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Law's Detour

Justice Displaced in the Bush Administration

Peter Margulies

Publication Year: 2010

From the Justice Department’s memos defending coerced interrogation to Alberto Gonzales’ firing of U.S. Attorneys who did not fit the Bush Administration’s political needs, Law’s Detour paints an alarming picture of the many detours that George W. Bush and his allies created to thwart transparency and undermine the rule of law after September 11, 2001. Pursuing those detours, Bush officials set up a law-free zone at Guantánamo, ordered massive immigration raids that separated families, and screened candidates for civil service jobs to ensure the hiring of “real Americans.”

While government needs flexibility to address genuine risks to national security—which certainly exist in the post-9/11 world—the Bush Administration’s use of detours distracted the government from urgent priorities, tarnished America’s reputation, and threatened voting and civil rights. In this comprehensive analysis of Bush officials’ efforts to stretch and strain the justice system, Peter Margulies canvasses the costs of the Administration’s many detours, from resisting accountability in the war on terrorism to thwarting economic and environmental regulation. Concise and full of compelling anecdotes, Law’s Detour maps these aberrations, surveys the damage done, and reaffirms the virtues of transparency and dialog that the Bush administration dismissed.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Many people contributed to making this book possible. At the Roger Williams University School of Law, I received great support from Dean David Logan. Research stipends helped not only to aid this project, but also to validate the challenging work involved. I also owe a debt to associate deans...

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pp. 1-6

In June 2007, the Justice Department’s elite Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), whose earlier memos on detention, interrogation, and surveillance of suspected terrorists had ignited controversy, issued a memo on a more mundane subject: faith-based charities and employment...

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1. The Perfect Storm of Politics, Ideology, and Crisis

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pp. 7-24

On September 2, 2005—almost four years after the horrendous attacks of September 11, 2001—President George W. Bush watched a DVD containing news reports of extraordinary human tragedy and loss. The DVD did not portray a terrorist incident. Instead, it compiled news coverage of...

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2. Targeting Individuals and Groups

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pp. 25-51

In May 2002, the Justice Department accused the environmental activist group Greenpeace of tempting sailors into vice. This charge was odd on any number of levels. First, most sailors probably need no temptation. Second, Greenpeace does not trade in vice. The Justice Department filed...

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3. The Architecture of Impunity

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pp. 53-78

In November 2007, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were intently questioning Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge whom Bush had nominated to be his third attorney general. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, himself a former federal prosecutor, asked Mukasey...

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4. Centralizing Policy and Patronage

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pp. 79-97

In 2002, William Mercer, who was then the United States Attorney from Montana and in 2006 became an acting Associate Attorney General, received an e-mail query from an official at “Main Justice” in Washington about a candidate for the Justice Department’s Honors Program. The Honors Program, one of the...

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5. Conspiracy’s Discontents: Prevention and False Positives After September 11

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pp. 99-126

After September 11, criminal law was in danger of being declared obsolete. Although the Justice Department had successfully prosecuted terrorists in the 1990s, Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that the September 11 attacks required a new mind-set for law enforcement. The...

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6. Justice and Elections

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pp. 127-139

In late October 2006, David Iglesias, United States Attorney for New Mexico, was at home when he received a disturbing phone call from his mentor, Senator Pete Domenici.1 Domenici, known as “St. Pete” for his record of honesty and concern for the public good, had been largely responsible for...

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7. Regulation of Business and the Flight from Accountability at Home and Abroad

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pp. 141-156

A shower stall is not supposed to be a dangerous place. That reasonable assumption proved to be tragically incorrect, however, for S. Sgt. Ryan Maseth, an American soldier in Iraq. American service personnel in Iraq often use showers with electric pumps that must be properly grounded...

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pp. 157-164

Detours are addictive. Once the institutional momentum grows for their proliferation, introducing constraint becomes even more difficult. Moreover, the Bush administration was not without evidence on its side: no further attacks occurred on American soil after September 11, although...


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pp. 165-212


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pp. 213-220

About the Author

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p. 221

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759608
E-ISBN-10: 0814759602
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814795590
Print-ISBN-10: 0814795595

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 697174369
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Law's Detour

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Executive power -- United States.
  • Law -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 2001-2009.
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