Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vale Res Publica

Mark today on your calendars, citizens. By the time the dust has settled, our elected Federal officials will have voted to end our Constitutional democracy and enter into a government based on the principle of military power vested in the commander-in-chief.

The blogs I read are all in high dudgeon over the soon-to-be passed detainee treatment bill. Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at the Washington Post provides a good compilation; Slate links to the NY Times editorial as what the Times should have published as news analysis on its front page. Nearly everyone refers to a LA Times op-ed by Bruce Ackerman. If Ackerman's assessment is correct, that's it for the constitution:

"This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison."

Ackerman goes on to note that this is not an idle speculation, since one American citizen (Jose Padilla) has been held under precisely these powers.

Am I the only one who feels like I've joined Alice down the rabbit hole and ended up in some alternative universe? How did we get here? Why are so few people alarmed?

Of course, the short answer is 9/11. I've been arguing (around the kitchen table) since 9/12 that the attack called not for "war" but that much derided police action. I'll even surrender the point that action against the Taliban was called for. But the "war"metaphor has been a pernicious one. It has enabled this very evil government to whip up emotions that are simply not justified by the facts, i.e., that actual threat. The most pernicious result of this metaphor is that it seems to have become accepted as a basic assumption by the news media and the public at large. If the general public weren't buying into this metaphor, then all the monstrous actions that have flowed from it would have met far more resistance.

Why does the American public stand for this kind of invasion into their rights? My keystone here was a TV report on searches on the NY Subway system in which one commuter said he had no problem with it; if you were innocent, you had nothing to worry about.

This has it exactly backward. The huge assumption of power by the Bush administration is worrisome only to those who are innocent. Terrorist will know they need to be wary of law enforcement agents. It is only the innocent who will be unable to demonstrate their innocence due to the changes enacted today. Guilty until proven innocent is now the new standard of jurisprudence in America.

The same people who think that they are safe from the cold hand of government repression are those who have contempt for the pointy-headed bureaucrats. I have no explanation for their belief that government bureaucrats only interested in drawing a salary can suddenly become fonts of wisdom separating the innocent from the guilty when it comes to terrorism.

What next? Start from the premise that critics of torture are correct when they say that it is not a useful means of interrogation and that the administration knows from experience this truth. So the purpose of this vast expansion of government power was never to fight terrorism. Instead, it is a 2-fer: a club to beat the Democrats as in the 2002 campaign and a means of consolidating political power.

Whatever happens in the next election, the Bush-Cheney administration will be in power for two plus years. Anyone who thinks that it will become competent or be anything other than a vehicle for funneling tax dollars to party contributors. Which means that they will need a means to deal with anyone who attempts to confront them with reality.

The measures passed this week then will serve as a gauge of the administrations desperation. When they are used to silence--disappear?--journalists who provide "material support for terrorists" by printing the contents of National Intelligence Estimates or the frank assessments of military officers in the field, we'll finally be taking the full measure of this wicked and profoundly unAmerican regime. And of course, by then it will be too late.

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