Harsh interrogations and Guantanamo Bay, secret prisons and warrantless eavesdropping, the war against al-Qaida and the one in Iraq. On issue after issue, President Bush has showed little indication that he will shrink from the most controversial decisions of his tenure.
With the decision to charge six Guantanamo detainees with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to seek the death penalty for the crimes, many of those issues will now be back in the spotlight. In an election year, that appears to be exactly where Bush wants the focus to be.
The White House said Monday that Bush had no role in the decision to file charges now against the six detainees, leaving the strategy for prosecuting them to the military.
Still, the cases soon to be put before military tribunals — including that against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has described himself as the mastermind of the attacks — represent a major part of “the unfinished business” that Bush and his aides talk about when they vow “to sprint to the finish,” as one aide did again on Monday.
Bush never sounds surer of himself than when the subject is Sept. 11, even when his critics argue that he has squandered the country’s moral authority, violated American and international law and led the United States into the foolhardy distraction of Iraq.
“Six-and-a-half years ago, our country faced the worst attack in our history,” Bush said late last week, speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I understood immediately that we would have to act boldly to protect the American people. So we’ve gone on the offense against these extremists. We’re staying on the offense, and we will not relent until we bring them to justice.”
The 9/11 candidate, Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, may have dropped his bid for the White House. But the 9/11 presidency is far from over.
On the question of warrantless wiretapping, widely expanded after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush is pushing to make permanent legislation that last year made a once-secret program legal, despite a storm of protest that has reverberated since 2005, when the program was disclosed.