“Why do they hate us?” George W. Bush asked. I waited for his answer as did millions of others after the 9/11 events. We had lost our collective virginity when we had to acknowledge that some serious characters did not have our best interests at heart. As Bush spoke I conjured up the image of they with the help of the cartoonists who had provided me with stereotyped fierce-looking Arabs, wielding curved swords, heads wrapped in kefiyahs and screaming anti-American curses.
W went on to say that they hate Americans because we re free, referring, I presumed, to the great institutions our founding fathers left us. He implied that the mass murdering fanatics of Al Qaeda loved a non-free system. So, to show them a thing or two, he advised us to fly somewhere for vacation, like Disneyland, and shop; in other words, practicing the American way of life would make us feel better and help the economy to boot; imagine, going to Disneyland as a veritable act of patriotism.
And while he assured us of our safety, Attorney General Ashcroft and Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, periodically warned us about the imminent threat of another terrorist assault. Well, one learns to live with contradictions, but where, I ask myself, does George W. Bush intend to lead us?
The head of a large empire needs a world vision, some sense that he knows that his policies coincide with the future, a road map that takes us beyond they hate us and we love freedom. President Bush s speeches, remarks at infrequent press conferences and occasional off the cuff quips, however, don t offer much clarity about how he sees the coincidence between his policies and say, the future of the environment or the fate of the more than half the world s desperately poor people, factors one must consider when thinking about the future in any reasonable form.
I have observed, in the seemingly interminable period of time since the Supreme Court elected him, some evolution in W s behavior. From a rather crude and simplistic view of the world as Texas Governor, he has built on his old prejudices and added a few new twists. In his new mutation as imperial manager, for example, criminals have come to play a crucial role in this Texas-Yale weltanschauung.
As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush didn t believe in rehabilitating criminals. Indeed, those on death row didn t benefit from his compassionate conservatism. In fact, as governor for five years he presided over 152 killings, more executions guilty or not — than any other State leader. Bush felt that sense of certitude we ve all seen it on his face on TV when he sets his jaw in that pose of religious conviction — that he seems to carry on every subject of policy. In February 2001, he proclaimed his confidence “that every person that has been put to death in Texas under my watch has been guilty of the crime charged, and has had full access to the courts.”
As Anthony Lewis noted in the June 17, 2000 NY Times, however, in one-third of those cases, the report showed, the lawyer who represented the death penalty defendant at trial or on appeal had been or was later disbarred or otherwise sanctioned. In 40 cases the lawyers presented no evidence at all or only one witness at the sentencing phase of the trial. In almost thirty other cases, prosecutors used psychiatric testimony based on experts who had not bothered to even interview the people on trial for their lives.
Bush dismissed serious studies that raised doubts about the death penalty even brushing aside reservations held by such staunch advocates of capital punishment as the Taliban-like Pat Robertson, “We’ve adequately answered innocence or guilt,” Bush declared smugly to an Associated Press reporter. He assured reporters that every defendant “had full access to a fair trial.”
As with much of policy, Bush doesn t rely on facts especially when life and death are involved. His instinct tells him that when dealing with difficulty, whether on policy toward terrorism, Iraq or the death penalty, think of a joke. In November 2002, CNN s Crossfire replayed a tape of a reporter asking him about his priorities, the war against terrorism or the war against Iraq. Bush responded: Er, uh, huh, I m trying to think of something funny to say. When Tucker Carlson of Time magazine asked him how he felt in putting a woman to death, he mimicked her plea to save her. `Please Bush whimpers, wrote Carlson describing his demeanor as lips pursed in mock desperation, `don t kill me.
As President, Bush has apparently reconsidered his stance on criminals, well, certain kinds anyway. His new rehabilitation program calls for the appointment to high policy posts of former felons who have links to mass murder not just simple homicide. These lawbreaker are also characterized by their utter contempt — not only for the lives of Central Americans but for the Congress and US Constitution as well.
Take as examples Elliot Abrams, John Poindexter, John Negroponte and Otto Reich, officials he recently named to manage important policy positions. I exclude the newly appointed Henry Kissinger to the Warren Commission on 9/11 because K showed contempt for human life on several continents and belongs in the bigger league of war criminals.
For those too young to recall or those with short memories, the four above mentioned characters conspired to circumvent congressional defunding of the Contras, the group President Reagan had chosen in the early 1980s to depose the government of Nicaragua. These four and their cohorts hatched a plot to sell weapons to Iran (also prohibited) so that they could funnel the proceeds to their beloved Contras ands then cover it up.
In his testimony to Congress, the scrappy Abrams made witness history when he declared: “I never said I had no idea about most of the things you said I had no idea about.” The now 54 year old Abrams also explained in his autobiography that he had to inform his young children about the headline announcing his indictment, so he told them he had to lie to Congress to protect the national interest.
The then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to Central America pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress and received two years probation and 100 hours community work. Now, the 54 year old Abrams as the new White House man on the Middle East, having learned that one can get away with felonious behavior if you maintain close links to the Bush family, will attempt to redraw the roadmap of the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin Powell drafted a plan for designing a peaceful solution and eventually a Palestinian state. The vision, by deduction, amounts to a rubber stamp for Israeli repression and expansion. It also coincides with Abrams stated belief that Israel and the United States will benefit from tighter connections between the far right fundamentalist Christians who want Israel to prevail and occupy all of Palestine and US policy.
Former retired Admiral and National Security adviser to Reagan John Poindexter was convicted of five felonies involving conspiracy, obstruction of Congress, and making false statements. The judge gave him six months in prison, but an appellate court reversed the sentence because Congress had granted him immunity. His slipping out of prison on a procedural error does not change the facts of the case. Poindexter s vision runs toward secrecy and circumventing law in the interests of protecting the privacy of individuals not affiliated with terrorism, his newest declaration.
Otto Reich ran Latin America policy until this month and now holds a special appointment from the White House for Latin America. Negroponte, now Ambassador to the UN, also played the Iran-Contra game and escaped indictment. Reich was minister of lying to the public from his Office of Public Diplomacy and Negroponte as US Ambassador to Honduras had to cover up now he has forgotten the dreadful behavior of our allies. The liberals called it human rights abuse, but Negroponte understood that you can t make an omelet without breaking the eggs, or some such Maoism.
By appointing these characters, W s world view becomes clearer. Those who participated in Central America plots that caused the deaths of tens of thousands will have a second chance to show the public what they really stand for. Indeed, they remain as role models for the post republican United States. Congress has little place in such an imperial government. The media, epitomized by Fox and Rupert Murdoch s chains, plays the aggressive war game and diverts the public. The National Security Plan released by the White House further shreds the republican fabric by placing the Bill of Rights into very second class status in a search for full spectral dominance, hardly one that relates to the nation or security for that matter.
Similarly gone are past notions of accountability and openness when Administrations felt it necessary to cover imperial expeditions with shreds of republican fabric and maintain some semblance of the Bill of Rights.
SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Landau’s new film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS is distributed by The Cinema Guild in New York City. Landau can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org