Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


The Bush Dictatorship Revealed: L'etat C'est Moi

The Bush Dictatorship Revealed: L'etat C'est Moi

By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers

There's only one issue to discuss right now: the extra-constitutional rules and philosophy of the Bush Administration, as revealed in the legal briefs and memos drafted for Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and Bush on the torture question.

Joke: Ronald Reagan really died two months ago, but word was not released until the torture memos-scandal erupted this week. Humor or not, the Reagan death and funeral wiped everything else out of the news. So, as a corrective, we'll devote this blog only to the memos topic, and hope that once the conservative mass-media's orgy of funeral coverage is over, once the attempted elevation of Reagan into political sainthood is finished, the country can return to the ramifications of these memos and start the required investigations for real.

And start the moves toward impeachment as well, of Rumsfeld and Ashcroft for starters, the Big Boys shortly thereafter.

We used to make light of Bush's jokes ( ) about his fondness for running the show as a dictator; little did we know that shortly after 9/11 (and perhaps even before), his Administration would begin moving precisely in that direction.

The underlying philosophy behind the legal briefs and memos in question ( ) can be summarized thusly: The President is the Commander-in-Chief. The President says we're in a war. The Commander-in-Chief in a time of war can lay aside all laws and treaties, and do whatever he feels he has to do, in the name of national security. ( )

What this means in practice is: Since in a war against terrorism, there is no definitive end, what the U.S. is waging is permanent war -- against the Al Qaida network and against those nation-states that the president deems worthy of being invaded, for real or invented reasons. Since the president is permitted to establish his own set of laws for the duration of the war, it follows that anyone who criticizes his actions ipso facto is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and can be dealt with at any time by the police agencies of the state. Don't mess with us.

Can't get much closer to dictatorship than that. This is the world, and philosophy, of Pinochet, Stalin, Hitler. Or, closer to home, Richard Nixon, ( ) who claimed that when a president takes any action, because he is the president, by definition his actions are not illegal.


Note: I'm not saying or suggesting that Bush is Hitler or Stalin or Pinochet, rather that the policies and philosophies expressed, which already have been put into practice and are being defended by the Bush Administration and its supporters, clearly and inevitably takes our country down that road to political dictatorship.

("The breadth of authority in the [memo] report is wholly unprecedented," says Avi Cover, a senior attorney with the U.S. Law and Security programme of Human Rights First, formerly known as Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "Until now, we've used the rhetoric of a president who is 'above the law,' but this document makes that [assertion] explicit; it's ##not a metaphor anymore.") (

Even conservatives that are doing all they can to keep Bush in office, and thus preserve their party's majority status in Congress, are having great difficulty coming to the defense of Bush&Co. on this issue. If impeachment is initiated in the next few months, it will come with the aid of Republicans appalled by these extra-constitutional moves by Bush and his handlers to sidestep the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Congress, the courts, indeed any individual or institution that gets in their way.

Let me reiterate: What is being discussed here is not the torture of detainees or prisoners in the "war on terror." That is an important issue all its own, one that flows naturally from the philosophy being advanced in the leaked memos. (And, by the way, even though Ashcroft has asserted that he will not turn over the memos to the Congress -- which could be grounds for citing him for contempt of Congress -- some of the documents already are out ##on the internet. ( )

What IS being examined here is the proclaimed right of this Administration to torture anyone, to imprison anyone, to invade any country, simply because (it is claimed) as Commander-in-Chief in a war, he has the sole right to decide who should be prosecuted, imprisoned, tortured, invaded, killed.


According to this cockamamie interpretation of how America works, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are null and void whenever the president decides to "lay aside" laws and act on his own authority. L'etat c'est moi: I am the State. No legislature, no court, no international body can, or should, get in the way. This is wartime. I am the Supreme Leader. Sieg heil.

You think I'm exaggerating, comparing this totalitarian philosophy of government with those of the Stalinist or Hitlerian states? Just read for yourself the ##52-page memo ( ) on the sordid justifications the Bush Administration lawyers thought up to allow for, even facilitate, the torture of suspecets in custody.

Now the Bushies will claim that those were just working drafts, or philosophical speculations by government attorneys, never adopted into official policy, never turned into orders or laws. And, in the narrowest sense -- even though government actions to date have mirrored what was laid out in those documents -- they may be correct that Bush never explicitly signed a written order that said "go thou and torture."

But underlings understand what is being communicated by their bosses, based on their demands for information, their body language, the many discussions that have been held on the topic in question, the tone of voice in their wanting certain conclusions to be reached, etc. Hitler, for example, never had to authorize in writing the genocide of six million Jews and Gyspies and homosexuals. He didn't have to: the philosophy of maltreatment and destruction had been hammered out over the months in memorandums and discussions around tables. The word filtered down the chain of command. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, with no written orders necessary.

In the case of prisoner-torture and abuse at Guantanamo and in Iraq and elsewhere, the memoranda commissioned by the Justice and Defense Departments (with, per usual, only the ##State Department objecting) ( ) laid out the attitude of this radical, extremist Administration: Find us a way that we can extract information from prisoners in our custody that will not amount to war crimes under the various conventions and treaties about torture.


The ways they came up with, while morally and legally reprehensible, were ingenious. 1) We won't have "prisoners of war," which are covered under the Geneva Conventions; we'll invent new terms not covered, such as "enemy combatants." 2) We will claim a new universal right for the president: acting under his authority as Commander-in-Chief during "wartime," he can authorize whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and all will be justified under his oath to protect the national security. Therefore, whatever he authorizes is not unlawful, because he IS the law.

And, to protect those who carry out and facilitate the torture and abuse, all the president has to do is sign a document authorizing him to fulfill the orders, and, in a magic instant, they are thus immunized from war-crimes charges by any federal or international court because (drum roll, please) they were only "following orders." ("To protect suburdinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a 'presidential directive or other writing' that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is ##inherent in the president'." ( ) Click heels, arms out.

"If anyone in the higher levels of government acted in reliance on this advice, those persons should be impeached. If they authorized torture, it may be that they have committed, and should be tried for, war crimes. And, as we learned at Nurenberg, 'I was just following orders' is NOT (and should not be) a defense," writes attorney Michael Froomkin .

Brazen chutzpah. These swaggering bullies simply dismiss the possible validity of any moral or legal or political judgements other than their own, and (secretly) barrell on full-steam ahead. Why? Because they and they alone know what is Good; everyone who disagrees is either Evil or inadvertently serving the cause of Evil. If the former, they can be imprisoned and/or wiped out; if the latter, they can be charged and punished, which will alert others to keep their traps shut, lest they get the same treatment.


Our Founding Fathers were all too aware of that type of thinking and government, which is why they rebelled against a tyrannical monarch, and set up their own carefully thought-through system of governance, one designed to prevent any one person or faction from too easily being able to do civic damage in the name of righteousness. The checks-and-balances system of government, with a strong free press ferretting out scandals and dangerous rascals, was designed to ensure democracy and freedom.

That system of government has worked beautifully (if sluggishly) for more than two centuries. But within just a few years, acting out of greed and power-hunger, a few extremist ideologues have tried to turn that system on its head, installing what amounts to a king as president, and woe be unto those who demur or oppose.

Using fear and demagoguery after the terrors of 9/11 -- an attack they knew was coming but did nothing to prevent or ameliorate -- those ideologues manipulated the Congress and populace into giving them a blank check to go after those who perpetrated this terrorist mass-murder, and they've been riding that same horse ever since in service of their other, more extreme agenda. They even invented a non-existent tie-in to 9/11 to justify their invasion of Iraq -- and then, much later, with very little attendant publicity, Bush admitted that there hadn't been any such relationship.


Friends (and any Democratic office-holders reading this), we either stop this pack of wolves here -- by impeaching them now, or in November throwing them out of the offices they've disgraced -- or we wind up living in a police-state at home, and carrying out more disastrous imperial wars abroad. Is this the country so many veterans have fought and died for? Is this the kind of government you want your kids raised under? Is this, finally, what we've come to in America because we didn't pay enough attention to what was really happening under our noses, and permitted ourselves to be snowed and manipulated so easily?

I think not. It's time for us to raise our voices in a mighty roar to our elected officials, to organize our friends and neighbors, to shout out to the rest of the world that this is not the true America and will not stand.

We will not permit a dictatorship, not matter what is claims as its reasons, to destroy our Constitution and Bill of Rights, to damage America's reputation abroad, to place our national interests in such jeopardy, to deform our economy and social system by spending hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign adventurism, to ruin our environment, to close off true learning opportunities to our children.

We've learned our lesson from Vietnam: We will not permit our country to be "destroyed in order to save it." This Administration has to leave. The sooner the better. The longer they stay in power, the worse it is for all of us. Just go!


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, is co-editor of The Crisis Papers (, and a contributing author to the just-released "Big Bush Lies" book, available at bookstores and through RiverWood publishers (

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


There Is A Field: Reimagining Biodiversity In Aotearoa

We are in a moment of existential peril, with interconnected climate and biodiversity crises converging on a global scale to drive most life on Earth to the brink of extinction… These massive challenges can, however, be reframed as a once in a lifetime opportunity to fundamentally change how humanity relates to nature and to each other. Read on The Dig>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Barriers Facing Female Politicians

On the current evidence though, voters are less likely to regard a female politician as ‘likeable’ than a male one, and – even worse – this perception tends to become a barrier that only female candidates in the main, have to face. More>>

The Detail: Britain's Trump Is Now Its Prime Minister

Guardian journalist James Murray says Boris Johnson wears the hat that works, depending on what he’s trying to achieve. More>>


Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Open White Nationalism

By telling those four elected, American born and/or raised women of colour to “go home”, US President Donald Trump’s racist agenda has come out of the shadows. More>>


Mediaversaries: 20 Years Of The Scoop Information Ecosystem

Scoop celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. To celebrate, we are offering 20% off all ScoopPro subscriptions, including the newly launched ScoopPro Citizen service for Citizen readers. More>>


  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog