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Carla Binion: Bush's Absolute Power Grab

Bush's Absolute Power Grab


By Carla Binion
October 21, 2006
Consortium News

Consortium News Editor's Note: Many Americans are in denial about what is happening to the United States. They don't want to believe that a totalitarian structure could be put in place in their own country. They don't want to view the various pieces of George W. Bush's "anti-terror" system in that broad a context. They hope that someone or something -- the Supreme Court maybe -- will strike down the excesses of the Republican-controlled Congress and the Executive Branch.

Though there are still obstacles that stand in Bush's way -- the Nov. 7 elections, for instance -- America's march down a road to a new-age totalitarianism has advanced farther than many understand, as freelance reporter Carla Binion argues in this disturbing guest essay:

On October 17, George W. Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This new law gives Bush power similar to that possessed by Stalin or Hitler, and grants agencies within the Executive Branch powers similar to those of the KGB or Gestapo.

Bush justifies this act by claiming he needs it to fight the "war on terror," but a number of critics, including former counterterrorism officials, have said the administration has greatly exaggerated the threat and used illogical methods to combat terrorism. (Examples are listed below.)

Except for MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, few television news reporters have bothered to mention that the Military Commissions Act has changed the U.S. justice system and our approach to human rights. As Olbermann said of the new law on his October 17 Countdown program, the new act "does away with habeas corpus, the right of suspected terrorists or anybody else to know why they have been imprisoned."

Jonathan Turley, George Washington University Constitutional Law Professor, was Olbermann's guest. Olbermann asked him, "Does this mean that under this law, ultimately the only thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out of Gitmo is the sanity and honesty of the president of the United States?"

Turley responded, "It does. And it's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president…People have no idea how significant this is. What, really a time of shame this is for the American system. What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values."

Although we have a free press, rather than follow Olbermann's good example, most television news reporters have responded to this nullification of America's fundamental principles by avoiding the subject. News networks which voluntarily relinquish their right and duty to challenge government officials function more as the Soviet Union's Pravda or Hitler's Nazi press program than as a genuinely free press.

Just as the mainstream media failed to adequately question the Bush administration's many shifting rationales for invading Iraq in the lead-up to the war, they're now failing to challenge Bush's logic and motives as he justifies eviscerating the Constitution in the name of his ever-expanding "war on terror." How realistic is this so-called war, and is the Bush administration conducting it effectively?

Robert Dreyfuss covers national security for Rolling Stone. He interviewed nearly a dozen former high-ranking counterterrorism officials about Bush's approach to the war on terrorism. In his article, "The Phony War," (Rolling Stone, 9/21/06) Dreyfuss says these officials conclude:

• The war on terror is bogus. Terrorism shouldn't be treated as if it were a nation to be battled with the military, but should instead be fought with police work and intelligence agencies.

• Terrorism is not an enemy, but a method. Even if the United States were to wipe out every terrorist cell in the world today, terrorism would be back tomorrow.

• Bush lacks a clear understanding of the nature of the "enemy" and has no real strategy for dealing with them.

• The Bush administration confuses the issue by grouping "Al Qaeda" with everything from Iraq's resistance movement to states such as Syria and Iran.

• Today, there's virtually no real "Al Qaeda threat" to Americans.

• Bush's policies have spawned a new generation of "amateur terrorists," but there are few of them, and they're not likely to pose a major threat to the U.S.

• Though Bush has said he will fight his "war" until every last terrorist is eliminated, terrorism can never be defeated, merely "contained and reduced."

Dreyfuss says, "In the short term, the cops and spies can continue to do their best to watch for terrorist threats as they emerge, and occasionally, as in London, they will succeed. But they are the first to admit that stopping a plot before it can unfold involved, more than anything, plain dumb luck."

Not only has the Bush administration falsely characterized and exaggerated the threat of terrorism; they have gone out of their way to mislead the public by claiming credit for preventing attacks. Dreyfuss points out that although Bush has claimed we've fended off 10 terrorist plots since 9/11, "on closer examination all 10 are either bogus or were to take place overseas."

Dreyfuss also notes that, although in 2002 the Bush administration leaked to the press that Al Qaeda had 5,000 "sleepers" in the U.S., there were, in fact, none. (Or, as Dreyfuss says, not a single one has been found.) If the administration believes the facts bolster their case for a war on terrorism, why do they find it necessary to leak false information?

The administration has done little to secure U.S. borders, ports, airports and nuclear facilities. What could logically explain their inattention to these vulnerabilities if they believe a terrorist threat here is likely? Bush has said he'll do anything it takes in order to protect the American people. Why hasn't he secured our nuclear facilities?

Exaggerating the terrorist threat does give the Bush team an excuse to seize more power for the Executive and shred the Constitution. In an article for Foreign Affairs (September/October 2006), political science professor John Mueller supports Dreyfuss's view that the war on terrorism is bogus.

Mueller points out that not only have there been no terrorist incidents here in the past five years, but there were none in the five years before 9/11. Mueller asks: "If it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could be so easily exploited?"

He also bolsters Dreyfuss's conclusion that the Bush administration can't take credit for the fact that we haven't been attacked again. He says, "the government's protective measures would have to be nearly perfect to thwart all such plans. Given the monumental imperfection of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and the debacle of FBI and National Security Agency programs to upgrade their computers to better coordinate intelligence information, that explanation seems far-fetched."

Mueller addresses Bush's irrational argument that we're "fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here." He points out that terrorists with Al Qaeda sympathies have managed to carry out attacks in a variety of countries (Egypt, Jordan Turkey, the United Kingdom), not merely in Iraq.

He adds that a reasonable explanation for the fact that no terrorists have attacked since 9/11 is that the terrorist threat "has been massively exaggerated." He notes that "it is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year, and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 - about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor."

Although Bush's justification for the war on terror has been illogical and deceptive, the administration has used it as an excuse to abuse the U.S. military in Iraq, tear down our system of government at home and seize power on his own behalf. As Jonathan Turley told Keith Olbermann on his October 17th program, with the signing of the Military Commissions Act, "Congress just gave the president despotic powers…I think people are fooling themselves if they believe that the courts will once again stop this president from taking - overtaking - almost absolute power."

Bush's many power grabs and refusal to submit to usual constitutional checks and balances indicates he prefers monarchy or dictatorship to the government set up by America's founders. The framers of our Constitution provided checks on tyranny by writing into law separation of powers, granting the legislative and judicial branches of government the ability to curb abuses by the executive. Today, the Congress has abdicated its constitutional obligation and serves only as a rubber stamp for the despotic president, and to date, the courts have done much the same.

Can George W. Bush be trusted with absolute power? Here are some things he has done with his unchecked power:

• Stolen two presidential elections.

• Exaggerated and falsely characterized the terrorist threat.

• Misled the country into war with Iraq.

• Urged the U.S. intelligence agencies to fix the intelligence around the Iraq war policy (as confirmed by the Downing Street Memo and other sources) in order to mislead the Congress and public into supporting war with Iraq.

• Abused human rights by promoting the use of torture and setting up virtual gulags.

• Suspended habeas corpus for some.

• Tried to silence political opposition by pronouncing them "weak on terrorism" or somehow "with the terrorists," and

• Placed himself above the law by issuing more legislation-challenging signing statements (around 800) than all of his predecessors put together.

Bush's unnecessary invasion of Iraq alone has cost nearly 3,000 American lives. An October 11, 2006 article by Greg Mitchell at Editor and Publisher says that a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, "suggests that more than 600,000 Iraqis have met a violent or otherwise war-related end since the U.S. arrived in March 2003."

The Bush administration's policies have not only resulted in high death counts, but also in widespread, out of control torture. A September 22, 2006 Christian Science Monitor report says:

"The United Nation's special investigator on torture said Thursday that torture may now be worse in Iraq than it was during the regime of deposed leader Saddam Hussein. The Associated Press reports that Manfred Nowak, who was making a brief to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the treatment of detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, said the torture situation in Iraq was 'totally out of hand.'"

The CS Monitor mentions the fact that the recent compromise between the Bush White House and dissident Republicans (including Senator John McCain) allows torture to continue. The article quotes a Washington Post piece:

"The bad news is Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects…It's hard to credit the statement by [McCain] yesterday that 'there's no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.' In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent."

Congress has given Bush a blank check as he's bulldozed toward an imperial presidency. We have the outward forms of democratic institutions such as Congress and a so-called free press. However, the people currently managing those institutions behave as if they're being forced to serve a totalitarian dictator.

A perfect example of this surrender to Bush's virtual despotism is Congress's and the mainstream media's compliance regarding Bush's Military Commissions Act. While Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Turley see the extreme danger posed by Bush's authoritarian moves, Congress has done little to challenge Bush, and, overall, the press is eerily silent.

In The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, William L. Shirer said the Reich Press Law of October 4, 1933, ordered editors not to publish (among other things) anything which "tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich or offends the honor and dignity of Germany." According to Shirer, Max Amman, Hitler's top sergeant during the war and head of the Nazi Party's publishing firm and financial head of its press said that after the Nazis seized power in 1933, it was "a true statement to say that the basic purpose of the Nazi press program was to eliminate all the press which was in opposition to the party."

The U.S. mainstream press doesn't have to be coerced by a government Press Law to avoid publicly opposing Bush's most egregious policies. Television news networks, in particular, have voluntarily held back serious scrutiny. They have not only failed to discuss the recent Military Commissions Act at length, but in the run-up to the Iraq war, liberal talk show host Phil Donahue and comedian Bill Maher were fired for challenging the White House spin about Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.

Shirer also describes the ease with which the German Reichstag gave Hitler the power to change the nature of Germany's parliamentary democracy. He writes:

"One by one, Germany's most powerful institutions now began to surrender to Hitler and to pass quietly, unprotestingly, out of existence…It cannot be said they went down fighting. On May 19, 1933, the Social Democrats - those who were not in jail or in exile - voted in the Reichstag without a dissenting voice to approve Hitler's foreign policy."

Shirer concludes: "The one-party totalitarian state had been achieved with scarcely a ripple of opposition or defiance, and within four months after the Reichstag had abdicated its democratic responsibilities."

The U.S. Congress, like the German Reichstag, has abdicated its democratic responsibilities by granting Bush an inordinate amount of power - "with scarcely a ripple of opposition or defiance." The U.S. press has abandoned its role as democracy's watchdog by failing to question this development. Both of these institutions have failed the American people.

Considering Bush is using the war on terror to justify seizing undue power, both Congress and the media should question his reasoning and offer opposition. Just as they didn't effectively challenge the administration's shifting excuses for attacking Iraq, these institutions haven't scrutinized Bush's claims about the need for the Military Commissions Act and the apparently endless war on terrorism.

Among things Congress and the media should challenge is George W. Bush's false claim that the United States does not torture. In an article published at the CommonDreams.org site, journalist Molly Ivins reports that in one case of death from torture by Americans, the military at first said the prisoner's death was caused by a heart attack. Ivins adds that the coroner later said the heart attack occurred after the prisoner "had been beaten so often on his legs that they had 'basically been pulpified.'"

She adds that the Bush administration's officially sanctioning torture "throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems necessary -- these are fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law." Ivins isn't inclined to hyperbole, yet she says of Americans' passive acceptance of this new law: "Do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis."

As Jonathan Turley said on Olbermann's program, "I think you can feel the judgment of history. It won't be kind to President Bush. But frankly, I don't think that it will be kind to the rest of us. I think that history will ask, 'Where were you? What did you do when this thing was signed into law?' There were people that protested the Japanese concentration camps; there were people that protested these other acts. But we are strangely silent in this national yawn as our rights evaporate."

Future generations will wonder why the U.S. Congress and mainstream press helped Bush build up an imperial presidency and eliminate Constitutional protections. If they're able to sort through the administration's fallacies and lies and clearly see what went wrong with America during this time, they'll wonder why there were so few Molly Ivins's, Keith Olbermann's and Jonathan Turley's.

Coming generations will also ask why by comparison there were so many who failed to notice the obvious holes in Bush's logic and why so many turned a blind eye to his numerous false assertions and cruel policies. They'll wonder why so many supported, whether by direct action or by silence, the Bush administration's changing the fundamental nature of the democratic Republic we were given by America's founders, based on the flimsy excuse of fighting a war on terrorism - a "war" Bush defines falsely and fights ineffectively.

Generations to come might ask why this president who lied so often, about Iraq and other critical matters, was ever entrusted with enough power to damage this country's founding principles and wage endless, unprovoked war on other nations. If Congress and the media would ask these questions now, they might prevent Bush from doing further harm. This might save many lives, prevent much unnecessary suffering and possibly steer this country out of its present darkness.

*************

Carla Binion is a freelance researcher and writer whose essays have been published at various Web sites.

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