By Donna Yee (October 5, 2007)
Specialist in National Security Law Warns of Abuses to Constitution in War on Terror
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself," said Professor William C. Banks of Syracuse University in his Sept. 18 lecture at UAlbany, quoting the Federalist Papers 51, written by James Madison.
Banks' lecture in the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall was a part of the University's celebration of Constitution Day. The quote highlighted his discussion of checks and balances in the government and how disregarding these checks and balances threatens the Constitution.
Banks, a professor of Law and Public Administration at Syracuse and director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, is a specialist in national security law. He addressed the problem of threats to the Constitution with respect to what he believes to be aggressive tactics used in the war on terror. These aggressive tactics, specifically regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and detainees, may violate the Constitution rather than uphold it, he said.
President George W. Bush's remark that we are fighting "a new kind of war" does not prove to be a sufficient reason for the torture and abuse of detainees, according to Banks, who said, "The executive branch continues to behave as if the other branches don't exist."
Torture, abuse, and the use of other interrogation techniques place the executive branch in a precarious position by ignoring the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution, he added. While the powers of each branch will tend to fluctuate, the fluctuations should be in relation to the actions of the other branches and not through external actions.
Banks said Congress also shares the blame by failing to question how policies are enacted and how tax money is spent. "Sadly, I think the legislative branch itself is broken," he said. In addition, he suggested more legislative work and deliberation on policies should be conducted.
Finally, he said that in addition to violating the Constitution, the actions and policies of the government lessen national dignity and place men and women overseas in a tentative position.