Sun King Returns
A long, long time ago, in a political galaxy far away, President Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell told right-wing critics of the Administration not to bother themselves over the President’s image as a moderate, because in practice he would do their bidding: “Watch what we do, not what we say,” he remarked. Looking at the actions of the Bush Administration since Sept. 11 suggests the ghost of one of Nixon’s old thugs has taken up residence in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
While the White House has wrapped itself in the vocabulary of “freedom and democracy,” its actions have been aimed at nothing less than dismantling the US Constitution and amassing the kind of imperial power we haven’t seen since the days of absolute monarchs. It would make the old crook Nixon positively envious. Consider the following actions since Sept. 11.
Military tribunals have been established to try foreigners charged with terrorism. The tribunals, staffed by five military officers, will be held in other countries, admit hearsay testimony, accept illegally seized evidence, and require only a 2/3 vote to inflict the death penalty. There are no appeals. And who defines who is a terrorist? George W. Bush.
The Administration argues it needs the tribunals because speed is essential, but evidence suggests that dispatch is less a concern than outcome. When one of two Libyans charged with bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland was acquitted, a Justice Department official told the New York Times that it was “not an outcome we would want.” Don’t like the verdict? Pack the court. As Vice-President Richard Cheney said, a military tribunal “guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.” Hell, why waste time with show trials. Just march ‘em out and string them up.
The fact that the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center were successfully prosecuted in civilian court is brushed aside, as is the fact that such tribunals are a direct violation of the Fourth and Sixth amendments to the U.S. Constitution (which apply to “persons” and “ accused,” not just citizens). To guarantee the military Star Chamber makes no mistakes about handing out verdicts they “ deserve,” the Administration also has the right to eavesdrop on attorney-client communications. No sense in gambling when you can load the dice.
And just in case you think all of this is temporary, a close reading of the new anti-terrorist “Patriot Act” should dispel the myth that the Act will vanish in 2005. Only a tiny portion of the law will disappear. The police will still have a permanent right to conduct Internet surveillance without a court order; secretly search homes and businesses without notification; and share secret Grand Jury evidence with the CIA. Phone companies, internet providers, and credit reporting firms must supply customer information and phone numbers to the FBI, and Section 505 prevents those companies from disclosing that monitoring.
The Administration has also removed a wide range of public information from its web sites. While the White House claims such information could be a roadmap for terrorists, what was removed looks more like a blueprint for silencing critics of corporate polluters. The US Geological Service has erased material on water pollution, and the Environmental Protection Agency has eliminated information from its Risk Management Plan (RMP) on the dangers of chemical accidents. Chemical companies have long lobbied to remove that information from the RMP, in spite of the fact that both the FBI and the US Congress concluded that it posed no danger for terrorist activity. So are we protecting the nation or Monsanto?
While Attorney General John Ashcroft has been busily incarcerating some 1,200 “suspects” (at last count), “interviewing” 5,000 Arab males age 18-23, he has yet to hold a press conference on his Department’s plan to root out the “terrorists” who have sent anthrax threats to more than 200 abortion centers throughout the country. The Justice Department is more than willing to round up Middle East suspects, but I wouldn’t hold your breath that they will be sharing a cell with members of the Army of God or Operation Rescue.
The White House has also unilaterally abrogated international treaties on arms control, biological warfare, and global warming, as well as blocking a Congressionally mandated law on the release of a predecessor’s records.”There’s just a philosophy in the Administration that the public doesn’t have a right to know,” says Phil Schiliro, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Ca) chief of staff, “Now they can justify it with national security, but that’s more for convenience.”
What we are witnessing is the dismantling of our nation, with all its delicate checks and balances. The White House’s response to all this? “Wartime powers rest fundamentally in the hands of the executive branch” says Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer, in the spirit of the French “Sun King,” Louis IV, who once proclaimed: “ I am the state.”