Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power
By Tim Shorrock
The last several years have brought a parade of dark revelations about the George W. Bush administration, from the manipulation of intelligence to torture to extrajudicial spying inside the United States. But there are growing indications that these known abuses of power may only be the tip of the iceberg. Now, in the twilight of the Bush presidency, a movement is stirring in Washington for a sweeping new inquiry into White House malfeasance that would be modeled after the famous Church Committee congressional investigation of the 1970s.
While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.
Salon has also uncovered further indications of far-reaching and possibly illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency inside the United States under Bush. That includes the alleged use of a top-secret, sophisticated database system for monitoring people considered to be a threat to national security. It also includes signs of the NSA’s working closely with other U.S. government agencies to track financial transactions domestically as well as globally.
The proposal for a Church Committee-style investigation emerged from talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress, according to sources involved. (Pelosi’s and Conyers’ offices both declined to comment.) Looking forward to 2009, when both Congress and the White House may well be controlled by Democrats, the idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror to undermine the Constitution and U.S. and international laws. The goal would be to implement government reforms aimed at preventing future abuses—and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials.
“If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal and has been involved in several high-profile congressional investigations.
“You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.”
The parameters for an investigation were outlined in a seven-page memo, written after the former member of the Church Committee met for discussions with the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Common Cause and other watchdog groups. Key issues to investigate, those involved say, would include the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities; the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of extraordinary rendition and torture against terrorist suspects; and the U.S. government’s extensive use of military assets—including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies and U2 surveillance planes—for a vast spying apparatus that could be used against the American people.
Specifically, the ACLU and other groups want to know how the NSA’s use of databases and data mining may have meshed with other domestic intelligence activities, such as the U.S. government’s extensive use of no-fly lists and the Treasury Department’s list of “specially designated global terrorists” to identify potential suspects. As of mid-July, says Steinhardt, the no-fly list includes more than 1 million records corresponding to more than 400,000 names. If those people really represent terrorist threats, he says, “our cities would be ablaze.” A deeper investigation into intelligence abuses should focus on how these lists feed on each other, Steinhardt says, as well as the government’s “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect.”
“It’s not just the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” agrees Gregory T. Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology, referring to the Bush administration’s misleading name for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We need a broad investigation on the way all the moving parts fit together. It seems like we’re always looking at little chunks and missing the big picture.”
A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration’s alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores—without warrants or court orders—the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.
According to several former U.S. government officials with extensive knowledge of intelligence operations, Main Core in its current incarnation apparently contains a vast amount of personal data on Americans, including NSA intercepts of bank and credit card transactions and the results of surveillance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. One former intelligence official described Main Core as “an emergency internal security database system” designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law. Its name, he says, is derived from the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”
Some of the former U.S. officials interviewed, although they have no direct knowledge of the issue, said they believe that Main Core may have been used by the NSA to determine who to spy on in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Moreover, the NSA’s use of the database, they say, may have triggered the now-famous March 2004 confrontation between the White House and the Justice Department that nearly led Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director William Mueller and other top Justice officials to resign en masse.
The Justice Department officials who objected to the legal basis for the surveillance program—former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey and Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel—testified before Congress last year about the 2004 showdown with the White House. Although they refused to discuss the highly classified details behind their concerns, the New York Times later reported that they were objecting to a program that “involved computer searches through massive electronic databases” containing “records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans.”
According to William Hamilton, a former NSA intelligence officer who left the agency in the 1970s, that description sounded a lot like Main Core, which he first heard about in detail in 1992. Hamilton, who is the president of Inslaw Inc., a computer services firm with many clients in government and the private sector, says there are strong indications that the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance operations use Main Core.
Hamilton’s company Inslaw is widely respected in the law enforcement community for creating a program called the Prosecutors’ Management Information System, or PROMIS. It keeps track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all stored data components of a case, from the name of the initial investigators to the telephone numbers of key suspects. PROMIS, also widely used in the insurance industry, can also sort through other databases fast, with results showing up almost instantly. “It operates just like Google,” Hamilton told me in an interview in his Washington office in May.
Since the late 1980s, Inslaw has been involved in a legal dispute over its claim that Justice Department officials in the Reagan administration appropriated the PROMIS software. Hamilton claims that Reagan officials gave PROMIS to the NSA and the CIA, which then adapted the software—and its outstanding ability to search other databases—to manage intelligence operations and track financial transactions. Over the years, Hamilton has employed prominent lawyers to pursue the case, including Elliot Richardson, the former attorney general and secretary of defense who died in 1999, and C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. The dispute has never been settled. But based on the long-running case, Hamilton says he believes U.S. intelligence uses PROMIS as the primary software for searching the Main Core database.
Hamilton was first told about the connection between PROMIS and Main Core in the spring of 1992 by a U.S. intelligence official, and again in 1995 by a former NSA official. In July 2001, Hamilton says, he discussed his case with retired Adm. Dan Murphy, a former military advisor to Elliot Richardson who later served under President George H.W. Bush as deputy director of the CIA. Murphy, who died shortly after his meeting with Hamilton, did not specifically mention Main Core. But he informed Hamilton that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involved something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem,” Hamilton told me. He added, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” Hamilton also provided copies of letters that Richardson and Gray sent to U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department on Inslaw’s behalf alleging that the NSA and the CIA had appropriated PROMIS for intelligence use.
Hamilton says James B. Comey’s congressional testimony in May 2007, in which he described a hospitalized John Ashcroft’s dramatic standoff with senior Bush officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card, was another illuminating moment. “It was then that we [at Inslaw] started hearing again about the Main Core derivative of PROMIS for spying on Americans,” he told me.
Through a former senior Justice Department official with more than 25 years of government experience, Salon has learned of a high-level former national security official who reportedly has firsthand knowledge of the U.S. government’s use of Main Core. The official worked as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the Bush White House. He would not agree to an interview. But according to the former Justice Department official, the former intelligence analyst told her that while stationed at the White House after the 9/11 attacks, one day he accidentally walked into a restricted room and came across a computer system that was logged on to what he recognized to be the Main Core database. When she mentioned the specific name of the top-secret system during their conversation, she recalled, “he turned white as a sheet.”
An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”
The alleged use of Main Core by the Bush administration for surveillance, if confirmed to be true, would indicate a much deeper level of secretive government intrusion into Americans’ lives than has been previously known. With respect to civil liberties, says the ACLU’s Steinhardt, it would be “pretty frightening stuff.”
The Inslaw case also points to what may be an extensive role played by the NSA in financial spying inside the United States. According to reports over the years in the U.S. and foreign press, Inslaw’s PROMIS software was embedded surreptitiously in systems sold to foreign and global banks as a way to give the NSA secret “backdoor” access to the electronic flow of money around the world.
In May, I interviewed Norman Bailey, a private financial consultant with years of government intelligence experience dating from the George W. Bush administration back to the Reagan administration. According to Bailey—who from 2006 to 2007 headed a special unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on financial intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela—the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s.
From 1982 to 1984, Bailey ran a top-secret program for President Reagan’s National Security Council, called “Follow the Money,” that used NSA signals intelligence to track loans from Western banks to the Soviet Union and its allies. PROMIS, he told me, was “the principal software element” used by the NSA and the Treasury Department then in their electronic surveillance programs tracking financial flows to the Soviet bloc, organized crime and terrorist groups. His admission is the first public acknowledgement by a former U.S. intelligence official that the NSA used the PROMIS software.
According to Bailey, the Reagan program marked a significant shift in resources from human spying to electronic surveillance, as a way to track money flows to suspected criminals and American enemies. “That was the beginning of the whole process,” he said.
After 9/11, this capability was instantly seen within the U.S. government as a critical tool in the war on terror—and apparently was deployed by the Bush administration inside the United States, in cases involving alleged terrorist supporters. One such case was that of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Oregon, which was accused of having terrorist ties after the NSA, at the request of the Treasury Department, eavesdropped on the phone calls of Al-Haramain officials and their American lawyers. The charges against Al-Haramain were based primarily on secret evidence that the Bush administration refused to disclose in legal proceedings; Al-Haramain’s lawyers argued in a lawsuit that was a violation of the defendants’ due process rights.
According to Bailey, the NSA also likely would have used its technological capabilities to track the charity’s financial activity. “The vast majority of financial movements of any significance take place electronically, so intercepts have become an extremely important element” in intelligence, he explained. “If the government suspects that a particular Muslim charitable organization is engaged in collecting funds to funnel to terrorists, the NSA would be asked to follow the money going into and out of the bank accounts of that charity.” (The now-defunct Al-Haramain Foundation, although affiliated with a Saudi Arabian-based global charity, was founded and based in Ashland, Ore.)
The use of a powerful database and extensive watch lists, Bailey said, would make the NSA’s job much easier. “The biggest problems with intercepts, quite frankly, is that the volumes of data, daily or even by the hour, are gigantic,” he said. “Unless you have a very precise idea of what it is you’re looking for, the NSA people or their counterparts [overseas] will just throw up their hands and say ‘forget it.’” Regarding domestic surveillance, Bailey said there’s a “whole gray area where the initiation of the transaction was in the United States and the final destination was outside, or vice versa. That’s something for the lawyers to figure out.”
Bailey’s information on the evolution of the Reagan intelligence program appears to corroborate and clarify an article published in March in the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the NSA was conducting domestic surveillance using “an ad-hoc collection of so-called ‘black programs’ whose existence is undisclosed.” Some of these programs began “years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach.” Among them, the article said, are a joint NSA-Treasury database on financial transactions that dates back “about 15 years” to 1993. That’s not quite right, Bailey clarified: “It started in the early ‘80s, at least 10 years before.”
Main Core may be the contemporary incarnation of a government watch list system that was part of a highly classified “Continuity of Government” program created by the Reagan administration to keep the U.S. government functioning in the event of a nuclear attack. Under a 1982 presidential directive, the outbreak of war could trigger the proclamation of martial law nationwide, giving the military the authority to use its domestic database to round up citizens and residents considered to be threats to national security. The emergency measures for domestic security were to be carried out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army.
In the late 1980s, reports about a domestic database linked to FEMA and the Continuity of Government program began to appear in the press. For example, in 1986 the Austin American-Statesman uncovered evidence of a large database that authorities were proposing to use to intern Latino dissidents and refugees during a national emergency that might follow a potential U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. During the Iran-Contra congressional hearings in 1987, questions to Reagan aide Oliver North about the database were ruled out of order by the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, because of the “highly sensitive and classified” nature of FEMA’s domestic security operations.
In September 2001, according to “The Rise of the Vulcans,” a 2004 book on Bush’s war cabinet by James Mann, a contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”
It is noteworthy that two key players on Bush’s national security team, Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, have been involved in the Continuity of Government program since its inception. Along with Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s first secretary of defense, both men took part in simulated drills for the program during the 1980s and early 1990s. Addington’s role was disclosed in “The Dark Side,” a book published this month about the Bush administration’s war on terror by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer. In the book, Mayer calls Addington “the father of the [NSA] eavesdropping program,” and reports that he was the key figure involved in the 2004 dispute between the White House and the Justice Department over the legality of the program. That would seem to make him a prime witness for a broader investigation.
Getting a full picture on Bush’s intelligence programs, however, will almost certainly require any sweeping new investigation to have a scope that would inoculate it against charges of partisanship. During one recent discussion on Capitol Hill, according to a participant, a senior aide to Speaker Pelosi was asked for Pelosi’s views on a proposal to expand the investigation to past administrations, including those of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. “The question was, how far back in time would we have to go to make this credible?” the participant in the meeting recalled.
That question was answered in the seven-page memo. “The rise of the ‘surveillance state’ driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this Administration,” the author wrote. Even though he acknowledged in interviews with Salon that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents, he recommended in the memo that any new investigation follow the precedent of the Church Committee and investigate the origins of Bush’s programs, going as far back as the Reagan administration.
The proposal has emerged in a political climate reminiscent of the Watergate era. The Church Committee was formed in 1975 in the wake of media reports about illegal spying against American antiwar activists and civil rights leaders, CIA assassination squads, and other dubious activities under Nixon and his predecessors. Chaired by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, the committee interviewed more than 800 officials and held 21 public hearings. As a result of its work, Congress in 1978 passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required warrants and court supervision for domestic wiretaps, and created intelligence oversight committees in the House and Senate.
So far, no lawmaker has openly endorsed a proposal for a new Church Committee-style investigation. A spokesman for Pelosi declined to say whether Pelosi herself would be in favor of a broader probe into U.S. intelligence. On the Senate side, the most logical supporters for a broader probe would be Democratic senators such as Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who led the failed fight against the recent Bush-backed changes to FISA. (Both Feingold and Leahy’s offices declined to comment on a broader intelligence inquiry.)
The Democrats’ reticence on such action ultimately may be rooted in congressional complicity with the Bush administration’s intelligence policies. Many of the war on terror programs, including the NSA’s warrantless surveillance and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” were cleared with key congressional Democrats, including Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Rockefeller, and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman, among others.
The discussions about a broad investigation were jump-started among civil liberties advocates this spring, when it became clear that the Democrats didn’t have the votes to oppose the Bush-backed bill updating FISA. The new legislation could prevent the full story of the NSA surveillance programs from ever being uncovered; it included retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that may have violated FISA by collaborating with the NSA on warrantless wiretapping. Opponents of Bush’s policies were further angered when Democratic leaders stripped from their competing FISA bill a provision that would have established a national commission to investigate post-9/11 surveillance programs.
The next president obviously would play a key role in any decision to investigate intelligence abuses. Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate, is running as a champion of Bush’s national security policies and would be unlikely to embrace an investigation that would, foremost, embarrass his own party. (Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s spokesman on national security, declined to comment.)
Some see a brighter prospect in Barack Obama, should he be elected. The plus with Obama, says the former Church Committee staffer, is that as a proponent of open government, he could order the executive branch to be more cooperative with Congress, rolling back the obsessive secrecy and stonewalling of the Bush White House. That could open the door to greater congressional scrutiny and oversight of the intelligence community, since the legislative branch lacked any real teeth under Bush. (Obama’s spokesman on national security, Ben Rhodes, did not reply to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.)
But even that may be a lofty hope. “It may be the last thing a new president would want to do,” said a participant in the ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, he said, “some people see the Church Committee ideas as a substitute for prosecutions that should already have happened.”
10 things you should know about John McCain
John McCain is not who the mindless, fawning Washington press corps make him out to be.
10 things you should know about John McCain:
- John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has “evolved,” yet he’s continued to oppose key civil rights laws.1
- According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain “will make Cheney look like Gandhi.”2
- His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded Bush for vetoing that ban.3
- McCain opposes a woman’s right to choose. He said, “I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned.”4
- The Children’s Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children’s health care bill last year, then defended Bush’s veto of the bill.5
- He’s one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a “second job” and skip their vacations.6
- Many of McCain’s fellow Republican senators say he’s too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He’s erratic. He’s hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”7
- McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.8
- McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his “spiritual guide,” Rod Parsley, believes America’s founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a “false religion.” McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church “the Antichrist” and a “false cult.”9
- He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.10
1. “The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day,” ABC News, April 3, 2008
“McCain Facts,” ColorOfChange.org, April 4, 2008
2. “McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq,” Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008
“Buchanan: John McCain ‘Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,’” ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
3. “McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill,” ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
4. “McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned,” MSNBC, February 18, 2007
5. “2007 Children’s Defense Fund Action Council Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard,” February 2008
“McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion,” CNN, October 3, 2007
6. “Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady,” Associated Press, April 3, 2008
“McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,’” Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008
7. “Will McCain’s Temper Be a Liability?,” Associated Press, February 16, 2008
“Famed McCain temper is tamed,” Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
8. “Black Claims McCain’s Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: ‘I Don’t Know What The Criticism Is,’” ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
“McCain’s Lobbyist Friends Rally ‘Round Their Man,” ABC News, January 29, 2008
9. “McCain’s Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam,” Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008
“Will McCain Specifically ‘Repudiate’ Hagee’s Anti-Gay Comments?,” ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
“McCain ‘Very Honored’ By Support Of Pastor Preaching ‘End-Time Confrontation With Iran,’” ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
10. “John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record,” Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
A truth teller who deserves justice
by Joe Conason
A former Navy officer named Matthew Diaz came to Washington, D.C., on Thursday, eating lunch just a few miles from the Pentagon and only steps from the White House—those mighty institutions whose imperial will he defied by upholding the legal rights of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he served as a deputy legal counsel.
During the winter of 2005, sometime after he realized that the government was ignoring the landmark Supreme Court decision affording counsel and due process to every alleged terrorist in the military prison, Lt. Cmdr. Diaz printed out and mailed all of their names to civil rights attorneys in New York. That act ultimately resulted in his imprisonment in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., and the forfeiture of his military job and pension, and may yet lead to the permanent loss of his license to practice law.
But Diaz had come to the nation’s capital on April 3 to be praised, not buried—as this year’s winner of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, which is named after the late soldier and journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam 40 years ago this month. Sponsored by the Fertel Foundation and the Nation Institute (where I serve as director of a fund supporting investigative journalism), the Ridenhour prize recognizes the bravery of whistle-blowers who uphold American values regardless of personal risk.
The Diaz story is extraordinary, yet profoundly and typically American. Having risen from poverty and tragedy to professional status and prestige through his own hard work, he gambled everything on a principle, and lost.
He grew up in a broken family, moved frequently as a child and often survived on food stamps. His father, a hospital nurse convicted of the sensational serial murders of a dozen patients, ended up on death row in California’s San Quentin prison when Matthew was a teenager. He soon dropped out of high school and joined the Army.
Whatever damage his early life inflicted on him, however, it did not destroy his intelligence and ambition, and eventually he obtained an associate’s degree in law enforcement, a bachelor’s in criminology and, after leaving the Army, a law degree while working for the Postal Service. He joined the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and was sent to Guantánamo during the summer of 2004, in part because of his outstanding service record at his previous posts. By then he had been promoted to lieutenant commander and was expecting to move up again soon. The superior officer who evaluated him before he left for Cuba had described him as “the consummate naval officer” and “a stellar leader of unquestionable integrity.”
The problem was that within months after he arrived at the military prison, Diaz realized how the system there had been designed to conceal prisoner abuse and undermine human rights. Though Gitmo was no Abu Ghraib, he was nevertheless appalled by the conditions and the treatment of prisoners. Around the same time that his tour there began, the Supreme Court had ordered the Bush administration, in a case known as Rasul v. Bush, to provide habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners. By the winter of 2005, more than six months after that order came down, neither the Pentagon nor the Justice Department had taken any action to obey it. Indeed, Diaz believed that they had no intention of obeying it at all.
Looking back, the method he chose to bring a measure of justice to Guantánamo seems more than slightly eccentric (and very likely to be detected). Reviewing legal documents in his office, he had seen the name of Barbara Olshansky, a civil liberties attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who had requested the names of all the prisoners so that they could be provided counsel. There was no chance that she would receive a positive response from the Pentagon, but she did get a strange, oversize Valentine’s Day card at her office in New York. When she opened the big red envelope, there was a funny card inside, plus a 39-page printout listing all the 550 Gitmo prisoners. She told a federal judge about this odd and suspicious delivery. The judge instructed Olshansky to turn everything over to the FBI, whose agents quickly tracked down Diaz. He was arrested and charged with five felony counts, including the disclosure of classified information that could aid America’s foreign enemies.
The modest, soft-spoken Diaz hardly seems like the kind of man who would buck the rules or make trouble. What his story shows, once again, is that the durable old stereotype of the military man who yearns for authoritarian rule and brutality is largely false. Until his court-martial last year, Diaz served as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and like a number of his higher-ranking JAG superiors, he has proved that the most reliable defenders of the Constitution these days are not in the civilian ranks of government but among the senior military officers. It was the neoconservative law professors and political bureaucrats who authorized, encouraged and justified the worst depredations against human and constitutional rights, from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo. It was the men and women in uniform who warned against those policies and tried to amend them.
Although his offenses could have sent him to prison for many years, the military jury that convicted him on four of five counts last May sentenced Diaz to six months—a sign, perhaps, that his peers understood what he did and why.
Since his release last autumn, he has received little publicity—aside from a superb New York Times profile by Tim Golden—and he is no longer granting interviews while awaiting appeal. He did speak briefly during the awards luncheon at the National Press Club, where he thanked his attorneys, his family, and the Catholic Worker Movement that sustained him when he left the brig, penniless and homeless. Over a career in the military that spanned two decades, Diaz said, he has won many citations and commendations, but the Ridenhour prize meant the most to him for recognizing “an act of conscience.” He said that he had taken an oath, as a soldier and then a Navy officer, to uphold the Constitution. And he quoted the late Justice Louis Brandeis: “When the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law.”
The lawless government of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney prompted Diaz to do something that Joe Margulies, the lawyer of record in Rasul v. Bush, called “illegal but an act of tremendous courage.” The powerful men who bred contempt for the law may or may not ever be prosecuted, but if there is justice in the next administration, Matthew Diaz should be pardoned.
Bush’s old world disorder
Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon:
Every aspect of Bush’s foreign policy has now collapsed. Every dream of neoconservatism has become a nightmare. Every doctrine has turned to dust. The influence of the United States has reached a nadir, its lowest point since before World War II, when the country was encased in isolationism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose soul President Bush famously claimed to peer through, is scuttling arms control agreements and cutting his own deals with the Iranians. The Turkish army is poised to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants that the Iraqi government and the U.S. allowed to roam freely. The resurgent Taliban, given a second life when Bush drained resources from Afghanistan for the invasion of Iraq, is besieging the countryside, straining the future of the Western alliance in the form of NATO. Pakistan, whose intelligence service and military contain elements that sponsor the Taliban and al-Qaida, remains an epicenter of terrorism. Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of martial law in Pakistan on Nov. 3 was his second coup, reinforcing his 1999 military takeover. Facing elections in January 2008 that seemed likely to repudiate him and an independent judiciary that refused to grant him extraordinary powers, he suspended constitutional rule. Toothless U.S. admonitions were easily ignored.
Gone are the days when the stern words of a senior U.S. official prevented rash action by an errant foreign leader and when the power of the U.S. served as a restraining force and promoted peaceful resolution of conflict. In the vacuum of the Bush catastrophe, nation-states pursue what they perceive to be their own interests as global conflicts proliferate. The backlash of preemptive war in Iraq gathers momentum in undermining U.S. power and prestige. The resignation last week of Bush’s close advisor, Karen Hughes, as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, whose mission was to restore the U.S. image in the world, signaled not only failure but also exhaustion. The administration’s ventriloquism act of casting words into the mouth of the president’s nominee for attorney general, former federal Judge Michael Mukasey, who would not declare waterboarding torture, demonstrated that Bush is less concerned with the crumbling of America’s reputation and moral authority than with preventing an attorney general from prosecuting members of his administration, including possibly him, for war crimes under U.S. law.
The neoconservative project is crashing. The “unipolar moment,” the post-Cold War unilateralist utopia imagined by neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer; “hegemony,” the ultimate goal projected by the September 2000 manifesto of the Project for the New American Century; an “empire” over lands that “today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets,” fantasized by neocon Max Boot in the Weekly Standard a month after Sept. 11, have instead produced unintended consequences of chaos and decline. Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s presumption that successful war would instill fear leading to absolute obedience and the suppression of potential rivalries and serious threats—the “dangerous nation” thesis of neocon theorist Robert Kagan—has proved to be the greatest foreign policy miscalculation in U.S. history.
The quest for absolute power has not forged an “empire” but provoked ever-widening chaos. The neocons have been present at the creation, all right. But this “creation” is not another American century, in emulation of the post-World War II order fashioned by the so-called wise men, such as Secretary of State Dean Acheson, a consummate realist, who Condoleezza Rice continues to insist is her model. Squandering the immense influence of the U.S. in such a short period has required monumental effort. Now the fog of war clears. On the ruin of the neocons’ new world order emerges the old world disorder on steroids.
Musharraf’s coup spectacularly illustrates the Bush effect. His speech of Nov. 3, explaining his seizure of power, is among the most significant and revealing documents of this new era in its cynical exploitation of the American example. In his speech, Musharraf mocks and echoes Bush’s rhetoric. Tyranny, not freedom, is on the march. Musharraf appropriates the phrase “judicial activism,” the epithet hurled by American conservatives at liberal decisions of the courts since the Warren Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in schools, and makes it his own. This term—“judicial activism”—has no other source. It is certainly not a phrase that originated in Pakistan. “The judiciary has interfered: That’s the basic issue,” Musharraf said.
Indeed, under Bush, the administration has equated international law, the system of justice, and lawyers with terrorism. In the March 2005 National Defense Strategy, this conflation of enemies became official doctrine: “Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism.” Neoconservative lawyers, in and out of the administration, have strenuously argued that the efforts to restore the Geneva Conventions, place detainees within the judicial process and provide them with legal representation amount to what they denigrate as “lawfare”—a sneering reference to “welfare” and the idea that detainees are akin to the unworthy poor. Lawyers for detainees, meanwhile, are routinely insulted as “habeas lawyers,” as though they were agents of terrorists and that arguing for the restoration of habeas corpus proves complicity “objectively” with terrorists. Rather than cite these neoconservative talking points directly or invoke the authority of Bush, whose feeble protestations he brushed aside, Musharraf slyly quoted Abraham Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus in Maryland and southern Indiana during the Civil War. (The U.S. Circuit Court of Maryland overturned his act. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan that civilians could not be tried before military tribunals when civil courts were functioning.) In Musharraf’s version, Lincoln is his model, taking executive action in order to save the nation: “He broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary powers, he trampled individual liberties, his justification was necessity.” Musharraf, of course, as he suspends an election, leaves out the rest of Lincoln, not least the difficult election of 1864, which took place in the middle of the Civil War.
But where did Musharraf get his warped idea of Lincoln as dictator and America as an example of tyranny? Not quite from diligent study of American history. According to a 2002 interview with Ikram Sehgal, managing editor of the Defense Journal of Pakistan, Musharraf received this notion from his reading of Richard Nixon’s book “Leaders,” published in 1994, in which Nixon discusses Lincoln’s measures taken under extreme duress with ill-disguised admiration. Thus, for Musharraf, as for Cheney and Bush, Nixon’s vision of an imperial president lies at the root of their actions in creating an executive unbound by checks and balances, unaccountable to “judicial activism.” Since declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has rounded up thousands of lawyers and shut down the courts, while halting offensive military action against terrorists. In the name of combating terrorism, even as parts of his government are in league with them, he launches an attack on those who profess democracy.
The Bush administration finds itself devoid of options. Neoconservatives are left, happily at least for some of them, to defend torture. They have no explanations for the implosion of Bush’s policies or suggestions for remedy. Self-examination is too painful and in any case unfamiliar. Bush regrets Musharraf’s martial law, yet tacitly accepts that the U.S. has no alternative but to support him in the war on terror that he is not fighting—and is using for his own political purposes. On the rubble of neoconservatism, the Bush administration has adopted “realism” by default, though not even as a gloss on its emptiness. Bush still clings to his high-flown rhetoric as if he’s warming up for his second inaugural address. But this is not rock-bottom; there is further to fall.
Impeachment Resources: A Look at the Impeachment Process
Romney and Giuliani willing to throw out your most basic right
[Cato Institute’s President, Ed] Crane asked if Romney believed the president should have the authority to arrest U.S. citizens with no review. Romney said he would want to hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before he made up his mind. Crane said that he had asked Giuliani the same question a few weeks ago. The mayor said that he would want to use this authority infrequently.
Glen Greenwald has a few things to say about this and what it says about modern-day “Republicans”, summarizing with:
The next time journalists want to write about political extremism ... why not instead focus on the fact that Mitt Romeny is open to, and Rudy Giuliani explicitly favors, vesting themselves with the very powers that this country was founded in order to banish? One of our two major political parties believes that the U.S. President should have powers that not even the pre-Revolution British King possessed. Maybe that is worth some commentary and examination.
Follow the e-mails
Sydney Blumenthal writes:
The rise and fall of the Bush presidency has had four phases: the befuddled period of steady political decline during the president’s first nine months; the high tide of hubris from Sept. 11, 2001, through the 2004 election; the self-destructive overreaching to consolidate a one-party state from 2005 to 2006, culminating in the repudiation of the Republican Congress; and, now, the terminal stage, the great unraveling, as the Democratic Congress works to uncover the abuses of the previous six years.
Richard Nixon and George W. Bush both invoked secrecy for national security. Both insisted war—the war in Vietnam, the war on terror—justified impunity. And both offered the reason of secrecy to cover political power grabs.
In Watergate, “Deep Throat” counseled that the royal road to the scandal’s source was to “follow the money.” In the proliferating scandals of the Bush presidency, Congress is searching down a trail of records that did not exist in the time of Nixon: Follow the e-mails.
The discovery of a hitherto unknown treasure-trove of e-mails buried by the Bush White House may prove to be as informative as Nixon’s secret White House tapes. Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does “about 95 percent” of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What’s more, Rove doesn’t tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official e-mails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: “‘I don’t want my E-mail made public,’ said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. ‘It’s Yahoo!, baby,’ says a Bushie.”
The offshoring of White House records via RNC e-mails became apparent when an RNC domain, gwb43.com (referring to George W. Bush, 43rd president), turned up in a batch of e-mails the White House gave to House and Senate committees earlier this month. Rove’s deputy, Scott Jennings, former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers and her deputies strangely had used gwb43.com as an e-mail domain.
The production of these e-mails to Congress was a kind of slip. In its tense negotiations with lawmakers, the White House has steadfastly refused to give Congress e-mails other than those between the White House and the Justice Department or the White House and Congress. E-mails among presidential aides have been withheld under the claim of executive privilege.
When I worked in the Clinton White House, people brought in their personal computers if they were engaged in any campaign work, but all official transactions had to be done within the White House system as stipulated by the Presidential Records Act of 1978. (The PRA requires that “the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are maintained as Presidential records.") Having forsaken the use of Executive Office of the President e-mail, executive privilege has been sacrificed. Moreover, Rove’s and the others’ practice may not be legal.
The revelation of the gwb43 e-mails illuminates the widespread exploitation of nongovernmental e-mail by Bush White House officials, which initially surfaced in the investigations and trial of convicted Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Susan Ralston, Abramoff’s former personal assistant and then executive assistant to Rove, who served as the liaison between the two men in their constant dealings, used “georgewbush.com” and “rnchq.org” e-mail accounts to communicate with Abramoff between 2001 and 2003. In one of her e-mails, Ralston cautioned that “it is better to not put this stuff in writing in [the White House] ... email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff replied: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.”
The Ralston e-mails were not fully appreciated as a clue to the vast cache of hidden e-mails at the time the Justice Department’s inspector general conducted a probe into whether Abramoff had been involved in the firing of the U.S. attorney in Guam in 2002. That prosecutor, Frederick Black, who had been appointed by George H.W. Bush and served for 10 years, had opened an investigation into the $324,000 in secret payments Abramoff received from the Guam Superior Court to lobby in Washington against court reform. The day after Black subpoenaed Abramoff’s contract, he was fired. In a 2006 report, the I.G. found no criminal wrongdoing—but he did not have access to the nongovernmental e-mails (i.e., those sent outside the official White House system). Now, the I.G. may have cause to reopen his case.
Under the RNC’s gwb43.com domain a myriad of e-mail accounts flourish, including the ones used by Rove’s office to conduct his business with Abramoff. Among these accounts are ones for Republican Senate campaigns, for RepublicanVictoryTeam.com and the like, and, curiously, for ScooterLibby.com. The latter e-mail account serves the Web site of the defense fund of Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. ScooterLibby.com amounts to an in-kind contribution from the RNC.
On Monday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent letters to RNC officials demanding that they preserve the White House e-mails sent on RNC accounts. “The e-mail exchanges reviewed by the Committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications,” he wrote. “What assurance can the RNC provide the Committee,” he asked, “that no e-mails involving official White House business have been destroyed or altered?”
Even as the Bush administration withholds evidence that would allow Congress to fulfill its obligation of oversight, administration officials are having difficulty keeping their stories straight. The release of each new batch of e-mails forces them to scramble for new alibis.
On March 12, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had nothing to do with the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys late last year. How they happened to be removed remained a mystery to him. “I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on,” he said. But e-mails released last week show that he was informed of the plan twice in late 2006. In fact, on Nov. 27, 2006, he met with at least five senior Justice Department officials to finalize a “five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors.” With the appearance of the incriminating e-mails, Gonzales’ spokespeople have been sent out to tell the press that there is “no inconsistency,” a brazen assertion of the Groucho Marx defense: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
It could happen here
In fact, it IS happening here, and has been for several years.
by Joe Conason
Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of “it” is.
To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” “it” plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America’s most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe’s fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as “it.”
If “it” denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then “it” hasn’t happened here and isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
For contemporary Americans, however, “it” could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis’s darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today—along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.
For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realization that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment.
Such foreboding, which would have been dismissed as paranoia not so long ago, has been intensified by the unfolding crisis of political legitimacy in the capital. George W. Bush has repeatedly asserted and exercised authority that he does not possess under the Constitution he swore to uphold. He has announced that he intends to continue exercising power according to his claim of a mandate that erases the separation and balancing of power among the branches of government, frees him from any real obligation to obey laws passed by Congress, and permits him to ignore any provisions of the Bill of Rights that may prove inconvenient.
Whether his fellow Americans understand exactly what Bush is doing or not, his six years in office have created intense public anxiety. Much of that anxiety can be attributed to fear of terrorism, which Bush has exacerbated to suit his own purposes—as well as to increasing concern that the world is threatened by global warming, pandemic diseases, economic insecurity, nuclear proliferation, and other perils with which this presidency cannot begin to cope.
As the midterm election showed, more and more Americans realize that something has gone far wrong at the highest levels of government and politics—that Washington’s one-party regime had created a daily spectacle of stunning incompetence and dishonesty. Pollsters have found large majorities of voters worrying that the country is on the wrong track. At this writing, two of every three voters give that answer, and they are not just anxious but furious. Almost half are willing to endorse the censure of the president.
Suspicion and alienation extend beyond the usual disgruntled Democrats to independents and even a significant minority of Republicans. A surprisingly large segment of the electorate is willing to contemplate the possibility of impeaching the president, unappetizing though that prospect should be to anyone who can recall the destructive impeachment of Bush’s predecessor.
The reasons for popular disenchantment with the Republican regime are well known—from the misbegotten, horrifically mismanaged war in Iraq to the heartless mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In both instances, growing anger over the damage done to the national interest and the loss of life and treasure has been exacerbated by evidence of bad faith—by lies, cronyism, and corruption.
Everyone knows—although not everyone necessarily wishes to acknowledge—that the Bush administration misled the American people about the true purposes and likely costs of invading Iraq. It invented a mortal threat to the nation in order to justify illegal aggression. It has repeatedly sought, from the beginning, to exploit the state of war for partisan advantage and presidential image management. It has wasted billions of dollars, and probably tens of billions, on Pentagon contractors with patronage connections to the Republican Party.
Everyone knows, too, that the administration dissembled about the events leading up to the destruction of New Orleans. Its negligence and obliviousness in the wake of the storm were shocking, as was its attempt to conceal its errors. It has yet to explain why a person with few discernible qualifications, other than his status as a crony and business associate of his predecessor, was directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By elevating ethically dubious, inexperienced, and ineffectual management the administration compromised a critical agency that had functioned brilliantly during the Clinton administration.
To date, however, we do not know the full dimensions of the scandals behind Iraq and Katrina, because the Republican leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives abdicated the traditional congressional duties of oversight and investigation. It is due to their dereliction that neither the president nor any of his associates have seemed even mildly chastened in the wake of catastrophe. With a single party monopolizing power yet evading responsibility, there was nobody with the constitutional power to hold the White House accountable.
Bolstered by political impunity, especially in a time of war, perhaps any group of politicians would be tempted to abuse power. But this party and these politicians, unchecked by normal democratic constraints, proved to be particularly dangerous. The name for what is wrong with them—the threat embedded within the Bush administration, the Republican congressional leadership, and the current leaders of the Republican Party—is authoritarianism.
The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime’s style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists.
What worries many Americans even more is that the authoritarians can excuse their excesses as the necessary response to an enemy that every American knows to be real. For the past five years, the Republican leadership has argued that the attacks of September 11, 2001—and the continuing threat from jihadist groups such as al Qaeda—demand permanent changes in American government, society, and foreign policy. Are those changes essential to preserve our survival—or merely useful for unscrupulous politicians who still hope to achieve permanent domination by their own narrowly ideological party? Not only liberals and leftists, but centrists, libertarians, and conservatives, of every party and no party, have come to distrust the answers given by those in power.
The most salient dissent to be heard in recent years, and especially since Bush’s reelection in 2004, has been voiced not by the liberals and moderates who never trusted the Republican leadership, but by conservatives who once did.
Former Republican congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, who served as one of the managers of the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, has joined the American Civil Liberties Union he once detested. In the measures taken by the Bush administration and approved by his former colleagues, Barr sees the potential for “a totalitarian type regime.” Paul Craig Roberts, a longtime contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a former Treasury official under Reagan, perceives the “main components of a police state” in the Bush administration’s declaration of plenary powers to deny fundamental rights to suspected terrorists. Bruce Fein, who served as associate attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, believes that the Bush White House is “a clear and present danger to the rule of law,” and that the president “cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses.” Syndicated columnist George Will accuses the administration of pursuing a “monarchical doctrine” in its assertion of extraordinary war powers.
In the 2006 midterm election, disenchanted conservatives joined with liberals and centrists to deliver a stinging rebuke to the regime by overturning Republican domination in both houses of Congress. For the first time since 1994, Democrats control the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the Democratic majority in the upper chamber is as narrow as possible, depending on the whims of Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a Republican-leaning Democrat elected on an independent ballot line, who has supported the White House on the occupation of Iraq, abuse of prisoners of war, domestic spying, the suspension of habeas corpus, military tribunals, far-right judicial nominations, and other critical constitutional issues. Nor is Lieberman alone among the Senate Democrats in his supine acquiescence to the abuses of the White House.
Even if the Democrats had won a stronger majority in the Senate, it would be naive to expect that a single election victory could mend the damage inflicted on America’s constitutional fabric during the past six years. While the Bush administration has enjoyed an extraordinary immunity from Congressional oversight until now, the deepest implication of its actions and statements, as explored in the pages that follow, is that neither legislators nor courts can thwart the will of the unitary executive. When Congress challenges that presidential claim, as inevitably it will, then what seems almost certain to follow is not “bipartisanship” but confrontation. The election of 2006 was not an end but another beginning.
The question that we face in the era of terror alerts, religious fundamentalism, and endless warfare is whether we are still the brave nation preserved and rebuilt by the generation of Sinclair Lewis—or whether our courage, and our luck, have finally run out. America is not yet on the verge of fascism, but democracy is again in danger. The striking resemblance between Buzz Windrip [the demagogic villain of Lewis’s novel] and George W. Bush and the similarity of the political forces behind them is more than a literary curiosity. It is a warning on yellowed pages from those to whom we owe everything.
From “It Can Happen Here” by Joe Conason. Copyright (c) 2007 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
Making Martial Law Easier
from the NYT:
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.
The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.
The newly enacted provisions upset this careful balance. They shift the focus from making sure that federal laws are enforced to restoring public order. Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”
Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate. The president made no mention of the changes when he signed the measure, and neither the White House nor Congress consulted in advance with the nation’s governors.
There is a bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, and backed unanimously by the nation’s governors, that would repeal the stealthy revisions. Congress should pass it. If changes of this kind are proposed in the future, they must get a full and open debate.
Worst President (real or fake) Ever
By Eric Foner
Ever since 1948, when Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Sr. asked 55 historians to rank U.S. presidents on a scale from “great” to “failure,” such polls have been a favorite pastime for those of us who study the American past.
Changes in presidential rankings reflect shifts in how we view history. When the first poll was taken, the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War was regarded as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote. As a result, President Andrew Johnson, a fervent white supremacist who opposed efforts to extend basic rights to former slaves, was rated “near great.” Today, by contrast, scholars consider Reconstruction a flawed but noble attempt to build an interracial democracy from the ashes of slavery—and Johnson a flat failure.
More often, however, the rankings display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the “great” category. Most presidents are ranked “average” or, to put it less charitably, mediocre. Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Richard M. Nixon occupy the bottom rung, and now President Bush is a leading contender to join them. A look at history, as well as Bush’s policies, explains why.
At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces (in that era, pro-slavery and racist ideologues). Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush’s presidency certainly brings theirs to mind.
Harding and Coolidge are best remembered for the corruption of their years in office (1921-23 and 1923-29, respectively) and for channeling money and favors to big business. They slashed income and corporate taxes and supported employers’ campaigns to eliminate unions. Members of their administrations received kickbacks and bribes from lobbyists and businessmen. “Never before, here or anywhere else,” declared the Wall Street Journal, “has a government been so completely fused with business.” The Journal could hardly have anticipated the even worse cronyism, corruption and pro-business bias of the Bush administration.
Despite some notable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, Nixon is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law.
Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world. Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The court’s unprecedented rebukes of Bush’s policies on detainees indicate how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.
One other president bears comparison to Bush: James K. Polk. Some historians admire him, in part because he made their job easier by keeping a detailed diary during his administration, which spanned the years of the Mexican-American War. But Polk should be remembered primarily for launching that unprovoked attack on Mexico and seizing one-third of its territory for the United States.
Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war—an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president’s right to attack another country “whenever he shall deem it necessary,” Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to “fix any limit” to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln’s warning.
Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.
Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University.
Why the Rethugs Bombed
Whiskey Fire sums it up succinctly:
Let’s Be Clear
A lot has been said already about the ‘06 elections, and a lot more will be said. Most of this will be crap. So let me just be clear:
The Republicans lost the ‘06 elections because they are crazy people with shitty policies that have all failed.
Crucial to any analysis of yesterday’s results must be the fact that they started a war based on bullshit, and then they quite literally made a bloody mess of it.
Also, they’re completely corrupt and incompetent, self-righteously religious, willing to gay bait and race bait, and generally all they do is tell lies and act like total weasels and whine about the phony bugbear of the “liberal media.”
Please alert Cokie Roberts.
Limiting the Damage
from NYT via Welcome to Pottersville:
by Paul Krugman
Bush isn’t on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office.
There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times, which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that “this is not about the midterm elections.” But the editorial’s authors surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won’t fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he won’t change strategy in Iraq; he won’t change course at all, unless Congress forces him to.
At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush’s character. To put it bluntly, he’s an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood — and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself “pleased with the progress we’re making” in Iraq.
In other words, he’s the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.
The results have been predictably disastrous. The nightmare in Iraq is only part of the story. In time, the degradation of the federal government by rampant cronyism — almost every part of the executive branch I know anything about, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been FEMAfied — may come to be seen as an equally serious blow to America’s future.
And it should be a matter of intense national shame that Mr. Bush has quietly abandoned his fine promises to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast.
The public, which rallied around Mr. Bush after 9/11 and was still prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt two years ago, seems to have figured most of this out. It’s too late to vote Mr. Bush out of office, but most Americans seem prepared to punish Mr. Bush’s party for his personal failings. This is in spite of a vicious campaign in which Mr. Bush has gone further than any previous president — even Richard Nixon — in attacking the patriotism of anyone who criticizes him or his policies.
That said, it’s still possible that the Republicans will hold on to both houses of Congress. The feeding frenzy over John Kerry’s botched joke showed that many people in the news media are still willing to be played like a fiddle. And if you think the timing of the Saddam verdict was coincidental, I’ve got a terrorist plot against the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.
Moreover, the potential for vote suppression and/or outright electoral fraud remains substantial. And it will be very hard for the Democrats to take the Senate for the very simple reason that only one-third of Senate seats are on this ballot.
What if the Democrats do win? That doesn’t guarantee a change in policy.
The Constitution says that Congress and the White House are co-equal branches of government, but Mr. Bush and his people aren’t big on constitutional niceties. Even with a docile Republican majority controlling Congress, Mr. Bush has been in the habit of declaring that he has the right to disobey the law he has just signed, whether it’s a law prohibiting torture or a law requiring that he hire qualified people to run FEMA.
Just imagine, then, what he’ll do if faced with demands for information from, say, Congressional Democrats investigating war profiteering, which seems to have been rampant. Actually, we don’t have to imagine: a White House strategist has already told Time magazine that the administration plans a “cataclysmic fight to the death” if Democrats in Congress try to exercise their right to issue subpoenas — which is one heck of a metaphor, given Mr. Bush’s history of getting American service members trapped in cataclysmic fights where the deaths are anything but metaphors.
But here’s the thing: no matter how hard the Bush administration may try to ignore the constitutional division of power, Mr. Bush’s ability to make deadly mistakes has rested in part on G.O.P. control of Congress. That’s why many Americans, myself included, will breathe a lot easier if one-party rule ends tomorrow.
(image: Project for the Old American Century)
Majikthise notes this from MyDD: each of the following links reports a story that illustrates the cretinous behavior and "values" of the associated rethuglican candidate. HTML source code to put this list on your blog is here.
--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl
--AZ-01: Rick Renzi
--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth
--CA-04: John Doolittle
--CA-11: Richard Pombo
--CA-50: Brian Bilbray
--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
--CO-05: Doug Lamborn
--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell
--CT-04: Christopher Shays
--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan
--FL-16: Joe Negron
--FL-22: Clay Shaw
--ID-01: Bill Sali
--IL-06: Peter Roskam
--IL-10: Mark Kirk
--IL-14: Dennis Hastert
--IN-02: Chris Chocola
--IN-08: John Hostettler
--IA-01: Mike Whalen
--KS-02: Jim Ryun
--KY-03: Anne Northup
--KY-04: Geoff Davis
--MD-Sen: Michael Steele
--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht
--MN-06: Michele Bachmann
--MO-Sen: Jim Talent
--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns
--NV-03: Jon Porter
--NH-02: Charlie Bass
--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson
--NM-01: Heather Wilson
--NY-03: Peter King
--NY-20: John Sweeney
--NY-26: Tom Reynolds
--NY-29: Randy Kuhl
--NC-08: Robin Hayes
--NC-11: Charles Taylor
--OH-01: Steve Chabot
--OH-02: Jean Schmidt
--OH-15: Deborah Pryce
--OH-18: Joy Padgett
--PA-04: Melissa Hart
--PA-07: Curt Weldon
--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick
--PA-10: Don Sherwood
--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee
--TN-Sen: Bob Corker
--VA-Sen: George Allen
--VA-10: Frank Wolf
--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick
--WA-08: Dave Reichert
After Pat’s Birthday
By Kevin Tillman
It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.
Much has happened since we handed over our voice:
Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.
Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.
Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.
Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.
Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.
Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.
Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.
Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.
Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.
Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.
Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.
Somehow torture is tolerated.
Somehow lying is tolerated.
Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.
Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.
Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.
Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.
Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.
Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.
Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.
Somehow this is tolerated.
Somehow nobody is accountable for this.
In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.
Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.
Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,
Chimp Signs the Terror Legalization Bill