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David Swanson: So, How WOULD a Patriot Act?

So, How WOULD a Patriot Act?

By David Swanson

Glenn Greenwald's new book "How Would a PATRIOT ACT? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok," lays out a powerful, concise, and well-researched argument that President Bush is a threat to our government's system of checks and balances and to our individual liberties.

Greenwald makes a point of saying that he used to be a supporter of Bush and trusted him as long as he was able. The voices Greenwald quotes are those of conservatives, the group to which he is clearly trying to appeal. He focuses very heavily on Bush's illegal unwarranted spying, but also addresses the use of detention without charge and torture, and touches on Bush's habit of adding signing statements to bills indicating his unwillingness to obey the acts he is signing into law.

Dave Lindorff has argued that a focus on this blatant refusal to obey new laws (and the threat of having a Democratic president behave the same way) is the most effective way to help Bush supporters recognize the threat their leader is to representative democracy. On the other hand, many conservative Americans don't seem to care about the spying.

Greenwald's book is so well done that if the spying abuses can bring anyone around this book will do it. Here we have an excellent analysis of the Bush Administration's illegal spying in relationship to past abuses, including those of Richard Nixon. We even have a brief account of Nixon's impeachment.

But there's only one sentence in the book -- at the end of an epilogue about the current U.S. threat to Iran – that could reasonably be construed as justifying the book's title. The sentence reads: "Ask your elected representatives about it, talk to your co-workers, friends, and family, contact the media, or start your own blog." That's the extent of the book's recommendations as to how a patriot would (should) act. That is, unless we take George Bush to be the patriot in question, in which case the whole book is about how he has in fact acted.

But, of course, Greenwald means the word "patriot" in a positive sense, so it's not referring to Bush. However, it is a revealing choice of word. Much of the book is devoted to the suffering of Americans who are spied on and whose privacy is violated. Not one line is devoted to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis whom this president has murdered.

One book cannot be about every topic, but this book is about Bush's criminality, his refusal to follow the law or to respect the role of Congress. As Greenwald knows, Bush lied to Congress and the public to begin this war. Congress never authorized the enduring occupation that is under way, never authorized the use of illegal weapons, the targeting of civilians, of hospitals, of journalists, never sanctioned the construction of enormous permanent bases and air strips, never supported occupying Iraq as a means to facilitate aggressive attacks on its neighbors.

This topic is so intimately intertwined with the ones Greenwald does address, that it sneaks in at times. In his discussion of torture, Greenwald points out that false information gained by torture was used in making the case for war. In replying to Bush's claims that he is justified in seizing powers because the nation is "at war," Greenwald points out that Congress never declared war. In a well-written account of Bush's use of fear to persuade people, Greenwald mentions the false fear-mongering that preceded the war, and which has accompanied it up through today. An epilogue addresses the illegality of an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization.

But nowhere is the fraud that Bush perpetrated on the American people and Congress, and would have perpetrated on the rest of the world were it gullible enough, listed as one of the major instances of abuse of power. This appears to be a book aimed at people who place their privacy above the lives of dark-skinned Muslim Arabs. Judging by Greenwald's discussions of Iraq on his blog, he is not himself such a person (though he is also not a pacifist, and celebrates wars of the past). If there are such people, and Greenwald can move them to oppose this president, that will be an invaluable service to peace.

But there may not be as many such people as we liberals tend to imagine. It may be that we'll get further by appealing to people's better sides, by expecting more of them. After all, opposition to the war is stronger than opposition to spying, the war is the top item on Americans' list of concerns, and most people are always and in many ways far better people than the media depicts them as being.

Despite its glaring omissions, this book is an important contribution to the peace movement, because it makes clear that the power to end the war has slipped from Congress's grasp. Congress has tried unsuccessfully to end torture and unjustified spying. Congress has passed hundreds of laws that the President simply ignores. Does anyone really believe that Congress could end the war even if it tried?

United for Peace and Justice, the largest peace coalition in the United States, on May 22nd sent hundreds of activists from around the country to lobby their Congress Members to end the war. But UFPJ went one wise step further and asked them also to lobby for H. Res. 635, Congressman John Conyers' bill to create an investigation into possible impeachable offenses.

I pointed out to these activists in a preparatory session the day before their lobbying that this bill is a simple assertion that Congress will continue to serve some function and exercise oversight. If the bill leads to impeachment, that will be because impeachment is merited, and any Congress Member who resists it as a Trojan horse for impeachment is a Congress Member who knows impeachment is merited but refuses to act. I have yet to hear any Member of Congress oppose H Res 635 on the grounds that an investigation wouldn't find anything.

Greenwald's book should inspire us, but we should take much more specific actions than he suggests. We should begin by asking our Congress Members to sign onto H Res 635

We should urge our towns and cities and states to pass pro-impeachment resolutions

That's how we should act whether or not we place our nation any higher on the scale of our concerns than the rest of the world.



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