the fault of the LDS president or the Prophet, but on the views of the republican LDS followers.

    I am really confused how our members became such republican stalwarts. Joseph Smith was pretty liberal if I recall correctly. And don’t even get me start on how much of liberal Jesus would be today.

  5. Jacob says:

    I’ve been reading off and on for a while and I love the site, thanks for the hard work.

    I think this makes it reasonably clear to see how it would not really take much for those in authority to subvert the Constitution. This makes the third time, at least, I think, that the nation has been dangerously close. During the Civil War and WWII there were some serious “curtailments,” lets say, of individual liberties in the name of war that may or may not have been justified. Luckily after those wars ended the liberties were reinstated.

    But what happens when the government starts a war whose end cannot be defined, like the war on terror? If the nation is fearful enough a President could do some major harm to the Constitution and our liberties. That is why I think the Truth Commission that is investigating the Bush Administration is crucial, if not perhaps too impotent.

    Again, thanks for all the great work.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    Just to highlight Jacob’s point:

    According to Yoo, et.al. the president is supposed to be a dictator in time of war, and on top of that has the authority to declare that we are perpetually at war. Put those two clauses together, and we have a perpetual dictator, perhaps somewhat less malevolent than Bush in the case of Obama, but still a dictator, unless he emphatically renounces Yoo’s theory.

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