October 17, George W. Bush signed into law the Military Commissions
Act of 2006. This new law gives Bush power similar to that possessed
by Stalin or Hitler, and grants agencies within the Executive Branch
powers similar to those of the KGB or Gestapo.
Bush justifies this act
by claiming he needs it to fight the "war on terror," but a number of
critics, including former counterterrorism officials, have said the
administration has greatly exaggerated the threat and used illogical
methods to combat terrorism. (Examples are listed below.)
Except for MSNBC's
Keith Olbermann, few television news reporters have bothered to
mention that the Military Commissions Act has changed the U.S. justice
system and our approach to human rights. As Olbermann said of the new
law on his October 17 Countdown program, the new act "does away with
habeas corpus, the right of suspected terrorists or anybody else to
know why they have been imprisoned."
Jonathan Turley, George
Washington University Constitutional Law Professor, was Olbermann's
guest. Olbermann asked him, "Does this mean that under this law,
ultimately the only thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out of Gitmo
is the sanity and honesty of the president of the United States?"
Turley responded, "It
does. And it's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers
created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or
good mood of the president…People have no idea how significant this
is. What, really a time of shame this is for the American system.
What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially
revokes over 200 years of American principles and values."
Although we have a free
press, rather than follow Olbermann's good example, most television
news reporters have responded to this nullification of America's
fundamental principles by avoiding the subject. News networks which
voluntarily relinquish their right and duty to challenge government
officials function more as the Soviet Union's Pravda or Hitler's Nazi
press program than as a genuinely free press.
Just as the mainstream
media failed to adequately question the Bush administration's many
shifting rationales for invading Iraq in the lead-up to the war,
they're now failing to challenge Bush's logic and motives as he
justifies eviscerating the Constitution in the name of his
ever-expanding "war on terror." How realistic is this so-called war,
and is the Bush administration conducting it effectively?
Robert Dreyfuss covers
national security for Rolling Stone. He interviewed nearly a dozen
former high-ranking counterterrorism officials about Bush's approach
to the war on terrorism. In his article, "The Phony War," (Rolling
Stone, 9/21/06) Dreyfuss says these officials conclude:
· The war on terror is
bogus. Terrorism shouldn't be treated as if it were a nation to be
battled with the military, but should instead be fought with police
work and intelligence agencies.
· Terrorism is not an
enemy, but a method. Even if the United States were to wipe out every
terrorist cell in the world today, terrorism would be back tomorrow.
· Bush lacks a clear
understanding of the nature of the "enemy" and has no real strategy
for dealing with them.
· The Bush
administration confuses the issue by grouping "Al Qaeda" with
everything from Iraq's resistance movement to states such as Syria and
· Today, there's
virtually no real "Al Qaeda threat" to Americans.
· Bush's policies have
spawned a new generation of "amateur terrorists," but there are few of
them, and they're not likely to pose a major threat to the U.S.
· Though Bush has said
he will fight his "war" until every last terrorist is eliminated,
terrorism can never be defeated, merely "contained and reduced."
Dreyfuss says, "In the
short term, the cops and spies can continue to do their best to watch
for terrorist threats as they emerge, and occasionally, as in London,
they will succeed. But they are the first to admit that stopping a
plot before it can unfold involved, more than anything, plain dumb
Not only has the Bush
administration falsely characterized and exaggerated the threat of
terrorism; they have gone out of their way to mislead the public by
claiming credit for preventing attacks. Dreyfuss points out that
although Bush has claimed we've fended off 10 terrorist plots since
9/11, "on closer examination all 10 are either bogus or were to take
Dreyfuss also notes
that, although in 2002 the Bush administration leaked to the press
that Al Qaeda had 5,000 "sleepers" in the U.S., there were, in fact,
none. (Or, as Dreyfuss says, not a single one has been found.) If
the administration believes the facts bolster their case for a war on
terrorism, why do they find it necessary to leak false information?
The administration has
done little to secure U.S. borders, ports, airports and nuclear
facilities. What could logically explain their inattention to these
vulnerabilities if they believe a terrorist threat here is likely?
Bush has said he'll do anything it takes in order to protect the
American people. Why hasn't he secured our nuclear facilities?
terrorist threat does give the Bush team an excuse to seize more power
for the Executive and shred the Constitution. In an article for
Foreign Affairs (September/October 2006), political science professor
John Mueller supports Dreyfuss's view that the war on terrorism is
Mueller points out that
not only have there been no terrorist incidents here in the past five
years, but there were none in the five years before 9/11. Mueller
asks: "If it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are
so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they
not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels,
poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains,
blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting
the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security
experts, could be so easily exploited?"
He also bolsters
Dreyfuss's conclusion that the Bush administration can't take credit
for the fact that we haven't been attacked again. He says, "the
government's protective measures would have to be nearly perfect to
thwart all such plans. Given the monumental imperfection of the
government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and the debacle of FBI and
National Security Agency programs to upgrade their computers to better
coordinate intelligence information, that explanation seems
Bush's irrational argument that we're "fighting terrorists in Iraq so
we don't have to fight them here." He points out that terrorists with
Al Qaeda sympathies have managed to carry out attacks in a variety of
countries (Egypt, Jordan Turkey, the United Kingdom), not merely in
He adds that a
reasonable explanation for the fact that no terrorists have attacked
since 9/11 is that the terrorist threat "has been massively
exaggerated." He notes that "it is worth remembering that the total
number of people killed since 9/11 by Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-like
operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the
number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year,
and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by
international terrorism is about one in 80,000 - about the same chance
of being killed by a comet or a meteor."
justification for the war on terror has been illogical and deceptive,
the administration has used it as an excuse to abuse the U.S. military
in Iraq, tear down our system of government at home and seize power on
his own behalf. As Jonathan Turley told Keith Olbermann on his
October 17th program, with the signing of the Military Commissions
Act, "Congress just gave the president despotic powers…I think people
are fooling themselves if they believe that the courts will once again
stop this president from taking - overtaking - almost absolute power."
Bush's many power grabs
and refusal to submit to usual constitutional checks and balances
indicates he prefers monarchy or dictatorship to the government set up
by America's founders. The framers of our Constitution provided
checks on tyranny by writing into law separation of powers, granting
the legislative and judicial branches of government the ability to
curb abuses by the executive. Today, the Congress has abdicated its
constitutional obligation and serves only as a rubber stamp for the
despotic president, and to date, the courts have done much the same.
Can George W. Bush be
trusted with absolute power? Here are some things he has done with
his unchecked power:
· Stolen two
· Exaggerated and
falsely characterized the terrorist threat.
· Misled the country
into war with Iraq.
· Urged the U.S.
intelligence agencies to fix the intelligence around the Iraq war
policy (as confirmed by the Downing Street Memo and other sources) in
order to mislead the Congress and public into supporting war with
· Abused human rights
by promoting the use of torture and setting up virtual gulags.
· Suspended habeas
corpus for some.
· Tried to silence
political opposition by pronouncing them "weak on terrorism" or
somehow "with the terrorists," and
· Placed himself above
the law by issuing more legislation-challenging signing statements
(around 800) than all of his predecessors put together.
invasion of Iraq alone has cost nearly 3,000 American lives. An
October 11, 2006
article by Greg Mitchell at Editor and Publisher says that a new
study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,
"suggests that more than 600,000 Iraqis have met a violent or
otherwise war-related end since the U.S. arrived in March 2003."
administration's policies have not only resulted in high death counts,
but also in widespread, out of control torture. A September 22, 2006
Christian Science Monitor
"The United Nation's
special investigator on torture said Thursday that torture may now be
worse in Iraq than it was during the regime of deposed leader Saddam
Hussein. The Associated Press reports that Manfred Nowak, who was
making a brief to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the
treatment of detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, said
the torture situation in Iraq was 'totally out of hand.'"
The CS Monitor mentions
the fact that the recent compromise between the Bush White House and
dissident Republicans (including Senator John McCain) allows torture
to continue. The article quotes a Washington Post piece:
"The bad news is Mr.
Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to
secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects…It's hard to
credit the statement by [McCain] yesterday that 'there's no doubt that
the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have
been preserved.' In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations
of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is
president, with Congress's tacit assent."
Congress has given Bush
a blank check as he's bulldozed toward an imperial presidency. We
have the outward forms of democratic institutions such as Congress and
a so-called free press. However, the people currently managing those
institutions behave as if they're being forced to serve a totalitarian
A perfect example of
this surrender to Bush's virtual despotism is Congress's and the
mainstream media's compliance regarding Bush's Military Commissions
Act. While Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Turley see the extreme danger
posed by Bush's authoritarian moves, Congress has done little to
challenge Bush, and, overall, the press is eerily silent.
In The Rise And Fall
Of The Third Reich, William L. Shirer said the Reich Press Law of
October 4, 1933, ordered editors not to publish (among other things)
anything which "tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich or
offends the honor and dignity of Germany." According to Shirer, Max
Amman, Hitler's top sergeant during the war and head of the Nazi
Party's publishing firm and financial head of its press said that
after the Nazis seized power in 1933, it was "a true statement to say
that the basic purpose of the Nazi press program was to eliminate all
the press which was in opposition to the party."
The U.S. mainstream
press doesn't have to be coerced by a government Press Law to avoid
publicly opposing Bush's most egregious policies. Television news
networks, in particular, have voluntarily held back serious scrutiny.
They have not only failed to discuss the recent Military Commissions
Act at length, but in the run-up to the Iraq war, liberal talk show
host Phil Donahue and comedian Bill Maher were fired for challenging
the White House spin about Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.
Shirer also describes
the ease with which the German Reichstag gave Hitler the power to
change the nature of Germany's parliamentary democracy. He writes:
"One by one, Germany's
most powerful institutions now began to surrender to Hitler and to
pass quietly, unprotestingly, out of existence…It cannot be said they
went down fighting. On May 19, 1933, the Social Democrats - those who
were not in jail or in exile - voted in the Reichstag without a
dissenting voice to approve Hitler's foreign policy."
Shirer concludes: "The
one-party totalitarian state had been achieved with scarcely a ripple
of opposition or defiance, and within four months after the Reichstag
had abdicated its democratic responsibilities."
The U.S. Congress, like
the German Reichstag, has abdicated its democratic responsibilities by
granting Bush an inordinate amount of power - "with scarcely a ripple
of opposition or defiance." The U.S. press has abandoned its role as
democracy's watchdog by failing to question this development. Both
of these institutions have failed the American people.
Considering Bush is
using the war on terror to justify seizing undue power, both Congress
and the media should question his reasoning and offer opposition.
Just as they didn't effectively challenge the administration's
shifting excuses for attacking Iraq, these institutions haven't
scrutinized Bush's claims about the need for the Military Commissions
Act and the apparently endless war on terrorism.
Among things Congress
and the media should challenge is George W. Bush's false claim that
the United States does not torture. In an
published at the CommonDreams.org site, journalist Molly Ivins reports
that in one case of death from torture by Americans, the military at
first said the prisoner's death was caused by a heart attack. Ivins
adds that the coroner later said the heart attack occurred after the
prisoner "had been beaten so often on his legs that they had
'basically been pulpified.'"
She adds that the Bush
administration's officially sanctioning torture "throws out legal and
moral restraints as the president deems necessary -- these are
fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law." Ivins isn't
inclined to hyperbole, yet she says of Americans' passive acceptance
of this new law: "Do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins
comparing us to the Nazis."
As Jonathan Turley said on Olbermann's program, "I think you can feel
the judgment of history. It won't be kind to President Bush. But
frankly, I don't think that it will be kind to the rest of us. I
think that history will ask, 'Where were you? What did you do when
this thing was signed into law?' There were people that protested the
Japanese concentration camps; there were people that protested these
other acts. But we are strangely silent in this national yawn as our
Future generations will
wonder why the U.S. Congress and mainstream press helped Bush build up
an imperial presidency and eliminate Constitutional protections. If
they're able to sort through the administration's fallacies and lies
and clearly see what went wrong with America during this time, they'll
wonder why there were so few Molly Ivins's, Keith Olbermann's and
Coming generations will
also ask why by comparison there were so many who failed to notice the
obvious holes in Bush's logic and why so many turned a blind eye to
his numerous false assertions and cruel policies. They'll wonder why
so many supported, whether by direct action or by silence, the Bush
administration's changing the fundamental nature of the democratic
Republic we were given by America's founders, based on the flimsy
excuse of fighting a war on terrorism - a "war" Bush defines falsely
and fights ineffectively.
Generations to come
might ask why this president who lied so often, about Iraq and other
critical matters, was ever entrusted with enough power to damage this
country's founding principles and wage endless, unprovoked war on
other nations. If Congress and the media would ask these questions
now, they might prevent Bush from doing further harm. This might save
many lives, prevent much unnecessary suffering and possibly steer this
country out of its present darkness.