November 04, 2006

Just in case you're wondering whether Bush is really capable of "changing the tone"

"The government, in trying to block lawyers' access to the 14 detainees, effectively asserts that the detainees' experiences are a secret that should never be shared with the public.

"Because Khan 'was detained by CIA in this program, he may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI level,' an affidavit from CIA Information Review Officer Marilyn A. Dorn states, using the acronym for 'sensitive compartmented information.'" News reports on pretrial motions, United States vs. Khan.

So follow along with this if you can. In other words, travel with me all the way Through the Looking Glass into the Wonderland World of Bush's judicial logic.

Let us say that you are a "terrorist" who is "accused" of plotting "terrorist activity" in a "conspiracy (or otherwise)" against the United States. I use quotation marks for all these terms to suggest the contingent and amorphous nature of what we know so far about the "legal side" of the "war on terror." Which is to say, we don't really know anything. We don't have any idea who the people detained at Guantanamo are, what they did (if anything), or what they've been accused of (if anything). We just know there are several hundred men, overwhelmingly (exclusively?) Muslim, who may have been in Afghanistan at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2001, or they may be al-Qaeda "members" who have been captured there or elsewhere, and they may or may not have engaged in hostilities against the United States. Since the war on terror, under Bush's logic, can never end, and since it is customary to detain enemy combatants or prisoners of war until the cessation of hostilities, it is possible that these "enemy combatants" or "terrorists" or whatever the hell they are will be detained forever, unless they're tried, convicted and sentenced to death or to a term of years.

It used to be the case, under American jurisprudence, that the fact of detention or arrest did not prove anything. It started a legal process in motion whereby proof would be adduced and a decision made based on such evidence. In the case of an ordinary war conducted by a sane Commander in Chief, such as World War II, the capture of an enemy soldier, such as a German soldier confined in an American prisoner-of-war camp, simply resulted in temporary detention till the eventual cessation of hostilities, when the soldier would be repatriated.

In the insane world of Bushian America, however, we have neither of these situations. The confinement is open-ended; the detainees are termed "enemy combatants" because they are not recognized as members of a regular army entitled to repatriation, and repatriation is off the table anyway because the hostilities will never cease. That's why these "detainees" have been, in many cases, confined longer in Gitmo than probably any German soldier detained in an American POW camp during World War II. There is no way out. They're just "bad guys" without rights. Why are they bad? Perhaps they were engaged in hostilities against the United States during the Afghanistan war. Maybe they're people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a heroin farmer taking his crop to market (for exportation to the United States, perhaps) when the American military came through. Maybe they're just three Pakistanis attending a friend's wedding, as happened to specific British nationals who endured a two-year nightmare of torture and abuse before their release.

One way you could find out what they did and whether they should be in Gitmo at all would be to furnish lawyers to represent them, and then conduct a hearing. You could call it "administrative habeas corpus," since we're loath to allow them the real kind, the kind where you go to an actual court. With the playing field slightly leveled, the detainee could present his case. The Bush Gang, seeing the difficulties involved in such normality, have now moved to block their access to legal counsel. And the reason? The detainees, whatever their low estate otherwise, have become privy to Top Secret Information. And what is that information? They are aware, perhaps, of the location of the secret dungeon where the CIA squirreled them away before transfer to Gitmo. And more. They know what the CIA did to them to extract information.

Well, it's plain as day to the Justice Department that these detainees, guilty by reason of detention, cannot be allowed to blab to their lawyers about the hellholes in which they were drowned, beaten and shocked into making confessions. That would compromise the security of the United States, since it's obvious that other terrorists, once informed of the nature of the drowning, beating and shocking, could easily resist without themselves coughing up a confession, false or otherwise. It doesn't need to make sense, of course. Nothing the Bush Administration ever does needs to make sense. "Preparing" yourself for torture doesn't help you resist torture, because there is no real preparation possible. But it's an argument, it's words on paper, anyway. It's worth a shot, because every other Medieval degradation of the rule of law proposed by the Bush Administration has, by and large, worked.

As I write this, Nancy Pelosi is making nice with President Bush at their festive lunch, where bygones will be bygones. They can talk about the minimum wage and the right of Medicare to engage in bulk negotiation with the pharma industry. The Dems will allow themselves to be co-opted, convincing themselves that Bush is a man they can do business with, a mistake also made by a group of diplomats who boarded a plane in Munich in 1938 and flew home to announce peace in their time.

November 01, 2006

Whither the USA after November 8?

Like millions of other Americans, I anxiously await the outcome of the elections on November 8, in the sense that one might anxiously await the successful deployment of a parachute after jumping from a plane 20,000 feet in the air. I would not say that absolutely everything hinges on displacing the Republican machine in this election, but if we don't...splat.

The United States has slowly but surely descended into gangsterism at the highest levels of government, a horror-filled development that even our overheated political discourse cannot bring itself to acknowledge openly. Once the Republican Congress decided to countenance flagrant violations of the law, to permit the commission of felonies by the Executive Branch without so much as a harsh word of protest, we lost our Constitutional form of government. I don't see how anyone can deny that. A right-wing polemicist might argue with a straight face that authoritarian rule in an unconstitutional manner is necessary because of external or internal threats to the security of the United States, but this is very different from arguing that the extra-legal actions of the Bush Administration comply with the spirit, letter or literal meaning of many federal statutes and constitutional provisions. And it must then be admitted that the United States has become not so different from the Soviet Union which Reagan called the Evil Empire. To preserve our existence, we have forfeited our freedoms and our adherence to the rule of law.

The specific examples of George W. Bush's misprisions have grown to such a long list that they're difficult to summarize. He has illegally wiretapped and intercepted the electronic communications of American citizens without a warrant, a felony and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He established a systematic program of torture, a felony, a war crime, and a violation of the Eighth Amendment. He incarcerated American citizens without charges, denied them the right to counsel, denied them the right to a speedy trial, and disappeared them, a felony and a violation of the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. He has violated his oath of office over and over and over again.

The Republican Congress refused, on all occasions, ever to censure Bush or to reprimand him officially for any of these countless crimes and misprisions of office. Even the high-minded Republican Senators, like Arlen Specter, have voted to deprive "enemy combatants" of the right to habeas corpus in the Military Kangaroo Court Act, while openly acknowledging that the bill they supported with their votes was unconstitutional. In other words, obviously, unrepentantly, cavalierly violating their own oaths of office.

You see, gangsterism is catching. It is a kind of killer virus, and the infected gang members begin to confuse their own opinions, their own attitudes, with the rule of law. Once that happens, they break the law casually and routinely, as we are seeing now, in an accelerating fashion. They think what they want to do is good for the country, and if the law, or the American Constitution, says otherwise, then the law will have to give way. Who is going to tell them anything different?

That's where we are. It's a crucial point in American history. There will be widespread voter fraud on Tuesday. The question is whether the tidal wave of revulsion mounting against the gangsters in Washington is sufficient to overcome even that last-ditch scheme, that final criminal conspiracy. If not, after that...the deluge.