It was during the Civil War that President Abraham Lincoln became known as a "constitutional dictator," said former Nixon White House counsel John Dean during a Monday broadcast of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.
Responding to the recent release of several legal justifications for President Bush's most criticized policies, Dean summarized, "Reading these memos, you've gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It's pretty deadly and pretty serious, what's in these materials."
The memos, released by Obama's Justice Department on Monday, outline possible methods for the president to ignore treaties and International laws, kidnap and torture American citizens and overrule the First Amendment to the Constitution which ensures freedom of speech and of the press.
All of these things and more could be done exclusively by the president in the name of fighting terrorism.
"Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?" asked Olbermann.
"Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the President of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist," said Dean.
Here are some snippets from the memos:
"The power to dispose of the liberty of individuals captured ... remain in the hands of the president alone," said a 2002 opinion written by then-assistant attorney general John Yoo on US methods for transferring suspects.
"Congress can no longer regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements," according to another 2003 opinion written for Alberto Gonzales, then counsel for Bush, which detailed prerogatives for military interrogations.
In another potentially explosive opinion, Bush's administration also gave itself ample space to skirt international law.
The president's "power to suspend treaties is wholly discretionary," according to a memo intended for John Bellinger, who was then legal advisor to the National Security Council.
[h/t The Raw Story]