Marjorie Cohn: The Preemptive President
The Preemptive President
By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 10 September 2004
Under the guise of preempting - or preventing - threats to the American people, George W. Bush has acted aggressively to "jump the gun" throughout his presidency. By the use of extreme rhetoric and scare tactics, Team Bush convinced Congress - and nearly half the electorate - that the guns he was jumping were real. The guns, however, proved illusory, and indeed, backfired, making us less safe.
"The pool of people who really hate us is so much greater than it was on 9/11 because of this needless and counterproductive war in Iraq," Bush's former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, told a crowd of nearly 2,000 in Berkeley earlier this week.
Moreover, following our role model, Russia has just announced that it, too, will engage in preemptive strikes against terrorist bases in "any region of the world." This announcement comes as the United States is issuing statements favoring a political settlement with Chechen separatists. The chickens have, in the prescient words of Malcolm X, come home to roost.
Preempting Saddam's Continuing Presidency
Since the day Bush took office, his administration planned assiduously for the execution of regime change in Iraq. The September 11 attacks played right into Bush's hands. From that day on, his masterful spinners spun - and continue to spin - a massive web of lies and deception to link Saddam Hussein with those attacks.
Declaring over and over again that we have to get the terrorists in Iraq so they don't get us here, Bush secured Congressional authority to invade Iraq.
Never mind that there were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam having been neutered by the Gulf War and 12 years of punishing sanctions.
Never mind that, vicious as Saddam was to his own people, al Qaeda never operated in Iraq until "Iraqi Freedom" became the Operation-du-jour.
Never mind that Bush sent our boys and girls to kill and be killed in a war that had no business ever happening. Never mind that the number of dead Americans has now topped 1,000, and the number of Iraqi dead is estimated at 20,000, with no end in sight.
And never mind that Bush's theory of preemptive war violates the United Nations Charter.
The only thing Bush's war on Iraq has preempted is the continuation of Saddam's control of a country over which the neoconservatives itched to establish hegemony.
Preempting Dissent Against Bush Policies
Bush has sought to preempt the dissent that's inimical to the democracy he claims to defend by systematically suppressing criticism of his dangerous policies.
Whenever the Bush administration has faced collective action challenging its policies, it has used law enforcement to preempt First Amendment activity. (See my editorial, Bush's War on Democracy).
The police have employed collective preemptive punishment to keep dissenters off the streets and out of the media, most recently, in New York during the Republican Convention.
For months, the FBI preemptively identified and interrogated potential demonstrators, in an attempt to chill constitutionally-protected free speech. Agents surfed the Web, checking websites used by protest organizers.
The media was utilized to scare would-be protestors away from demonstrations. For example, two companion articles in the May 17, 2004 issue of New York Magazine hyped the upcoming protests. One headline read: "The Circus is Coming to Town: A Bush-hating nation of freaks, flash-mobbers, and civil-disobedients is gathering to spoil the GOP's party." The other headline taunted, "Cops to Protestors: Bring It On."
Trying to paint protestors as potential weapons-of-mass destruction, the latter article depicts them as violent "wannabe revolutionaries and anarchists." It describes the artillery the police would have in its arsenal: "vehicle checkpoints around the perimeter of the [Madison Square] Garden manned with heavy weapons, dogs, and portable Delta barriers, which are enormous metal contraptions that lie almost flat in the road and can be raised very quickly with the flip of a switch. They are substantial enough to stop a large truck."
Police arrived at protest sites in advance of demonstrators, and preempted marches and rallies before they occurred.
The cops established "free speech" zones and used orange netting to unconstitutionally enmesh protestors and cart them off to jail. They conducted pretextual and "preventive" mass false arrests and detentions. A record number of arrests - nearly 2,000 - were made during the four-day GOP convention. This tops even those effectuated during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
New York State Judge John Cataldo angrily ordered the City of New York to release more than 550 arrestees, who were illegally detained without being brought before a judge. When the city dragged its feet, Judge Cataldo held the city in contempt and ordered a fine of $1,000 for each person still held.
The National Lawyers Guild circulated an Internal Police Department memo suggesting that protestors be held as long as possible, presumably to keep them off the streets for the duration of the convention.
Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people protested Bush's convention, swelling to half a million on the Sunday before it began.
Preempting Regime Change in America
The tactics of Team Bush in its drive to preempt a Kerry victory in November are setting a record for the dirtiest tricks in an election campaign.
In an attempt to shift the focus from Bush's going AWOL in the National Guard, Karl Rove's Brigade has smeared the battlefield credentials of a real war hero, John Kerry.
And in order to draw attention away from the fact that the September 11 attacks occurred on Bush's watch, Dick Cheney blurted out that Americans face another terrorist attack if they elect Kerry: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States."
To get a clear reading on how well George W. Bush will protect us against a terrorist attack, one need only examine the just-released records from his service in the Texas Air National Guard. They show his unit joined a "24 hour active alert mission to safeguard against surprise attack" in the southern United States beginning October 6, 1972. That was a time when his pay records show that Bush failed to report for duty.
Marjorie Cohn, is a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.