A revolutionary, Thomas Jefferson, provided the reason for continuing the project started at the Robert H. Jackson Conference on Planning for the Prosecution of High-Level American War Criminals, which I first mentioned last week. The conference brought together 120 legal authorities, activists, law professors, public officials, and scholars in Andover, Massachusetts, on September 13 and 14. Its aims were summed up by Jefferson: “Every government degenerates when trusted solely to the rulers of the people. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”
Since Obama, McCain, Palin, and Biden have never once mentioned the Constitution during the campaign, let alone any of the specific war crimes by the Bush administration, the people, to prevent further degeneration of their individual liberties, will have to learn how to restart the American revolution through the work of this conference and other such groups as the national Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Amnesty International, and the ACLU.
One of the participants at the Andover Conference was Army veteran Christopher Pyle, professor of politics at Massachusetts Mount Holyoke College, whose research and revelations of the Army spying on civilians go back nearly 50 years. They include his work as an investigator for Senator Sam Ervin’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, whose Watergate probes pushed Richard Nixon out of the presidency.
Said Pyle, whose witnessing for the Constitution I’ve known for years: “We would be here [at Andover] addressing these same questions had these crimes been committed by Democrats. This is not a campaign event. It addresses the most serious crisis in our history—the claim that the president and his secret agents [throughout the administration] can get away with torture, kidnapping, and even manslaughter.”
Pyle is too kind. There are documented cases of outright murder in Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side (Doubleday) and other investigative books previously cited in these columns—notably, and with official autopsy documents, Jaffer and Singh’s Administration of Torture (Palgrave Macmillan).
At the core of “this most serious crisis in our history,” Pyle emphasized, is “a 50-year trend toward unaccountable, secret government, which can commit crimes with impunity. . . . Punishing the torture team is just the beginning. We also need to change the laws and the legal doctrines, like the state-secret privilege” (which has allowed the government to stop any trial, before the evidence is even heard, that might expose any of these war crimes).
And we have to find out which of these poisonous continuing legal doctrines Bush and his team hope to provide to future administrations, which would encourage future war crimes. After a recent one-on-one interview with Bush, columnist Charles Krauthammer approvingly reported that the president is proud of “bequeathing to his successor the kinds of powers and institutions the next President will need . . . to successfully prosecute the long war [against terrorists]”—which his vice president of darkness, Dick Cheney, says may never end.
Part of that legacy, Krauthammer reported, was a plan by Bush to leave to his successor “a revised FISA regime that grants broader and modernized wiretapping authority” (which the Democrats, including Barack Obama, helped to pass, putting the Fourth Amendment on life support).
Opening the Andover conference, Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law said: “The goal will be to engage in action so that the conference will not have been . . . merely an exercise in self-expression.” (Remember, there is no statute of limitations on murder and many international crimes.)
Velvel listed some of the proposals for action that were raised during the conference. I’ll keep score on them and others in this column. Here are some:
• “Requesting state bar authorities to disbar the lawyers who were part of the executive cabal to authorize torture and other abuses that are crimes under international law, domestic law, or both.” I’ve suggested to Velvel that the American Bar Association—which has been consistently critical of the Bush regime’s parallel legal system outside the separation of powers—be consulted on this and other accountability measures.
• “Obtaining inspector general reports of what was done in given federal departments, like the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, etc.” This won’t work, however, unless there is insistent public pressure from such groups as the American Bar Association, the ACLU, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Electronic Privacy Foundation, and the Constitution Project, among others, insisting that inspector generals be appointed who are fearlessly independent—like the often-effective Glenn A. Fine of the Justice Department. And I strongly suggest that Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) be asked to validate their independence. He’s fought attempts to strip inspector generals of their independence in the past.
• “A march of many thousands of American lawyers on the Department of Justice—à la civil rights or Vietnam War marches or the Million Man March. The purpose of the march would be to highlight lawyers’ belief that crimes were committed and must be published.” American lawyers already have an honorable working model for such a march. Large numbers of Pakistani lawyers took to the streets to protest against then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when he removed all the country’s Supreme Court justices, and placed the chief justice under house arrest for having resisted Musharraf’s gutting of Pakistan’s Constitution and rule of law.
Also suggested by Velvel are “Teach-ins at universities on the question of war crimes” committed by the many potential defendants who served as Bush’s high-level accomplices: Dick Cheney, David Addington, Michael Mukasey, et al. Such teach-ins were very effective in creating informed resistance to the Vietnam War throughout the country.
Another important mission for those who remember the final days of President Bill Clinton: “Resisting pardons, particularly advance pardons by Bush or the next president, before there are convictions.”
Next week: How you and other American citizens can become involved in planning for a Nuremberg trial of administration officials by getting an invaluable, concise, and exceptionally clear account of much of the primary evidence—the Bill of Rights Defense Committee’s newly published The ‘War on Terror’ and the Constitution. It’s our new Declaration of Independence.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 8, 2008