On C-Span, Dana Priest—the first reporter to break the story of CIA torture as an American Policy in “the war on terror” (Washington Post, December 26, 2002)—recently interviewed Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side (Doubleday). If there is an American Nuremberg trial of “the high crimes and misdemeanors” committed during the Bush-Cheney rule, Mayer’s book and testimony will be a vital part of the evidence.
During the interview, Mayer strengthened my resolve to keep refusing to vote for Chuck Schumer as my senator. The discussion was about what it will take to sufficiently arouse the American people—and thereby Congress—to hold the Bush chain of command criminally accountable for its serial violations of American laws and international treaties. Jane Mayer said she had asked Schumer—”with a safe seat in a liberal district in New York state”—about the possibility of bringing Bush et. al to justice. This was Senator Schumer’s answer: “People don’t care about that” (emphasis added).
And Schumer, an ardent seeker of television cameras, didn’t himself care enough to arouse his constituents or the nation about Bush’s war on the Constitution. Instead, the powerful New York senator was the key force in enabling Bush to appoint Michael Mukasey as his current Attorney General, our chief law-enforcement officer. This former New York federal judge—who continues to avoid calling CIA waterboarding a criminal act—is a major component of the Bush regime’s campaign to lock into legal precedent a far-ranging expansion of presidential powers before another administration comes in.
For one example, Mukasey is moving to further loosen FBI surveillance guidelines that will bring us back to J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Operation). The FBI, with no evidence of wrongdoing, will then be free to put “suspicious” persons and organizations into government databases. (There has been no objection from McCain or Obama).
Moreover, there are ongoing mechanisms to prevent any retroactive punishment of CIA agents, their superiors, and all of our other committers of war crimes—including, of course, the administration lawyers who authorized them. During the C-Span interview, Mayer said that she wouldn’t be surprised if Bush, before moving back to Texas, “issued a blanket amnesty act.” (In 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress, with more than enough Democratic help, passed the Military Commissions Act that already provides a free get-out-of-jail card for many of the war criminals in the field.)
During the interview, Priest asked Mayer: “What if there’s another attack [9/11]?” Mayer replied: “All bets are off [unless people understand what’s been happening, and Bush is still continuing in the war on the Constitution]. There will be a super Patriot Act after the next attack.”
Even if there’s not another 9/11, as our rights and liberties nonetheless keep on dissolving under the next administration, Bush’s un-American legacy would survive. “So far,” Mayer said, “the politicians are quiet about this.”
John McCain has made it very clear that whatever differences he has with Bush, he will not expose or stop our national security’s “dark side” that Dick Cheney commands. Also, the celebrated Sarah Palin scoffs at giving rights to suspects.
Once a resounding opponent of torture, McCain has changed his stripes and sided with Bush against a bill approved by both branches of Congress that would have forced the CIA to adhere to the Army Field Manual that forbids torture by all the other military services. McCain has also pledged to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court with justices modeled after John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who will not look on with favor if a Democrat-controlled Congress were to finally uncover and strike down Bush’s domestic and international war crimes. The High Court will decide if those laws stand.
The present Democratic Congressional leadership—Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi—has shown no interest at all in bringing back the Constitution. Would President Barack Obama take charge and lead the way back to what James Madison and Thomas Jefferson gave us? As the 1787 Constitutional Convention was ending, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a new citizen what it had created: “A republic,” said Franklin. “If you can keep it.”
Throughout this campaign, Obama has said nothing about CIA secret prisons and rendition, Bush’s wiretapping and e-mail scrutiny of us (which Obama voted to support), or other dismantling of the Bill of Rights.
When Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate, I had great hopes that the Delaware senator would indeed awaken the citizenry. Throughout his failed campaign for the presidency, Biden continually riffed on his 2007 bill—the National Security and Justice Act—that would “Prohibit CIA ‘extraordinary renditions,’ close ‘black sites’ . . . [and] prohibit torture and mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody.” Bush, Biden emphasized, “has undermined the basic civil liberties of American citizens. The terrorists win when we abandon our civil liberties.”
But as of this writing, the putative vice president has become silent on all of this, fulfilling his assignment as an attack dog tracking McCain and Sarah Palin.
After the Democratic Convention, Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer, headed his Salon column by asking: “What’s Missing From the Democratic Convention?”
His answer: “There is almost no mention of, let alone focus on, the sheer radicalism and extremism of the last eight years. . . . Our government has systematically tortured people using sadistic techniques ordered by the White House; illegally and secretly spied on its own citizens . . . asserted the authority to arrest and detain even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them for years without charges. . . .”
None of which, meanwhile, was mentioned during Obama’s soaring oratory at the convention, prompting Dahlia Lithwick to head her Slate column: “It’s the Constitution, Stupid”: “On the streets of Denver,” she wrote, “they are protesting Guantánamo, wiretapping, and waterboarding. But inside the hall, you’d think it was just another recession year.”
If Barack Obama, the former professor of constitutional law, doesn’t wake up in time before Election Day and show the citizenry how he will begin to restore the universal health of our liberties—so radically disabled by his predecessors—we may get lower gasoline prices, along with expanding individual secret dossiers in the bottomless files of the security state. Next week: Planning trials for American war criminals.