Politics as practiced in America has long been a cynical business, but the Bush administration has established a new standard for cynicism and manipulation.
In his speech yesterday in Quantico, VA to the FBI and a bunch of Marines bused in for patriotic color and canned applause, our active duty-dodging, “bring ’em on” threat-making president used the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks to call for a further gutting of civil liberties and expansion of the lawless behavior and draconian powers of the Ashcroft Justice Department.
The USA PATRIOT Act (widely and unthinkingly referred to erroneously in the mainstream media as the Patriot Act), in effect since November 2001, has already been used by the Justice Department for everything from conducting warrantless searches and surveillance to arresting and detaining suspected “terrorists” without charge or even access to a lawyer–including U.S. citizens like Jose Padilla. The expanded powers now being sought by Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft would include the power to strip even native-born Americans of their citizenship, their very birthright, expanded power for warrantless searches and arrests and other further assaults on the national’s constitutional liberties. Plans are even afoot to use military brigs to confine those whose citizenship has been removed, creating a set of Guantanamo-like Gulags within the domestic U.S.
The irony, of course, is that the Justice Department, with all the new powers in already granted itself since September, 2002, has done little to make the country safer against terrorism threats.
The Bush administration knows that opposition to its ongoing rights assault has been growing, not just among traditional liberals and leftists, but on the right too, where there remain powerful constituencies that support a literal and uncompromising interpretation of the Bill of Rights. Over 160 communities and three states, including many dominated by Republicans, have over the past year or so approved laws and resolutions defending the Bill or Rights and attacking the PATRIOT Act’s provisions, such as its giving to federal agents the power to examine the library records of patrons without a warrant and without notice to the subject of the investigation. Administration sources and congressional supporters have been quoted as saying that the intent of having the president make a personal appeal for expansion of the PATRIOT Act provisions on Sept. 10 was to have it reach the public on the second anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack, in hopes that this would mute opposition to the proposed new measures.
This cynical abuse of the pain and suffering of the relatives of the World Trade Center and Pentagon dead, as appalling as it is, is matched by the president’s attempt in his Sunday address to the nation and his Wednesday address to FBI and Marine personnel to also use the same 9/11 tragedy to confuse the public and win support for his continued war policy in Iraq. Conflating the terror attacks with the U.S. military’s growing problems in Iraq, Bush has tried to say that what “began in America” is being ended in Iraq, as if by attacking Iraqi guerrilla fighters, the U.S. military is hitting back at the terror network that was responsible for the 2002 terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. The war against Iraq, which no intelligence has linked to Al Qaida, diverted military attention and power away from the search for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. (In fact, bin Laden, taking a page from the president’s cynical playbook, chose yesterday to thumb his nose at the president and the Pentagon with release of a video tape hailing the 9/11 attack and calling for more attacks on America and Americans.) By destroying the government in Iraq, Bush and his Pentagon war-mongers also turned that nation into a lawless breeding ground for anti-American terrorists–one that is awash in weapons and explosives, and with people who know how to use them.
No honest observer of the ongoing war in Iraq would claim that even a thorough U.S. victory there, and establishment of a successful Iraqi government–a highly unlikely prospect over the next few years–would end, or even reduce terrorist threats against the U.S. Few terrorists over the past decade have been Iraqi, and the terrorist world could get along fine without Iraqis in the future.
Meanwhile, there is a 9/11 anniversary worth recalling, without any cynicism but with a great deal of irony. That’s the anniversary of the 1973 coup that overthrew the elected government of Salvadore Allende Gossens in Chile. America suffered a terrible terror attack on 9/11, but it hardly compares with the many more thousands who were brutally killed in that earlier coup, a coup which, as Peter Kornbluh, in his new book, replete with original documents and CIA and State Department cables, proves was instigated and supported by the U.S. government and specifically by President Richard M. Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. This was state-sponsored terrorism at its worst, and as yet, no one in American government has been brought to justice for it.
As we ponder the meaning of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2002, and of President George Bush’s call for yet more unchecked police-state powers, we Americans would do well to also ponder the meaning of September 11,1973. The more recent 9/11 terrorist attack clearly demonstrated what can happen when committed terrorists decide to attack even the world’s most powerful nation. Sept. 11, 1973 shows something worse: what happens when the very government of the world’s most powerful nation is headed by terrorists–whether a Richard Nixon and a Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, or a George W. Bush and a Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–that is, by people who have no respect for law or for constitutionally protected civil rights and liberties, or for human life itself, and who view democracy as a game to be cynically played and manipulated.
September 11, 1973 showed us in blood just what such enemies of democracy and basic human decency are capable of.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html