Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How George Bush Became a Dictator

An existential choice is forced upon us. Bush told us that we were either for his regime or we were for the "evil doers". I see a different paradigm: either we are for freedom or we are for Bush. Bush is spoiling for a Constitutional showdown that will force the issue and consolidate a dictatorship beyond the ability of Americans to change –short of violent revolution.

In his latest book "Conservatives Without Conscience", John Dean paints a stark difference between Richard Nixon and George Bush. Dean recalled the day the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to hand over the infamous White House tapes. Nixon, Dean reveals, toyed with the idea of defying the high court. It was Nixon, after all, who had said that if the President does it, it's legal.

Pressured by his own party, Nixon spent a night talking to portraits and getting down on his knees in prayer with an embarrassed Henry Kissinger. By night's end, as the story goes, Nixon had had an epiphany. He would resign.

What brought him to a night of prayer was his decision to comply with an order of the US Supreme Court to turn over the secret recordings of his Oval Office conversations. They were notable for what was missing: an 18 minute gap, and also what was present: a tape recorded "smoking gun" in which then White House Counsel John Dean had warned Nixon of a "cancer on the Presidency".

But, Bush —Dean points out —is not Nixon. In the same or a similar situation, Bush will not budge. Bush will defy the Supreme Court of the United States. In doing so, America will no longer have the legal recourse of removal; impeachment will be a dead issue. If impeached, Bush will not leave the office. Having subverted every protection afforded the people by our founders, Bush will leave us no choice but slavery under a dictatorship or a popular uprising. Bush will leave us, therefore, no choice but revolution.
...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

—Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
Nixon was called an "imperial President". Interestingly, the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon were concerned with his abuse of the IRS, obstruction of justice in connection with the Watergate Scandal, and his various abuses of agencies to include the CIA. His secret bombing of Cambodia is not mentioned in the articles of impeachment against him. Nevertheless, Nixon's downfall is most certainly traced to hubris and disproportionate power invested in the modern Presidency.

Bush seems to have created a dictatorship by exploiting a national tragedy, by manipulating a wave of fear, by fanning the flames of racial and religious prejudice. He divided the world into two opposing camps: us and "evil-doers" and declared that if you disagreed with him, then you, too, were an "evil doer". Declaring that he did not do nuance, Bush made of stupidity a virtue.

He suppressed dissent and declared himself above the law. He declared that he could interpret even the rulings of the Supreme Court; he could pick and choose which portions of laws he might enforce and which portions he might ignore; he assumed the additional powers of the judiciary and the legislature. He dared anyone to stop him. "Who cares what you think?" he asked.
He tipped his hand: "This would be a whole lot easier if this was a dictatorship ...just has long as I'm the dictator". If he, in fact, did not say "...stop throwing the Constitution up to me! The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper", he might as well have. His attitude and his actions are most certainly consistent with it.

When he was always wrong, he got support from a "liberal" media. What does being right have to do with anything? asked Thom Friedman. The GOP —Bushco in particular —is not restrained by common sense, concepts of good and bad, right and wrong.
Republicans appreciate that they are more likely to maintain influence and control of the presidency if the nation remains under ever-increasing threats of terrorism, so they have no hesitation in pursuing policies that can provoke potential terrorists throughout the world.

—John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience
Dean's book is widely reviewed as a study of the insidious nature of the conservative mentality. It is that to be sure but it is more importantly, a study of how that mentality is leading us inexorably to dictatorship. Dean cites the work of Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba whose 1981 book Right Wing Authoritarianism may have diagnosed the Bushco pathology.
Even the members of authoritarian groups appear to have changed during the '80s. The steely-eyed fanatic wearing a Nazi uniform and marching in Marquette Park (clearly one of "them") has been joined by the neatly dressed middle-class housewife throwing blood on abortion facilities. These authoritarian characters are so ordinary they could even be one of "us."

Right Wing Authoritarianism
Defined by symptoms identified by Altermyer and Dean, Bush's authoritarian dictatorship may have ushered in a new era in which states wage war not against other states but against civilian populations. Bush's war against Iraq, for example, is unlike previous wars; his goals are chaos, death, and annihilation. Bush was not only wrong about Iraq, it is clear that he deliberately lied about WMD in particular.
Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them. U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them -- despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb.

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

—George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, 2003
When nothing said by Bush turned out to have been true, Dean followed up with an article that asked Is lying about the reason for a war an impeachable offense?
To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."

—John Dean, Is lying about the reason for a war an impeachable offense?
The Iraq war —now a debacle of unimaginable proportions —turned out to have been sold with a deliberate hoax. Colin Powell's presentation to the UN consisted of fabricated evidence, out of date satellite photos, bogus information by compromised informants, and, most notoriously, a plagiarized student paper. In fact, not getting the information he wanted to hear, Donald Rumsfeld created an Office for Special Plans tasked with telling him what he wanted to hear. The authoritarian diagnosis explains why it no longer matters to modern American conservatives that nothing mitigates the American occupation of Iraq —a grand theft begun upon a world wide hoax turned debacle.

More recently, the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon —a Bush battle by proxy —is just such a case. While there is still the possibility that Iran and Syria will ally and join the fray, Bush will only exploit that as well. An authoritarian dictatorship, Bush's stock and trade, is fear; being "right" does not matter. Clearly —Bush has never shown himself to be concerned with consequences. What does matter to Bush is that Iraq is now off the front pages and just in time for the mid-terms.

How did we get from there to here? How was our Democracy snatched from under our noses? How did we wake up as cockroaches?

It may have begun with the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 [NSC-68]. It was then that the United States became a "security state”. The act was implemented in January 1950 when the National Security Council produced a blueprint for a new kind of country, unlike anything that preceded World War II.

It was not openly discussed at the time, but Senator Arthur Vandenburg —a Republican —reportedly told Truman "...that if he really wanted all those weapons and all those high taxes to pay for them, he had better 'scare the hell out of the American people.'"

It would appear that Bush took that admonition to heart. But the issue with Bush and Reagan had not and is not a matter of finding ways to pay for high tech ways to blow things up, it's a matter of simply not paying for them at all —hence the Reagan/Bush deficits! Reagan left to Bush Sr the largest debt in our nation's history. Bush will do the same if he leaves office.

In the meantime, a climate of fear is maintained. The brief exception is Dwight Eisenhower. In an attack of conscience unheard of among latter day Republicans, Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex that had, by then, established permanent control over the state! We've been overfeeding the beast since 1947.

It was David Hume’s 1758 Of the First Principles of Government that stated:
Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.

When we inquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular.

—David Hume, Of the First Principles of Government
Hume was most certainly not alone in associating military governments with despotic governments. When any person puts himself both above and against the law, then the people of the US states are entitled lawfully to rise up —violently if necessary —to overthrow the tyrant, the self-proclaimed dictator.

John Dean makes this chilling point. Nixon, as we mentioned earlier, toyed with the idea of defying the high court, but, in the end thought better of it and resigned. Bush/Cheney won't budge. They have already declared that whatever may be alleged against them, they can, themselves "authorize" it and make legal –even after the fact. Bush has arrogated unto himself the power to interpret the laws. In a crisis, Bush will defy the court and the American republic is over.

Both Jefferson and Che Guevarra recognized that when government reaches this point, it operates outside the law. Both men recognized the terrible alternative to ultimate submission to tyranny. Revolution!

The success of revolution is by no means guaranteed. Lives will be lost; a terrible cost will be exacted. Victory is not cheap but the cost of failure is even more dear: our freedom. It is the existentialist position that we are most truly human in our acts of choice. Sartre said, for example, that “….man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.’ These are not empty words; consider the dreadful implications of making the wrong choice, but even worse, no choice. It is not so much the choice we make between a predetermined good vs a predetermined evil that is significant but, rather, the fact that we make a choice at all. Even Victor Frankl, inside the concentration camp, found his humanity in exercising the last choice left him: that of his own attitude. When Bush has denied us Democracy, we may either submit and be slaves, or choose freedom and fight.

From a review of this article:
This is an interesting commentary that discusses a lot of what Dean talks about in his new book, Conservatives Without Conscience.

I often use Nixon's decision to turn over the tapes as an example of how Nixon helped us avoid a disasterous constitutional crisis.

What if Nixon had continued to defy the SCOTUS order to turn over the tapes? What if Nixon just kept saying, "nope, you can't have them."?

Just who would have enforced the Supreme's decision?

When I ask my students this question, I get the usual answers:

The FBI. Nope they work for the president.
The Attorney General? Nope they work for the president.
The military? Nope, the president is the commander-in-chief.
The Washington D.C. police? Nope, not their jurisdiction.

The answer is, no one knows what would have happened. We do know that since all of the enforcers work for the president, it is unlikely that Nixon would have ordered any of the people under him to enforce an order by the Court that he was actively defying.

Nixon did us a huge favor when he changed his mind about not turning over the tapes and resigned. Nixon wasn't stupid. I think he realized the crisis that the nation was facing.

I just don't think Bush is smart enough about how our government works to understand something like this. And, if he does, he obviously doesn't care.

Momwolf's Friends Page

Jonathan Schell has written an excellent analysis of the Bush dictatorship that will appear in The Nation —but we get a free preview here:

The US: Too late for empire

By Jonathan Schell

There is a large body of observations that at one and the same time have been made too often and yet not often enough - too often because they have been repeated to the point of tedium for a minority ready to listen, but not often enough because the general public has yet to consider them seriously enough.


President George W Bush sent US troops into Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but they weren't there. He said Saddam Hussein's regime had given help to al-Qaeda, but it had not.

He therefore took the nation to war on the basis of falsehoods.

His administration says the torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and elsewhere has been the work of a few bad apples in the military, whereas in fact abuses were sanctioned at the highest levels of the executive branch in secret memos.

His administration lambastes leakers, but its own officials illegally leaked the name of a Central Intelligence Agency operative, Valerie Plame, to discredit her husband politically.

He flatly stated to the public that all wiretaps of Americans were ordered pursuant to court warrants, whereas in fact he was authorizing and repeatedly reauthorizing warrantless wiretaps. These wiretaps violated a specific law of Congress forbidding them.

His administration has asserted a right to imprison Americans as well as foreigners indefinitely without the habeas corpus hearings required by law.

Wars of aggression, torture, domestic spying and arbitrary arrest are the hallmarks of dictatorship, yet Congress, run by the president's party, has refused to conduct full investigations into either the false WMD claims, or the abuses and torture, or the warrantless wiretaps, or the imprisonment without habeas corpus.

When Congress passed a bill forbidding torture and the president signed it, he added a "signing statement" implying a right to disregard its provisions when they conflicted with his interpretation of his powers.

The president's secret legal memos justifying the abuses and torture are based on a conception of the powers of the executive that gives him carte blanche to disregard specific statutes as well as international law in the exercise of self-granted powers to the commander-in-chief nowhere mentioned in the constitution.

If accepted, these claims would fundamentally alter the structure of the US government, upsetting the system of checks and balances and nullifying fundamental liberties, including guarantees in the Fourth Amendment to the constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures and guarantees of due process. As such, they embody apparent failures of the president to carry out his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States". ...

—Jonathan Schell, The US: Too late for empire

When did America STOP being the "good guys"?

Aussie veto stopped US war crimes

Cameron Stewart

July 29, 2006

Brigadier Maurie McNarn

AUSTRALIA intervened to stop key US military strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, fearing they might constitute a war crime.

Major General Maurie McNarn, then a brigadier and commander of Australian forces in Iraq, on several occasions played a "red card" against the American plans, which included hits on individuals. His objections drew anger from some senior US military figures.

In one instance, Major General McNarn vetoed a US plan to drop a range of huge non-precision bombs on Baghdad, causing one angry US Air Force general to call the Australian a "pencil dick".

However, US military command accepted Major General McNarn's objection and the US plans were scrapped. ...

The Existentialist Cowboy

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Human Rights Watch: Bush Administration Lied About Torture; it's widespread, endemic, and goes right up the chain of command

In a 53-page report, “No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq,” US soldiers reveal that contrary to previous statements by the Bush administration, detainees were routinely beaten, put in stressful positions, deprived of sleep and exposed to hot and cold extremes. Human Rights Watch bases its report on interviews, memoranda and sworn statements.

The report, consists of first-hand accounts by U.S. military personnel and provide details of detainee abuses that are at odds with previous statements by the Bush administration. The official program of torture took place at "...an off-limits facility at Baghdad airport and at other detention centers throughout Iraq." Soldier accounts allege that abusive techniques "...were authorized by the military chain of command". This directly contradicts various Pentagon statements and cover stories. It directly refutes the "few bad apples" defense.

The report is consistent with widely reported efforts by the Bush Justice Department to find legal justification for torture even as various administration officials were denying that it had taken place or that it was widespread.

Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk. These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional – on the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used.”

—John Sifton, the author of the report and the senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch.

From the report:
Many of the crimes detailed in this report are violations of international humanitarian law, U.S. military law, and U.S. federal criminal law. The U.S. government’s failure to properly investigate these violations is an affront to the victims of the abuses, and a violation of U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which obligate states to prosecute serious violations of the conventions’ provisions (“grave breaches”).

The accounts in this report are further evidence that detainee abuse was an established and apparently authorized part of detention and interrogation processes in Iraq for much of 2003-2005. The cases also show that U.S. military personnel have faced systemic obstacles to reporting or exposing abuses, that the U.S. military in numerous cases has not taken adequate measures to stop reported abuses. The report also shows that the U.S. military has often failed to properly investigate and prosecute perpetrators, including officers who allowed abuses to occur on their watch.

Conclusions, No Blood, No Foul, Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq, Human Rights Watch

Serious abuses are associated with a special task forces —Task Force 20, Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26, and Task Force 145 — which was stationed at an off-limits detention center at the Baghdad airport, called Camp Nama. Other incidents referred to include facilities near Mosul airport, and a base near al-Qaim, on the Syrian border.

George Bush has repeatedly insisted, "We do not torture." Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has repeatedly claimed that the United States does not engage in "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. And CIA Director Porter Goss affirms that his agency "does not do torture. Torture does not work." But no one believes the BUsh administration on this issue and for good reason.

—John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience

Dean goes on to point out that the Bush administration had coaxed the Justice Department into re-defining torture out of existence. Meanwhile, the Economist disounted Bushco's absurd claims that if the President authorized it, it is legal —and his equally absurd claim that the US is not bound to the Geneva Conventions.

Since then, of course, the Supreme Court dealt the Bush rationale a death blow. By a vote of 5-3 SCOTUS, in 'Hamdan v. Rumsfeld', ruled that Bush overstepped his authority when he ordered military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees. The administration had claimed that the detainees were not entitled to Geneva protections because they were not prisoners of war. This is, of course, another inconsitency in Bush's position. We are told we are at war, yet "prisoners" taken in that war are not "prisoners of war". If they are not, then we are not at war.

In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens forcefully rejected the Bush argument, writing:

Congress has not issued the executive a 'blank check,"' [adding:] "Indeed, Congress has denied the president the legislative authority to create military commissions of the kind at issue here.
Bush had claimed that the US was not bound by Geneva at all. Clearly —that is not the case. The US is, in fact, bound to International Law as well as U.S. "...laws prohibiting torture and other ill-treatment of any person in custody in all circumstances." Human Rights Watch states that the
"...prohibition[s] apply to the United States during times of peace, armed conflict, or a state of emergency. Any person, whether a U.S. national or a non-citizen, is protected. It is irrelevant whether the detainee is determined to be a prisoner-of-war, a protected person, or a so-called “security detainee” or “unlawful combatant.”
In other words, prohibitions against torture and ill-treatment of prisoners are absolute despite Bush's various efforts to re-define torture and to make legal, after the fact, the crimes that he's already committed.

The Existentialist Cowboy