John Edwards Q&A

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Charlie Savage
Globe Staff / December 20, 2007

1. Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?

I strongly oppose George Bush's illegal spying on American citizens. Surveillance that takes place within the United States should be performed with judicial oversight, as the law provides.

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

As I've said many times, we do not need a march to war with Iran. I strongly oppose George Bush's doctrine of "preventive war" and believe that force always should be an option of last resort. I opposed the recent Kyl-Lieberman bill declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which I believed was the first step on the administration attacking Iran. I believe that the 2002 bill authorizing force in Iraq does not in any way authorize the use of force in Iran.

3. Does the Constitution empower the president to disregard a congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops -- either by capping the number of troops that may be deployed to a particular country or by setting minimum home-stays between deployments? In other words, is that level of deployment management beyond the constitutional power of Congress to regulate?

I do not envision this scenario arising when I am president. As president, I will use my authority to begin redeploying our troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. I will immediately withdraw 40-50,000 troops, launch a diplomatic surge to bring all local, national, and regional parties into the political solution that will ultimately end the violence in Iraq, and completely withdraw all combat troops within 9-10 months.

4. Under what circumstances, if any, would you sign a bill into law but also issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass the law?

I strongly disagree with President Bush's use of signing statements as back-door vetoes and permission slips to disregard laws he finds inconvenient or objectionable. As president, I will return to the way that signing statements have been used historically. No one, including the president, is above the law.

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

George Bush has abused our constitutional traditions in his detention policies and has created a national embarrassment at Guantanamo Bay. Judicial review ought to be restored to the process of detentions. As president, I will not detain U.S. citizens as enemy combatants without charges, and I will close Guantanamo Bay on my first day in office.

6. Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?

I support the constitutional separation of powers and the doctrine of executive privilege, as guided by judicial review. Unlike the current president, however, I will not invoke executive privilege merely to advance partisan ends.

7. If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president's authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?

It is hard to believe that the president and his supporters are engaged in a debate about how much torture we should have. The United States should never torture, for several reasons: because it is not the American way, because it undermines our moral authority in the world, because it places our troops at risk, and because it does not work. I strongly oppose George Bush's possible veto of the Congressional bill prohibiting torture.

8. Under what circumstances, if any, is the president, when operating overseas as commander-in-chief, free to disregard international human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified?

The president should consult with Congress before withdrawing from a treaty, although the courts have recognized that the president has the authority unilaterally to withdraw from a treaty.

9. Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?

I disagree.

10. Is there any executive power the Bush administration has claimed or exercised that you think is unconstitutional? Anything you think is simply a bad idea?

Our Founding Fathers believed deeply in a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government. Whether on signing statements, disregard for the Geneva Conventions, or violation of the established FISA process to authorize warrantless and illegal spying on American citizens, the Bush administration has repeatedly attempted to increase the power of the executive branch relative to the judiciary and legislative branches, which does damage to the constitutional design of our government and violates our constitutional traditions. We do not have a royal presidency. We do not have a king of the United States of America. Whatever George Bush thinks, he is not king. And it's important for the American people to understand that their president respects them and understands that the Oval Office and the White House and the presidency doesn't belong to one person. It belongs to the American people.

11. Who are your campaign's advisers for legal issues?

(Note: these advisors have not necessarily endorsed Senator Edwards)

Julius Chambers, Director, University of North Carolina Center on Civil Rights and former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Elizabeth Warren, Professor of law at Harvard Law School

Scott Harshbarger, Senior counsel, Proskauer Rose, and former attorney general of Massachusetts

Peggy McGuinness, Associate professor, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, and formerly a foreign service officer at the State Department for eight years

Allen Weiner, Senior lecturer in law and co-director of the program in international law Stanford University Law School. Formerly a lawyer at the State Department for 11 years

Peter J. Smith, Professor of law at George Washington University Law School. Formerly a lawyer at the United States Department of Justice

12. Do you think it is important for all would-be Presidents to answer questions like these before voters decide which one to entrust With the powers of the presidency? What would you say about any rival candidate who refuses to answer such questions? Edwards declined to respond to this question.

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