Rumsfeld, the Most Dangerous Man in Washington?

At 2.40 PM, September 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was commanding his aides to get “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.”–meaning Saddam Hussein–“at same time. Not only UBL”–the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden. “Go massive.” Notes taken by these aides quote him as saying. “Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” We can thank David Martin of CBS for getting hold of these notes and disclosing them last Wednesday.

This was our Donald, thinking fast as he paced about the National Military Command Center, seeking to turn the attack into a rationale for all sort of unrelated revenges and settlings of accounts. For Rumsfeld, as for his boss, as for so many, it was a turning point in his career as a cabinet member in the Bush II presidency. The year had not been a happy one for this veteran of the Nixon and Ford eras, the man who gave Dick Cheney his start in the upper tiers. Rumsfeld speedily became the target of Pentagon leaks about his abject failure to take control of the vast Pentagon pork barrel, last best trough in the US economy.

In the wake of the attacks Rumsfeld swiftly learned to revel in his role as America’s top exponent of bully-boy bluster. And he’s kept it up, running rings around Colin Powell, whose pals are now leaking stories that Powell may throw in the towel at the end of Bush’s present term.

Small wonder. Rumsfeld has humiliated Powell, reaching a peak in effrontery when, a few weeks ago, he contradicted decades-worth of formal US foreign policy and declared that Israel had every right and every reason to occupy the West Bank and have settlements there.

The specter of military government here in the US lurks eternally in the imagination of fearful constitutionalists, right or left. There’s a lot more reason for these fears today, particularly after the Patriot Act shot through Congress.

Today the FBI can spy on political and religious meetings even when there’s no suspicion that a crime has been committed. Dissidents can get labelled “domestic terrorists” and be the target of every form of snooping.

The PATRIOT Act allows “black bag” searches for every sort of record that might shed light on suspects, including the books they get out of a library. Computers and personal papers can be confiscated and not returned even if an indictment is never lodged against the suspect. Such secret searches can take place even in cases unrelated to terrorism.

The Justice Department argued in two federal cases that the president has the power to indefinitely detain without any charges any person, including any U.S. citizen, designated as an “enemy combatant.” Furthermore the administration argues that the president’s conduct of the war on terrorism can’t be challenged and that civilian courts have no authority over the detentions.

The Justice Department argues that people designated “enemy combatants,” can be put behind bars, held incommunicado and denied counsel. If the detainee does get a lawyer, their conversations can be bugged.

In such manner we are saying goodbye to the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendments.

Back to Rumsfeld. The Defense Secretary is currently trying to get the Pentagon greater authority to carry out covert ops. He also wants Congress to agree to have a new undersecretary of defense, responsible for all intelligence matters.

Now blend these proposals in with the erosions of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the US military to have any role in domestic law enforcement. Shake the blender vigorously and you have the Rumsfeld cocktail, with an Ashcroft cherry. A defense under-secretary may soon b able to target YOU, (or the antiwar couple in the apartment next door), bug your phone and computer, burglarize the place, grab you, stick you in prison and let you rot.

All legally. That’s what we call military government, the way we teach the Latin American officers mustered for training at Fort Benning to do things in their countries, plus hanging electrodes on the testicles and nipples of those slow to confide who their teammates were in the anti-war group mentioned above. Remember, there’s a strong lobby here for torture too.

Try holding a placard up, when George Bush is driving by. Kevin O’Neill had a good column last Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette describing what happened when demonstrators against President Bush being herded inside a fence at Neville Island for his Labor Day visit.

“Police called this enclosure the designated free-speech area, though anyone who had signs praising the president was evidently OK to line the island’s main street for the motorcade.

“The mini-Guantanamo on the Ohio was set up strictly for security reasons, of course. Those who pose a genuine threat to the president are expected to carry signs identifying themselves as such, as a courtesy. Hence the erection of the Not-OK Corral.

“Bill Neel of Butler just doesn’t get it, though. He’s 65 and can remember a time when our entire country was a free-speech zone. So when he refused to get inside the fence with his sign, he was arrested, cuffed and detained in the best place for inflammatory rhetoric, the fire hall.

“Neel’s confiscated sign said, “The Bushes must truly love the poor — they’ve made so many of us.” For holding this contrary opinion in the censored speech zone, Neel was given a summons for disorderly conduct.”


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.