17 July 2006

The Madness of King George

Republic: noun.
  1. A political order whose head of state is not a monarch.
  2. A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens.
  3. A political descriptor that once could be applied to the United States of America, but effectively, no longer.
At least not according to an op-ed piece from the New York Times, that was re-published by the International Herald Tribune.
Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever- cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone. While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.
The article makes it clear that the so-called war on terror is a nominal justification to right what some in power consider as the wrongs learned from Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal. The problems in those situations, according to the secular monarchists in the U.S. administration, were not due to over-reaching presidential power, but to the opposite: insufficient presidential power that would have made such illegal and immoral actions within the realm of presidential prerogative.
Jane Mayer provided a close look at this effort to undermine the constitutional separation of powers in a chilling article in the July 3 issue of The New Yorker. She showed how it grew out of Vice President Dick Cheney's long and deeply held conviction that the real lesson of Watergate and the later Iran-Contra debacle was that the president needed more power.

To a disturbing degree, the horror of Sept. 11 became an excuse to take up this cause behind the shield of Americans' deep insecurity. The results have been devastating. Civil liberties have been trampled. The nation's image as a champion of human rights has been gravely harmed. Prisoners have been abused, tortured and even killed at the prisons we know about. American agents "disappear" people, some entirely innocent, and send them off to torture chambers in distant lands. Hundreds of innocent men have been jailed at Guantánamo without charges or rights. And Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time.
The depictions in the latter paragraph are all too familiar in the contemporary world. They are usually applied (at least in the Western massmedia) to petty dictators, leaders of so-called banana republics, mass murderers residing in imperial palaces, and many of those accused by the U.S. of harbouring, funding, or otherwise supporting terrorists. That the U.S. has lost the respect (not to mention sympathy) of most of the rest of the world is unfortunate. That it has lost the ability to claim the moral high ground, and serve as an exemplar of liberty, justice and democracy is a travesty and a tragic loss for the world.

The question is not specifically whether what the President is doing is technically legal (even though it is not, according to the U.S. Supreme Court), nor whether his actions can be made technically legal by a Congress blinded by partisan considerations. The question for me is the same as always: are the resulting effects those that the American people want to create? Abrogating the rule of law. Participating in activities that could easily be classified as war crimes that, in turn, are used against captured American soldiers, journalists and others. Creating massive disruption in the lives and livelihoods of thousands of innocent people. Creating incentives and justifications that have aided the recruitment of hundreds, if not thousands, of young men and women bent on carrying out fanatical, terrorist activities. Trampling the Bill of Rights and effectively eliminating the fundamental freedoms that underpin democracy. Are these resulting effects those that the American people want to create?

It's a simple question.

To begin to do something about it, how about supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation's bid to have both sides of some of this madness heard in a court of law. Right now, there is a bill speeding through Congress that would have supposed judicial oversight of many executive illegalities heard only in secret, with arguments presented only by the government. If you are an American, write to your Congressperson today!

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