This Can't Be Happening
Resisting the Disintegration of
by Dave Lindorff
Common Courage Press, 2004, paper
The Clinton administration over two four-year terms slashed welfare
supports, casting the poor onto the streets, it weakened environmental
protections, subverted the Bill of Rights with passage of the
so-called Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, it undermined
American workers with the passage of the North America Free Trade
Act, it sabotaged Social Security, promoting the idea of opening
up the fund to private investment and letting inflation eat into
the benefit amount, it intentionally threw away a chance to pass
some kind of national healthcare by handing the whole process
over to the insurance industry, and even undermined the Bill of
Rights, endorsing a weakening of habeas corpus, a right to a fair
trial that dates back to ancient British Common Law.
Under the Bush Administration
* Democrats in Congress acquiesced in
the passage of $1.3 trillion tax cuts, massively skewed to favor
the very rich-and this was in 2001, coming right out of the starting
gate for the administration.
* Democrats did nothing to block horrific
appointments to the cabinet-most infamously the naming of a bible-thumping,
Confederacy-praising racist and proto-fascist, John Ashcroft,
to the post of Attorney General-a man so demonstrably unpopular
that voters in his home state of Missouri had only recently spurned
him in favor of a dead Democrat (and here I'm talking about an
actually dead guy, Democrat Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane
crash during the campaign, not Gore or someone like him who only
appeared or acted dead). More recently, even Ashcroft's own pancreas
tried to dump him.
* Democrats caved in and passed a Bush
education bill that placed huge burdens on local schools while
providing them with no new funds, and that implicitly blamed teachers
for educational failures that in large part are really the result
of defunding of schools in poorer districts.
* On the environment, Democrats largely
failed to block Bush rollbacks in air and water quality regulation.
Ditto for the area of women's rights, which have seen a series
of successful attacks, particularly undermining the right to a
safe, legal abortion.
* Meanwhile, on the international stage,
Democrats stood by silently while Bush withdrew U.S. support for
such international treaties and institutions as the World Court,
the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the ABM treaty with Russia,
etc. And remember, all this was happening before the 9-11 attack
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That truly unbelievable
day then provided the Bush Administration, much as the Reichstag
Fire did for Hitler s National Socialists in Weimar Germany, with
an opportunity to push its long-planned right-wing agenda of constitutional
demolition harder and faster. Hyping the threat of terrorists
and deliberately frightening the public by claiming (on the basis
of no real evidence) that there were horrible weapons of mass
destruction-nuclear, biological and chemical-poised and ready
to be used, the Bush Administration introduced, in the coming
days and months, the cynically named USA PATRIOT Act and the even
more cynical War on Terror, and finally, the unprovoked "pre-emptive"
War on Iraq. In all these cases, the Democrats in Congress rolled
over and voted massively in support of these profoundly anti-democratic
measures and actions.
The U.S. is currently being led by a blueblood Connecticut Yankee
who, after barely graduating from a prestigious private New England
prep school where he made a name for himself as a male cheerleader,
barely graduated from Yale University, where he had been admitted
thanks to his familial connections (his grandfather had been a
U.S. Senator from Connecticut), and where he spent his time drinking
and, allegedly, snorting.
But wait. I'm not done. It gets worse.
This is also a man who escaped the Vietnam
War by joining the Texas Air National Guard (again thanks to political
pull-his daddy was a congressman at the time), from which service
he proceeded to go AWOL for a year without punishment. This ne'er-do-well
East Coast scion, who shamelessly poses as a Texan, barely reads,
indeed can barely talk intelligibly without cue cards or a teleprompter,
and who claims that he not only speaks with God but that God speaks
back to him, has-without having been supported by a majority of
the electorate, which voted for his opponent-become president
of the most powerful nation in the world. Worse yet, as president,
he has started not just one but two full-scale, bloody wars, neither
of which is likely to end for years, and at least one of which
will require upwards of 135,000 American occupation forces to
remain in hostile territory indefinitely. He has declared a third
war-the so-called War on Terror-which, while not a real war, or
really even anything approximating a war, is being used to justify
an indefinite suspension of American democratic principles and
laws such as habeas corpus (the common law right to bring any
case before a federal judge) and the right to a fair trial, a
lawyer, and to be charged and to face one's accuser...
Mainstream media has increasingly become an unwitting, or sometimes
(certainly in the case of Fox News or the New York Times) even
a willing accomplice or publicist for the state. In part this
is a matter of professional cowardice, but there is another reason
for the problem too. As they have become increasingly concentrated
in the hands of a few powerful corporate conglomerates, the media
have turned the long-held American press tradition of "objectivity"
into a kind of straitjacket that prevents journalists from pursuing
truth even when they might want to. Forced to "give both
sides of the story," and thus to treat official liars with
the same or even, because of their high positions, undeserved
and greater respect than their critics, the media have forsaken
their role as a Fourth Estate. Power is no longer suspect. It
The Iraq Moneypot
A little money goes a long way in the
And war profiteering is the name of the
game in post-war Iraq.
Long before the bombs started dropping
in Baghdad, some well connected companies that wanted a piece
of the reconstruction action were dropping bundles of cash on
the Republican Party and on George W. Bush's campaign committee.
According to the Center for Responsive
Politics, which tracks such things, five big winners in the rigged
game of getting contracts in Iraq, between 1999 and 2002, gave
a total of $3.6 million in campaign donations. Two-thirds of that
money went to Republicans, with the rest going to the right-wing
Democratic Leadership Council crowd.
According to the center's website (www.capitaleye.org),
the biggest donor among that group-and the biggest winner so far
in the Iraq "reconstruction" contracts business-is the
Bechtel Group, Inc. This San Francisco-based company, which has
close ties to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush
family, as well as many other revolving-door connections to the
White House and the Pentagon (US Agency for International Development
Administrator Andrew Natsios, who oversees the awarding of post-war
contracts, earlier oversaw the "Big Dig" tunnel project
in Boston, for which Bechtel was the prime contractor), has already
won an Iraq reconstruction contract worth up to $680 million.
Even if Bechtel didn't win more of the estimated $20 billion per
year in reconstruction contracts still to be awarded, $680 million
in return for Bechtel's campaign contribution of $1.3 million
(59 percent, or $770,000 of which, went to the Republican Party
and G.W. Bush) represents a remarkable 52000% return on investment!
It's hard to know what the rate of return
will be on Halliburton's contracts in Iraq. That's because the
contract awarded to this uniquely well-connected Dallas-based
oil-services and construction company to rebuild Iraq's war and
sanctions-devastated oil industry is open-ended. Halliburton,
besides donating $709,000, 95 percent of it to Republicans, between
1999 and 2002, was run by Vice President Dick Cheney until his
election, and the secretive VP still collects some $1 million
a year form the company while hiding out at his undisclosed locations
(his not-so-blind trust still includes a big chunk of Halliburton
stock, too). While Halliburton discretely removed itself from
the bidding for Iraq reconstruction contracts because of the firm's
prominent connection to the Bush Administration, the huge oil
industry contract was awarded to a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg,
Brown & Root.
Halliburton will be in Iraq in another
hidden guise, too. That's because Halliburton will be a principal
subcontractor of Parsons, another major contractor in the running
for Iraq rebuilding contracts. Parsons gave $249,000 in campaign
contributions over the pre-war period examined by the Center for
Responsive Politics, 63 percent of it to Republicans.
Another big winner in the Iraq rebuilding
sweepstakes is the Fluor Corp., another California-based company
which gave a whopping $483,000 in campaign contributions, 43 percent
of that amount to Republicans.
The other big winner which was also a
big contributor to the GOP and the Bush campaign was Stevedore
Services of America, which won a $4.8 million initial contract
to start rebuilding the Umm Qasr port facilities in Iraq, and
which gave $28,000 in campaign contributions, 80 percent to Republicans.
The Bush Administration has conceded that
the bidding for the first round of Iraq reconstruction contracts,
worth a total of some $1 billion, was "restricted" to
certain few firms (all foreign-owned companies were excluded,
even including British firms), ostensibly for reasons of "national
security." So far, despite protests from Britain and other
countries, these restrictive bidding rules are expected to continue
But particularly with the war largely
over, the national security argument rings increasingly hollow.
The close alignment between campaign contributions and contract
awards offers a much more convincing explanation for the tightly
controlled bidding process, however.
It also raises disturbing questions about
the level of damage caused by American bombs, To what extent was
damage to Iraqi infrastructure a payback for campaign contributions
made by firms eager for the contracts to rebuild that same damage?
... consider the similarity between this administration's power
grab, its war-mongering, its nativist, anti-foreign flag-waving,
and its domestic assault on civil liberties, and what German democracy
experienced at the hands of Hitler's National Socialists in the
late 1920s and early 1930s. Nor does drawing such parallels mean
that we should expect to see African-Americans being herded off
to concentration camps in the Nevada desert a few years hence
The point of drawing the controversial
analogy between the Nazi rise to power and the Bush II rise to
power is that both groups resorted to war, the Big Lie, xenophobic
scare tactics and increased police-state powers to gain control.
And in both cases, the media, the mainstream opposition, and the
public at large were slow in realizing the democratic coup d'etat
that was slowly taking place around them, until it was too late.
... It's worth recalling that during Hitler's
rise to power, far from being considered a racist madman and a
scourge to humanity, he was praised not just within Germany, but
abroad in France, the U.K. and the United States, as a man of
principle and as a strong leader for troubled times.
[excerpt of my letter to the Nation magazine]
No doubt the leftist fringe critics who
in the 1930s were writing alarmist pieces drawing comparisons
of Hitler to Attila the Hun or Ivan the Terrible were, like today's
Bush critics, being disavowed by more "responsible"
editors. I suspect that the fear engendered by the kinds of analogies
drawn by Alex and me is that they might offend those who want
to hold the Holocaust out as a singular evil in history, and Hitler
as a uniquely evil leader. Sadly, he is not unique, except in
the scale of his crimes. Recall that in the early days of the
massacre of two million Cambodians by Pol Pot and his gang of
mad Communists, those who began referring to that genocide as
a holocaust were criticized by the guardians of the Holocaust.
Eventually, as the numbers of dead soared past the first million
mark, the atrocity that devoured a third of a nation was permitted
to bear that badge of distinction.
... There are very troubling goings-on
in Washington-a campaign of war without end, the termination of
the sanctity of citizenship, a return to Cointelpro, corruption
of the very process of counting votes, the equating of political
opposition with support for terrorism.
... the Bush Administration has tacitly admitted that increased
terrorism will be the result of an attack on Iraq: it has had
the State Department issue a warning to Americans overseas and
to Americans planning to travel that they should be prepared to
be terrorist targets.
The point, however, is that this is precisely
what the Bush Administration wants to happen.
A permanent state of American panic, fortified
by regular doses of terror attacks, hijackings and building demolitions
by crazed Muslim fanatics, is exactly what Bush needs to stay
in power, win re-election in 2004, stack the federal courts, gut
the Bill of Rights, and enrich its corporate sponsors.
The sad thing is that Americans, fattened up and soft of muscle
from their diet of McDonald's Whoppers and dim-witted from an
overdose of "reality" TV shows and entertainment programs
posing as news, suck up this kind of fear-mongering (all of which
is eagerly played up by ratings-hungry media executives). If one
plane gets hijacked, plane travel plummets. If a few letters are
found to be contaminated with anthrax spores, people across the
land stop opening their mail, or start zapping it first in their
It's going a bit far to compare the Bush of 2003 to the Hitler
of 1933. Bush simply is not the orator that Hitler was. But comparisons
of the 9/11 attack to the Reichstag Fire, or of the Bush Administration's
fear-mongering tactics to those practiced so successfully and
with such terrible results by Hitler and Goebbels on the German
people and their Weimar Republic, are not at all out of line.
What are some of the Nazi-like tactics of the Bush administration.
Let's start with war mongering. The American
Heritage Dictionary, no bastion of leftism, defines fascism as
"a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of
the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and
business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
... in 1930s Germany ... the newspapers of the day were awash
in apologists for Chancellor Hitler's gradual assumption of dictatorial
power. These pundits ... failed or were unwilling to see where
things were heading, and justified the obvious erosion of freedom
and democracy in the name of combating the scourge of terrorism
and revolution, as well as the threat of the "other"
posed by such undesirables as the Jews and the Gypsies. Today's
American counterparts of these apologists ... justify the setting-aside
of long-standing civil liberties in the name iof combating terror
and dealing with such undesirables as the Middle Eastern immigrants
in our midst.
Calling attention to the parallels with
the demise of Weimar Germany and the rise of Hitler is hardly
out of line.
It is what we should be seeing more of
in the "respectable" media.
Keeping Dissent Invisible: How the Secret Service and the White
House keep protesters safely out of Bush's sight-and off TV
When Bill Neel learned that President
George W. Bush was making a Labor Day campaign visit to Pittsburgh
back in 2002 to support local congressional candidates, the retired
Pittsburgh steelworker decided that he would be on hand to protest
the president's economic policies. Neel and his sister made a
hand-lettered sign reading "The Bushes must love the poor-they've
made so many of us," and headed for a road where the motorcade
would pass on the way from the airport to a Carpenters' Union
He never got to display his sign for President
Bush to see, though. As he stood among milling groups of Bush
supporters, he was approached by a local police detective, who
told him and his sister that because they were protesting, they
had to move to a "free speech area," on orders of the
U.S. Secret Service.
"He pointed out a relatively remote
baseball diamond that was enclosed in a chain-link fence,"
Neel recalled in an interview with Salon, "I could see these
people behind the fence, with their faces up against it, and their
hands on the wire." (The ACLU posted photos of the demonstrators
and supporters at that event on its web site.) "It looked
more like a concentration camp than a free speech area to me,
so I said, 'I'm not going in there. I thought the whole country
was a free speech area." The detective asked Neel, 66, to
go to the area six or eight times, and when he politely refused,
he handcuffed and arrested the retired steelworker on a charge
of disorderly conduct. When N eel's sister argued against his
arrest, she was cuffed and hauled off as well. The two spent the
president's visit in a firehouse that was serving as Secret Service
and police headquarters for the event.
It appears that the Neels' experience
is not unique. Late last month, on Sept. 23, the American Civil
Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Philadelphia
against the Secret Service, alleging that the agency, a unit of
the new Homeland Security Department charged with protecting the
president, vice president and other key government officials,
instituted a policy in the months even before the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks of instructing local police to cordon off protesters from
the president and vice president. Plaintiffs include the National
Organization for Women, ACORN, USA Action and United for Justice,
and groups and individuals who have been penned up during presidential
visits, or arrested for refusing to go into a "free speech
area," in places ranging from California to New Mexico, Missouri,
Connecticut, New Jersey, South Carolina and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
The ACLU, which began investigating Secret
Service practices following Neel's arrest, has identified 17 separate
incidents where protesters were segregated or removed during presidential
or vice-presidential events, and Pittsburgh ACLU legal director
Witold Walczak says, "I wouldn't be surprised if this is
just the tip of the iceberg. We don't have the resources to follow
Bush and Cheney everywhere they go." The suit also comes
at a time of mounting charges by many civil libertarians on both
the left and the right that the Bush Administration and Attorney
General John Ashcroft's Justice Department are trampling on civil
"There is some history supporting
the notion that all presidents dislike people who don't like them,"
says Stefan Presser, head of the ACLU of Philadelphia ACLU chapter
and another lead attorney in the suit the Secret Service. "But
this approach of fencing protesters in and removing them from
view is unprecedented, and it's gotten worse over the past two
Well, maybe not exactly unprecedented.
Pittsburgh's Walczak notes that during Nixon administration, especially
during his second term, police "made quite a practice"
of tearing up protest signs and confining protesters, and at least
in one case that went to court, the Secret Service admitted being
behind the actions. He says there were some isolated instances
of interference with protesters during the Reagan administration,
and even at President Clinton's inauguration, an attempt was made
(unsuccessfully, thanks to ACLU intervention) to bar anti-abortion
protesters from the inaugural march.
In its complaint, the ACLU cites nine
cases since March 2001 in which protesters were quarantined. And
it alleges that the Secret Service, with the assistance of state
and local police, is systematically violating protesters' First
Amendment rights via two methods. "Under the first form,"
the suit says, " the protesters are moved further away from
the location of the official and/or the event, allowing people
who express views that support the government to remain closer.
Under the second form, everyone expressing a view-either critical
or supportive of the government-is moved further away, leaving
people who merely observe, but publicly express no view, to remain
In either case, the complaint adds, "protesters
are typically segregated into what are commonly referred to as
In the ACLU's view, the strategy, besides
violating a fundamental right of free speech and assembly, is
damaging in two ways. "It insulates the government officials
from seeing or hearing the protesters and vice-versa, and it gives
to the media and the American public the appearance that there
exists less dissent than there really is."
Certainly, as television cameras follow
a presidential motorcade lined with cheering supporters, the image
on the tube will be distorted if protesters have all been spirited
away around a corner somewhere, fenced in for the duration.
Contacted by Salon, the Secret Service
denied that it discriminates against protesters. "The Secret
Service is message-neutral," said spokesman John Gill. "We
make no distinction on the basis of the purposes or intent of
any group or the content of signs."
Further, Gill insisted that the establishment
and oversight of local viewing areas during a presidential or
vice presidential visit "is the responsibility of state and
local law enforcement." In practice, it's apparently not
that simple, though. Nor is the Secret Service's carefully worded
denial of responsibility as definitive as it might appear. The
"establishment of viewing areas" is indeed a local law
enforcement responsibility, but local law enforcement officials
say that the Secret Service has in some cases all but ordered
them to pen in protesters. And it appears that the Secret Service
is making recommendations about how that should be done.
Paul Wolf is an assistant supervisor in
charge of operations at the Allegheny County Police Department
and was involved in planning for the presidential visit to Pittsburgh
last fall. He told Salon that the decision to pen in Bush critics
like Neel originated with the Secret Service. "Generally,
we don't put protesters inside enclosures," he said. "The
only time I remember us doing that was a Ku Klux Klan rally, where
there was an opposing rally, and we had to put up a fence to separate
"What the Secret Service does,"
he explained, "is they come in and do a site survey, and
say, 'Here's a place where the people can be, and we'd like to
have any protesters be put in a place that is able to be secured.'
Someone, say our police chief, may have suggested the place, but
the request to fence them in comes from the Secret Service. They
run the show."
The statement by Wolf, who ranks just
below the Allegheny County police chief, is backed up by the sworn
testimony of the detective who arrested Neel. At a hearing in
county court, Det. John Janachione, testifying under oath, said
that the Secret Service had instructed local police to herd into
the enclosed so-called free-speech area "people that were
there making a statement pretty much against the president and
his views." Explaining further, he added: "If they were
exhibiting themselves as a protester, they were to go in that
Asked to respond to the accounts of Wolf
and lanachione about the Secret Service's role in handling of
protesters, spokesman Gill said only, "No comment."
Asked pointedly whether Wolf's account was incorrect, Gill again
said, "No comment."
Wolf also raises the possibility that
White House operatives may be behind the moves to isolate and
remove protesters from presidential events. He cannot recall specifically
whether they were present with the Secret Service advance team
before last year presidential Labor Day visit, but says "I
think they are sometimes part of' the planning process. The Secret
Service declined to comment on this assertion, saying it would
not discuss "security arrangements." The White House
declined to comment on what role the White House staff plays in
deciding how protesters at presidential events should be handled,
referring all calls to the Secret Service.
Asked specifically whether White House
officials have been behind requests to have protesters segregated
and removed from the vicinity of presidential events, White House
spokesman Allen Abney said, "No comment." But he added,
"The White House staff and the Secret Service work together
on a lot of things." (While the Secret Service won't confirm
that it is behind the pattern of tight constraints placed on protesters
at public appearances by Bush and Cheney, the ACLU claims that
mounting evidence suggests that this is exactly what is going
In its lawsuit the ACLU makes this charge.
A number of individual plaintiffs in the suit say that when they
were directed into remote "freespeech areas," or arrested
for refusing to go to such sites, they were informed that the
local police were acting "on orders from the Secret Service."
That's the story Bill Ramsey got when
he was arrested last Nov. 4 by police in St. Charles, Mo., while
attempting to unfurl an antiwar banner amid a group of pro-Bush
people during a presidential visit to a local airport. "The
police told us if we wanted to show the banner, we'd have to go
to a parking lot four-tenths of a mile away and out of sight of
the president's motorcade," says Ramsey. "When we attempted
to put it up anyway, they arrested us, and said they'd been ordered
to by the Secret Service."
But Ramsey says that when his organization,
the Instead of War Coalition, has sought to obtain permission
to hold its demonstrations during presidential visits, they are
told by the Secret Service that such matters are the responsibility
of local police. "When we go to the local police, though,
they say it's up to the Secret Service."
Efforts to obtain a comment from the St.
Charles Police Department were unsuccessful.
Andrew Wimmer, another member of the Instead
of War Coalition, says he was offered a similar explanation last
January in St. Louis when he attempted to unfurl a sign reading
"Instead of War, Invest in People" on a street full
of Bush supporters. According to Wimmer, St. Louis police officers
told him he'd have to leave a street full of Bush supporters and
go to a protest area two blocks from the presidential motorcade
route because of his protest sign. He recalls that as crowds of
people walked down a thoroughfare toward the trading company that
President Bush was slated to visit, "local police were pulling
out people carrying protest signs and directing them to the protest
area." The 48-year-old IT worker says, "When they got
to me, I said no, I'd just as soon stand with the people here.
But they said the Secret Service wanted protesters in the protest
In the end, Wimmer, like Ramsey and others
who have refused to be caged during protests, was arrested. "They
charged me with obstructing passage with my sign, which was a
2.5-foot-by-2-foot lawn sign," he says, noting that a woman
standing nearby with a similar-size sign saying "We love
you Mr. President," was left alone.
"The Secret Service keeps saying
that the decision to separate protesters and remove them from
view is a local police matter," says Denise Lieberman, legal
director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, who is representing
both Ramsey and Wimmer in their arrest cases. "But these
kinds of things only happen when the Secret Service is involved.
We've had many visits to St. Louis-by the pope, by candidates,
by dignitaries-and it's only when the president or the vice president
come to town that this kind of thing happens."
"We expect to see a lot more of this
heading into a campaign season," says Chris Hansen, senior
staff attorney at the ACLU and one of the lead attorneys handling
the suit against the Secret Service.
Presser, the Philadelphia ACLU attorney,
traces the tactic to the last Republican National Convention,
which nominated Bush for the presidency in August 2000. "The
GOP tried to reserve every possible space where a protest group
might rally," Presser recalls. "Part of the party's
contract with the city of Philadelphia for the convention was
that they were given an omnibus permit to use 'all available space'
for the two weeks of the convention. They basically privatized
the city to block all legal protest."
During that convention, the city attempted
to require that all groups seeking to protest during the convention
apply for permits to get a l5-minute protest time slot, during
which they would be allowed to assemble and make their statement
in a sunken "protest pit," remote from the Convention
Center. Many groups refused, and the result was a series of conflicts
with local police and many arrests, most of which were later tossed
out by the courts.
Since then, Presser charges, the Bush
administration has continued the strategy of using the Secret
Service and cooperative local police departments to keep protesters
at bay, and not incidentally, out of easy range of the media.
"People used to say that Ronald Reagan's was the most scripted
administration we ever had," the attorney says, "but
this Bush administration has gone way beyond that." Presser
adds that he was told by William Fisher, a senior Philadelphia
police captain and head of the department's Civil Affairs Unit,
that the tight restrictions and decision to cordon off protesters
during presidential visits have come "at the Secret Service's
direction." Fisher declined to be interviewed for this article,
but when asked, did not deny Presser's account of their conversation.
Presser and the ACLU don't question the
Secret Service's responsibility to protect the president and other
key government officials. Even plaintiffs in the case agree that
the president must be protected. But "putting protesters
behind a fence isn't going to help," says Neel, the former
Pittsburgh steelworker, "I mean, somebody who was going to
attempt an assassination wouldn't be carrying a protest sign.
He'd be carrying a sign saying 'I love George!"
The ACLU' Presser agrees. "Just as
the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were careful
to blend in and stayed away from mosques," he says, "anyone
who had ill will towards the president could just put on a pro-Bush
T-shirt and, under this policy, he'd be allowed to move closer
to the president by the Secret Service."
He adds, "It seems that these 'security
zones' for protesters have very little to do with the president's
physical security, and a whole lot to do with his political security."
Asked how many times in history an attack had been made on a president
or other official under Secret Service protection by someone clearly
identifiable as a protester, agency spokesman Gill said, "I'm
not going to comment on that." Interestingly, Gill at no
point claimed that protesters posed a special threat to the president
or vice president.
Whatever the real motives behind it, the
Secret Service policy of fencing off protests and protesters during
presidential events may be in for a tough challenge. The judge
assigned to the case, John Fullam, is an appointee of former President
Lyndon B. Johnson, and back in the late 1980s issued a permanent
injunction in Philadelphia-still in effect-that bars both the
city of Philadelphia and the National Parks Department (the agency
in charge of the city's many federal monuments), from treating
protesters or people wearing protest paraphernalia any differently
from other citizens.
The ACLU, which is seeking an injunction
barring the Secret Service and local police from treating protesters
differently from other spectators at administration events, is
hopeful that the court will act "before the presidential
campaign gets into full swing next summer," says Walczak.
Meanwhile, Presser says he is optimistic that the lawsuit, simply
by being filed, could make things easier for protesters during
the coming campaign season." I suspect that this suit may
give the Secret Service and local police some pause in how they
treat protests," he says. -Salon.com, Oct. 13, 2003
Reaping What Has Been Sown: Prisoners, Torture and Hypocrisy
When I was a journalist working in China
back in the early 1990s, I was furious when two administrations
in the U.S.-those of both the first Bush and Clinton-condoned
executions of American death row prisoners from foreign countries
who had been arrested and tried without their home countries'
embassies being notified. The current Bush Administration has
taken the same cavalier approach to international law also, which
clearly requires that an embassy be notified when one of its nationals
is arrested in a country, and further, that that embassy be permitted
to have access to the detained individual and to provide a lawyer.
I was furious because America's willful
and repeated violation of this basic international agreement was
a direct threat to my personal health and safety. I was going
out into the Chinese countryside as a journalist-often without
the benefit of a journalist's visa, which can take weeks to obtain
and which often is denied-and was at risk of being arrested by
Chinese security forces. In fact, I was brought in and interrogated
by the Public Security Bureau twice during such journalistic forays,
once to a relatively remote area of Anhui Province and a second
time to a rural part of Jiangsu Province, and I can report that
the experience was harrowing each time.
How could I hope to have the protection
and help of my embassy in China if my own country was thumbing
its nose at international law?
Now we see the same thing happening during
the war on Iraq, where the implications are even more serious
as-predictably, American soldiers begin to be captured by Iraqi
The Bush administration is loudly decrying
their use by Iraq as propaganda on Arab television, where they
have been shown being questioned about what they were doing in
Iraq. It's good domestic PR. After all, their treatment, while
so far thankfully not brutal, is in violation of the Geneva Convention
on the treatment of POWs. But nobody outside the U.S. is going
to take the American protests seriously.
The sad truth is that the U.S. is in no
position to make a complaint, for America, too, has been in gross
violation of that convention. Iraqi soldiers taken prisoner during
this war have been marched before American television cameras,
they have been blindfolded and terrorized by U.S. soldiers taking
them into custody, and their faces have been displayed on American
television-all clear violations of international law.*
But the U.S. is doing even worse with
regard to other POWs it has captured in Afghanistan. Along with
most international legal scholars, I would argue that anyone fighting
U.S. forces in that country is a soldier in a war. Once captured,
they should have been held in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
They have not been so treated, however. In fact, the Bush administration
expressly exempted them from Geneva Convention standards.
Certain of those captured have been either
turned over to other countries' security forces-for example those
of Egypt or Pakistan where they reportedly have been subjected
to torture, or they have been held at a U.S. base in Afghanistan,
and also subjected to conditions that can only be described as
torture, or in some cases-well over 600-they have been transported,
bound and hooded, to a concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
where they are caged in individual pens and held in a legal limbo-not
prisoners and not prisoners of war.
Arguably the non-Afghan members of Al
Qaeda in Afghanistan might be termed "unlawful combatants"
by the U.S., and denied POW status, though this is making a rather
fine distinction. Al Qaeda fighters, while they might have originally
been in Afghanistan as terrorist trainees, seem to have been acting
as a legitimate ally of the government of Afghanistan at the time
of their capture, fighting alongside government forces. But even
granting that distinction, the U.S. also has taken captured Afghan
Taliban fighters, who clearly were the official army of the government
of Afghanistan, off to Guantanamo, denying them too, any POW status.
The whole world sees this treatment of
captured Afghan fighters as the most outrageous violation of international
law and the Geneva Convention, yet the U.S., even knowing it was
about to become involved in a war in the Middle East, went ahead
with this outlaw behavior.
All it has done in the process is open
the door to similar abuse of captured Americans. After all, if
the U.S. is seen as fighting an illegal war of aggression, might
not Iraq decide that any soldiers it catches are not POWs at all,
but rather "unlawful combatants"?
One has to wonder at the hubris of Bush
Administration policymakers, who seem to think that they can trample
over any international rules and agreements they want, without
suffering any consequences.
The same might be said of the charge that
Fedayeen irregulars are violating international law by dressing
up in civilian clothes and attacking American and British troops
in Iraq by deceit. While this standard guerrilla war tactic is
a violation of the international rules of war, which are designed
to minimize civilian casualties, we know that U.S. special forces,
such as the Delta Force troops, have also been dressing as local
civilians in the Afghanistan conflict (they were shown doing this
in the American media), and it strains belief to think that they
are not doing the same thing now in Iraq.
The Bush Administration is counting on
the jingoistic American media to ignore its own blatant violations
of international law in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, while it
loudly condemns Iraq's violations as evidence of the evil of the
enemy. So far their hopes have been largely rewarded domestically.
But the rest of the world is seeing this twofaced policy on POWs
for what it is.
So we have the pathetic picture of President
Bush, with a straight if chronically besmirked face, condemning
first Iraq for violating the Geneva Convention on POW treatment
and then Russia for "violating U.N. sanctions" against
Iraqi This from a commander-in-chief who has condoned and continues
to condone the most egregious violations of prisoner of war rules,
and who has violated the most basic part of the U.N. charter by
initiating an unprovoked war of aggression against a member state
without the sanction of the Security Council.
An old adage about war has long been:
the winner makes the rules. But a more venerable adage should
be on both the mind of this chickenhawk administration and the
minds of the soldiers who are being asked to put their lives on
the line for its ill-conceived aggressive policies: As ye sow,
so shall ye reap.
Memorializing a President Who Could Really Lie: Ronald Reagan
The gushy praise of the late Ronald Reagan
as a "great communicator"-which is polluting the airwaves
from Fox TV to NPR-is enough to make anyone not suffering from
political Alzheimer's retch. Still, all the public fanfare makes
it clear we have to do something to acknowledge the guy.
My suggestion: let's put his face on a
special limited-edition three dollar bill.
So much of the Reagan patter that so endeared
him to the racist and reactionary public that was his target audience
was fraud and mirrors. Just consider his vicious anecdote about
an alleged "welfare queen" driving a Cadillac-a blatant
fabrication. What he really ought to get credit for is being a
very congenial and convincing liar, which was just what his pro-corporate
handlers wanted and needed. The trademark winning smile and the
charming bob of the head were great devices for deceiving his
viewers and listeners.
Truth is that the two terms of the Reagan
administration, far from being an era of good communication between
the government and the governed, were an era of government based
upon secrecy, fraud and deceit.
It was the Reagan administration that
pardoned FBI agents who had been convicted of Cointelpro abuses
committed under President Nixon.
It was also the Reagan administration
that effectively gutted the Freedom of Information Act, one of
the more profound open government reforms to result from the Nixon
scandals. That undermining of FOIA-an essential first step that
allowed Reagan's government of lies to operate-was never fully
repaired during the Clinton years, and has been carried further
under the current Bush administration.
The Reagan administration also began shutting
down crucial information about government-for example eliminating
much important information gathering about medical costs and outcomes
that used to be collected and disseminated by the Department of
Health (then the Department of Health and Welfare). The idea behind
these measures was to make it harder to monitor the impact of
Reagan-era budget cutting of human services.
Reagan lied too about U.S. foreign policy,
which began to rely, perhaps more heavily than ever, and certainly
more heavily than in the Carter years, on secret wars and secret
destabilization actions-the Contra war against the government
of Nicaragua being the most blatant of these, but hardly the only
example. Military backing of the death squads in El Salvador and
Guatemala were two other particularly ugly cases.
Reagan's entire government budget policy
was a humongous lie, as budget director David Stockman belatedly
admitted-a lie which was secretly designed to simply bankrupt
the country to force an end to the welfare state.
It's hard to imagine a bigger fraud being
perpetrated upon the public than this deliberate wrecking of a
nation's finances to achieve a public policy result that was not
supported by the majority of the public.
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