The statements themselves are nothing that new. In the past, they have been the President basically putting himself on the record on how he felt about a particular law, or what he thought it meant. But Maximum Leader has changed all that, using the signing statements as a means to tell Congress that he will not obey any law he feels will impede getting his War® on.
So this morning, the Department of Justice trots Michelle Boardman, the Deputy Assistant AG from Office of Legal Counsel up the hill to tell the Senate that:
It is important to establish at the outset what presidential signing statements are not: an attempt to “cherry-pick” among the parts of a duly enacted law that the President will choose to follow, or an attempt unilaterally to redefine what the law is after its enactment.[Emphasis mine - mojo] Presidential signing statements are, rather, a statement by the President explaining his interpretation of and responsibilities under the law, and they are therefore an essential part of the constitutional dialogue between the branches that has been a part of the etiquette of government since the early days of the Republic. Nor are signing statements an attempt to “override” duly enacted laws, as some critics have suggested. Many constitutional signing statements are an attempt to preserve the enduring balance between co-equal branches, but this preservation does not mean that the President will not enforce the provision as enacted. Right then. The President does not "cherry pick" or unilaterally reinvent law after its passage.
It's hard to believe that she actually passed the bar without being able to read plain English:
The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks. Further, in light of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2001 in Alexander v. Sandoval, and noting that the text and structure of Title X do not create a private right of action to enforce Title X, the executive branch shall construe Title X not to create a private right of action. Finally, given the decision of the Congress reflected in subsections 1005(e) and 1005(h) that the amendments made to section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, shall apply to past, present, and future actions, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in that section, and noting that section 1005 does not confer any constitutional right upon an alien detained abroad as an enemy combatant, the executive branch shall construe section 1005 to preclude the Federal courts from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over any existing or future action, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in section 1005.[various emphasis added - mojo] So it would appear that, in spite of the clear Congressional intent in the McCain Amendment to preclude the use of torture or other violent and harsh interrogation, the President has decided that Congress really doesn't have the ability to tell him not to torture, and that the Courts have no jurisdiction to to tell him not to torture.
You see, that's what the Unitary Executive Theory means. It is a theory that the President's Article II-vest executive power means that he alone is in charge of what the executive branch does, and no one from the Congress will tell him otherwise.
So when the President gives a signing statement on anti-torture legislation that says he will interpret it in light of the Unitary Executive theory, he's saying that Congress doesn't really have the authority to tell him who he can and can't hook up to a series of 12 volt batteries and gun the engine until they shoot sparks out their ass or start divulging the plans for the Iranian Ninja Robots or Al Qaeda Flying Saucer Fleet hiding on the back side of the Moon...
And of course, she hedges, so that should her arguements fall on deaf ears, once you read to the end of her testimony, she of course starts to blame this all on Bill Clinton, by trotting out everyone's favorite bit of misdirection and mendacity: sing along, you know the words "well Bill Clinton did it...". Because as we all know if Wild Bill did it, then it must be okay...
Of course, I suspect that Boardman knew this when she went up the hill to lie and spin to the Senate. Sure would be nice if she was under oath...