In years to come, historians may look back on U.S. press coverage of George W. Bush’s presidency and wonder why there was not a single front-page story announcing one of the most monumental events of mankind’s modern era – the death of the American Republic and the elimination of the “unalienable rights” pledged to “posterity” by the Founders.

The historians will, of course, find stories about elements of this extraordinary event – Bush’s denial of habeas corpus rights to a fair trial, his secret prisons, his tolerance of torture, his violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, his “signing statements” overriding laws, the erosion of constitutional checks and balances.

But the historians will scroll through front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post and every other major newspaper – as well as scan the national network news and the 24-hour cable channels – and find not a single story connecting the dots, explaining the larger picture: the end of a remarkable democratic experiment which started in 1776 and which was phased out sometime in the early 21st century.

How, these historians may ask, did the U.S. press corps miss one of history’s most important developments? Was it a case like the proverbial frog that would have jumped to safety if tossed into boiling water but was slowly cooked to death when the water was brought to a slow boil?

Or was it that journalists and politicians intuitively knew that identifying too clearly what was happening in the United States would have compelled them to action, and that action would have meant losing their jobs and livelihoods? Perhaps, too, they understood that there was little they could do to change the larger reality, so why bother?

As for the broader public, did the fear and anger generated by the 9/11 attacks so overwhelm the judgment of Americans that they didn’t care that President Bush had offered them a deal with the devil, he would promise them a tad more safety in exchange for their liberties?

And what happened to the brave souls who did challenge Bush’s establishment of an authoritarian state? Why, the historians may wonder, did the American people and their representatives not rise up as Bush systematically removed honorable public servants who did their best to uphold the nation’s laws and principles?

One could go down a long list of government officials who were purged or punished for speaking up, the likes of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

The Taguba Purge

Yet possibly the most troubling case was revealed in mid-June by The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh, the case of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who investigated the abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and issued a tough report that prevented the scandal from being swept entirely under the rug.

Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honor of the U.S. military, the Bush administration singled out this hard-working, low-key general for ridicule, retribution and forced retirement in early 2007.

In an interview with Hersh, Taguba described a chilling conversation he had with Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command, a few weeks after Taguba’s report became public in 2004. Sitting in the back of Abizaid’s Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I’d been in the Army 32 years by then,” Taguba told Hersh, “and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”

It was also an early indication that Taguba’s military career was nearing its end. In January 2006, Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff, called Taguba and without pleasantries or explanation told Taguba, “I need you to retire by January 2007.”

So, the general who had violated the omerta code of silence was banished from Bush’s Mafia.

Hersh wrote that the sensitivity over Taguba’s report went beyond its graphic account of physical and sexual abuse of Iraqis detained at Abu Ghraib; it also brought unwanted attention to a wider pattern of criminal acts committed with the approval of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“The administration feared that the publicity would expose more secret operations and practices,” including a special military task forces or Special Access Programs set up to roam the world and assassinate suspected terrorists, Hersh wrote.

Hersh quoted a recently retired CIA officer as saying the task-force teams “had full authority to whack – to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’” a phrase meaning assassination.

“It was surrealistic what these guys were doing,” the ex-officer told Hersh. “They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the [CIA] chief of station.” [New Yorker, June 25, 2007, edition]

In other words, President Bush not only had arrogated to himself the right to snatch people off the street and lock them up indefinitely without trial but he had dispatched assassins around the world to eliminate alleged “bad guys.”

The bigger picture – the stark and grim image of what had transpired over the past half dozen years in the name of the American people – was that the United States could no longer claim to be a nation of laws and liberties. It had become a country governed by a criminal mob deploying an unsavory collection of capos, consiglieres and hit men.

In this view, George W. Bush was no longer President of a Republic but Godfather of the world’s most intimidating crime syndicate. But that was a reality that the U.S. news media could not afford to acknowledge in real time, though it might become the unavoidable conclusion of future historians.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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