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Age of Obama
Barack Obama's presidency

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George W. Bush's presidency since 2007

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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America's tainted historical record

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From free trade to the Kosovo crisis.

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Calling Out Yoo on Presidential Power

By David Swanson
March 21, 2010

Editor’s Note: At the University of Virginia, former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo got to make his case for why George W. Bush should have been regarded as an all-powerful “war president,” but he did get a few unapproved questions.

David Swanson of demanded to know whether Yoo’s theory of the unlimited powers of a “unitary executive” during war meant that a President could annihilate anyone, including Americans, and Yoo calmly answered:

I had the opportunity to ask war lawyer John Yoo a couple of questions on Friday. The situation was not ideal, with someone else holding the microphone and deferring to the witness, and other people heckling, and other people shouting at the hecklers.

Nonetheless . . .

I gave Yoo every opportunity I could to place a limit on presidential power. Can a president shoot missiles in the United States? Can a president drop nukes in the United States? Yoo refused to concede any limits.

Yoo used the example of shooting down one of the airplanes on 9/11 to assert that a President could indeed use drones to shoot missiles at suspected enemies within the United States, assuming of course that the President proclaims it to be "wartime."

So, can a President drop nukes in the United States?

Yoo refused to deny a President even that power. He chose to respond by focusing on the example of Hiroshima, arguing for Truman's rightful power to do what he did, but my question had involved dropping nukes in the United States, and Yoo's answer made clear that he acknowledged no limitation on that power.

Watch the video of the exchange and other related speeches by clicking on

David Swanson is the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press.  You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: [This article previously appeared at]    

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