In a political version of “Invasion of the Body
Snatchers,” the country might look the same – people driving their SUVs
to the mall or eating at fast-food restaurants – but it will have
internally changed. Election 2006 will have been the ratification of
George W. Bush’s grim vision of endless war abroad and the end of a
constitutional Republic at home.
Though not understanding the full import of their
actions, the American voters will have endorsed the elimination of
the “unalienable” rights handed down to them by the Founders, instead
allowing “plenary” – or unlimited – power to be invested in the
President. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights will have been turned
into irrelevant pieces of paper.
Bush will have the authority to send American young
men and women to war wherever he chooses; he will have the power to spy
on anyone he wants; he could imprison citizens and non-citizens alike
under the Military Commissions Act while denying the detainees the right
to file motions with civilian courts; he could order harsh
interrogations which could then be used to convict defendants (assuming
they are ever brought before one of his hand-picked tribunals for trial,
conviction and execution); he could ignore or reinterpret any laws that
he doesn’t like; he would have rubber-stamps in Congress and very soon
in the U.S. Supreme Court; he and his potential successors would be, in
While many Americans don’t want to believe that an
American totalitarian state is possible, let alone an impending threat,
Bush’s last-minute barnstorming, which has equated a Democratic
congressional majority with a victory for terrorism, has put that dark
reality within a day’s reach.
The American Right has thrown all its prodigious
forces into the fray, particularly its powerful news media – from talk
radio and Fox News to the Internet and print publications – making hay
out of everything from John Kerry’s botched joke to the death sentence
against Saddam Hussein.
Indeed, one reason this new America has the look of
incipient totalitarianism is that the Right has created such a powerful
media apparatus that it can virtually create its own reality. Most
often, the cowed mainstream media tags along, as happened with the media
frenzy over Kerry’s misinterpreted joke.
Assuming the Republican comeback trends continue
through Election Day – and the GOP holds both houses of Congress – it
will be hard to imagine how this right-wing juggernaut will ever be
stopped. The only dissent that will be tolerated in the future is the
ineffectual kind, the sort that doesn’t threaten the power structure.
By the time, “respected” mainstream figures finally
raise their hands in timid protest, it will be too late. An example of
the tepid warnings from prominent insiders was the New York Times Op-Ed
piece on Nov. 6 by former ABC news anchor Ted Koppel.
Koppel, who clambered aboard the Iraq War bandwagon
in 2003, now sees some reason for concern in the way the Bush
administration is waging the “war on terror” abroad by throttling
liberties at home.
With mild alarm, Koppel noted that senior
administration officials have framed the “war on terror” in “existential
terms,” which means that they are claiming that the very existence of
the United States is at risk. That, these officials argue, justifies
extraordinary legal strategies for eliminating perceived enemies simply
for associating with some suspect group.
“This practice falls into the category of what
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty calls ‘preventive prosecution,’”
Koppel wrote. “It’s an interesting concept: a form of anticipatory
justice. Faced with the possible convergence between terrorism and a
weapon of mass destruction, the argument goes, the technicality of
waiting for a crime to be committed before it can be punished must give
way to pre-emption.”
Koppel described this “anticipatory justice” as
“the somewhat jarring notion of recalibrating our constitutional
But Koppel then offers only the modest suggestion
that “we should be building protective ramparts around our legal system,
safeguarding our own freedoms, focusing on our own carefully constructed
democracy and leading by example.” [NYT,
Nov. 6, 2006]
To say that “respected” figures like Koppel don’t
get the magnitude of the situation would be an understatement.
The Bush administration – and the
Republican-controlled Congress – are driving the United States toward a
new-age totalitarianism that can imprison people indefinitely without
trial for what the government thinks they might do. Yet, instead of
screaming from the rooftops, these cautious sages – not willing to risk
their standing in polite Washington society – offer up only a few little
safeguards as a reaction to these extraordinary developments.
If one combines the language of the Military
Commissions Act with deputy attorney general McNulty’s vision of
“preventive prosecution” – and then add in the possibility of
another Republican victory on Nov. 7 – the United States is on the verge
of being transformed into an Orwellian nightmare.
But these stakes of this election are almost never
The New York Times editorial page even continues to
give the misleading impression that the Military Commissions Act only
applies to non-citizens. The Times and other mainstream newspapers have
yet to address the curious language deep inside the new law which would
seem to throw U.S. citizens into the same draconian system with
While the Military Commissions Act does explicitly
strip non-U.S. citizens of habeas corpus rights – the point that
the Times has stayed focused on – the law also contains vague wording
about detaining “any person” who allegedly aids terrorists.
“Any person is punishable as a principal
under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or
aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission,” according
to the law, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in September
and signed by Bush on Oct. 17.
“Any person subject to this chapter who,
in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly
and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States ... shall be
punished as a military commission … may direct.”
The references to “any person” and specifically to
those with “an allegiance or duty to the United States” would seem to
apply to American citizens, placing them inside the military commissions
and outside the reach of regular civilian courts.
Another provision of the law states that once a
person is detained, “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction
to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever … relating
to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under
this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of
That court-stripping provision – barring “any claim
or cause of action whatsoever” – would seem to deny American
citizens habeas corpus rights just as it does for non-citizens.
If a person can’t file a motion with a court, he can’t assert any
constitutional right, including habeas corpus.
Other constitutional protections in the Bill of
Rights – such as a speedy trial, the right to reasonable bail and the
ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” – appear to be beyond an American
detainee’s reach as well.
The new tribunal law also applies to alleged spies,
defined as “any person” who “collects or attempts to collect information
by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the
purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States.”
Since the Bush administration and its political
allies often have accused American journalists of conveying information
to terrorists via stories citing confidential sources, it’s conceivable
that this provision could apply to such articles, either for journalists
or their sources.
It’s also likely that Bush would execute these
powers during a serious terrorist incident inside the United States.
Amid public anger and fear, Bush or some future President could begin
rounding up citizens and non-citizens alike with little thought about a
narrow interpretation of the law.
It could take years before the U.S. Supreme Court
even addresses these detentions and – given the increasingly right-wing
make-up of the Court – there would be no assurance that the justices
wouldn’t endorse the President’s extraordinary powers.
Bush now knows he has four solid Supreme Court
votes for his reinterpretation of the U.S. system of government – John
Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. All Bush
needs is one more vacancy among the five other justices to secure the
court’s blessing for his all-powerful executive.
Even without the new law, Bush has asserted his
right to imprison American citizens indefinitely. In spring 2002, Bush
ordered the military detention of American citizen Jose Padilla as an
Administration officials deemed Padilla a “bad guy”
who was contemplating a radioactive “dirty bomb” attack, though no such
charges were ever filed and no evidence ever presented in court.
The point of the Padilla case was that Bush could
assert his “plenary” powers to override habeas corpus rights of a
fair trial and detain anyone he wanted indefinitely. Three-and-a-half
years later – facing likely reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court – Bush
turned Padilla over to the civilian courts to face unrelated charges of
supporting a terrorist group.
But Bush never renounced his right to imprison
American citizens simply on a presidential say-so.
Add in the Bush administration’s concept of
“preventive prosecutions” based on predictions of a person’s behavior
and the United States is rapidly approaching a futuristic
totalitarianism, which will seek to silence and imprison anyone who is
deemed a boon to terrorists.
While the U.S. news media again has failed to alert
the American people of these stakes – much as it failed to question the
administration’s case for war in Iraq in 2002-03 – President Bush keeps
hitting the “war on terror” hot buttons of fear.
which present the Democrats essentially as nutty cowards, are driving
his supporters into frenzies and stampeding some Middle Americans back toward
the perceived protection of Bush, the strongman.
Ironically, however, Republican gains in some polls
are coinciding with
statements by more and more national security experts questioning Bush’s
“war on terror” strategies.
For instance, Tyler Drumheller, former chief of CIA
clandestine operations in Europe, wrote in a new book, On the Brink,
that the Bush administration has resorted to scare tactics with the
American public rather than addressing the terror issue responsibly.
“We have to be vigilant and keep track in
communities where suicide bombers may be waiting to pounce,” Drumheller
wrote. “But at the same time we have to be honest and accept that
sometimes we cannot prevent such attacks from happening, instead of
pretending that we can wipe terrorism out completely.
“September 11 was a freak attack, a perfect storm.
The chances of another attack on the scale of 9/11 happening are
extremely slim. The bloodshed should have prompted an honest review of
how we run our foreign policy and law enforcement.
“Instead of taking a long, sober look at those
issues, the Bush administration put the country in a state of prolonged
On the eve of Election 2006, Bush is exploiting
that “prolonged panic” again, but the stakes are rising. On one level,
Bush is seeking to consolidate one-party rule in Washington; on another,
he is stripping the American people of the rights that have defined the
nation for more than two centuries.
Whether the American people will understand what
they’re doing or not, the Nov. 7 elections will either ratify or reject
Bush’s plan for terminating the American Republic.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'