Surreal Political Theater

In July 2004, only about a month after millions of the American People began flocking to movie theaters to see Michael Moore’s incendiary exposé of the Bush administration, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” officials appointed by this administration floated a bizarre and unprecedented proposal. Because of the possibility of anticipated, unspecified “terrorist attacks” somewhere in America, they said it could become “necessary” to postpone (or even cancel?) the scheduled November 2004 presidential election.

This has to be the final and irrefutable proof of this administration’s absolute lack of legitimacy. No such election has ever been postponed in American history, even during the darkest days of national emergencies during the civil war and the world wars of the last century! This latest outrage of the lawless Bush/Cheney regime has already met the widespread denunciation it richly deserves in many quarters. But that will not be enough. Even worldwide condemnation failed to prevent the Bush pirates’ insane attack on Iraq in 2003. Only the full moral weight of “the other superpower” ­ public opinion ­ has any chance of affecting their last gasp attempts over the next few months to hold on to their power.

There is absolutely no guarantee that opposition to their schemes will stop the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft & Co. from continuing to act ruthlessly and without any principles whatsoever to preserve their grip on power. This crisis calls for a dramatic public response from the American People, demonstrating conclusively that we will not allow this illegitimate gang to destroy our democracy and our freedom. The Americans who made “Fahrenheit 9/11” a surprise hit movie, the same People who packed the streets of our cities on February 15, 2003, “the day the world said no to war” with Iraq, will have to come out again. On no account will we allow this government to perpetuate its illegitimate existence by using the excuse of terrorism to delay or prevent a lawful, democratic presidential election.

Four years ago George W. Bush and Dick Cheney failed to receive a majority of the popular vote in the 2000 election. Racially discriminatory vote suppression in Jeb Bush’s Florida combined with at least two other key factors to deliver the White House to its current occupants. The balance of power in the electoral college unfairly favors the Republicans’ fundamentalist, rural, western and southern base. And intervention by five of the Republican appointees to the US Supreme Court stopped an accurate count of the extraordinarily tight Florida race. In this important sense, they in fact did not win, but “stole” the 2000 election through a combination of legal and extra-legal maneuvers. 2004 is above all the first real opportunity the American People have to take back our country from the gang that stole America.

Having “won” power in such a controversial, narrow, and borderline illegal manner, one might think they would seek to govern inclusively and responsibly, seeking to build and shore up their support and legitimacy. But that assumption contradicts the immoral and crass political nature of this criminal enterprise in the form of a presidential administration. Their cynical opportunism in responding to the historic crimes against humanity of September 11, 2001 apparently knows no bounds. Rather than seeking to unite all Americans for common goals, this government has shamelessly taken every opportunity to enrich their corporate supporters and project power by military attacks, racial profiling and threats of violence that have severely threatened the liberty and security of the USA and the entire world.

A Program for Global Dominance

In the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, George W. Bush cluelessly wondered why People in other countries hate US government policies that systematically destroy their freedoms, steal their resources, kill their brethren, and spread war and poverty throughout an unjust US corporate empire. It was because “they hate our freedoms,” he concluded, apparently based on his speechwriters’ and handlers’ instructions on the teleprompters. Meanwhile, his administration’s military, energy, tax, trade, environmental and economic policies fuel the hatred of unjust imperial domination, and threaten the peace, prosperity and security of the world in dramatic and unprecedented ways. For example:

Afghanistan: Within less than a month of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the US military struck the prostrate nation of Afghanistan, former US allies in the Taliban government, and Osama bin Laden’s jihadist terror network. Systematic human rights violations, widespread violence inflicted on innocent civilians caught in the chaos of war, intense human suffering throughout the winter of 2001-02, and the beginning of construction on long-sought lucrative natural gas and oil pipelines, accompanied the first round of their declared “Global War on Terrorism.” But even as the long term consequences of the September 11 terrorist attacks began to sink in, gradually displacing the shock and horror of Fall 2001, the illegitimate US government was only beginning its drive for total power through killing, domination and corporate oil politics.

Iraq: The “National Security Strategy” of September 2002 spelled out this government’s imperial, militarist goals and its intention of waging perpetual aggressive wars to enrich its base, by capitalizing on the “vast, new opportunities” opened up for them by the September 11 crimes against humanity. Iraq would be the test case of their new “doctrine,” which failed spectacularly. The whole world now knows that the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was based on lies about alleged weapons and nonexistent connections to al-Quaida and other fake security threats. Bush and his chickenhawk advisors sent over 100,000 working class Americans to kill and die in the heart of the Middle East’s coveted oil reserves. They projected US military power into the world’s most strategic region for the benefit of their corporate funders. In the face of vocal warnings and opposition from around the planet and across the country, they created an obvious, bloody and ongoing disaster. By April 2004, seven months before the election, their project began to collapse in chaos, blood and fire. Suicide bombings, armed resistance, kidnappings, blackmail, beheadings, and the installation of a puppet government headed by a known CIA stooge ­ “Saddam Hussein Lite” ­ define the absurd, unstable, and completely insane second round of Bush’s fanatical and fraudulent “war on terror.”

Israel/Palestine: In addition to the direct US military assaults of the last three years, the longstanding illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by US ally Israel has intensified. It supports Islamic and Arab nationalist opposition and an escalating series of deadly attacks against foreign outposts of US empire. Like the Bush/Cheney gang, Ariel Sharon’s criminal government has blatantly used the aftermath of September 11 as an excuse to rewrite all the rules of international conduct, to kill its opponents and their fellows, and to grab power and land. US leaders have marched in lockstep with every one of these abuses, as Palestinians’ homelands, livelihoods and their very lives are forfeit to Israeli aggression using US-supplied arms. Still, our official leaders ask plaintively “why they hate us.” Because we and our surrogates are stealing their lands, starving their children, and killing them with impunity!

We the People, both as individuals and as a nation, must look into our own hearts and minds and determine who we are. Global dominance can sound tempting, especially when our nightmares are filled with the threat of terrorism. It’s easy for America to be the bully and it is easy for Americans to accept this role. In the eloquent words of singer/songwriter Jonatha Brooke:

In the American day, you must give and I shall take, And I will tell you what is moral and what’s just Because I want, because I will, because I can, so will I kill.

Former US Army Sergeant Stan Goff says, “The Army sent me to a kind of two-decade school, and in school I learned something. The world is not fundamentally safe.” This is undeniably true. The world is not safe, and that is a frightening thought to those Americans (such as Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, etc.) who have lived their lives in privilege and comfort. But the inherent risk of living in the world does not compel us to become invaders and murderers. It does not compel us to abandon democracy or the rule of law. It does not compel us to give up civil liberties, or to abdicate our right to “dissolve the political bonds” which connect us to such a criminal administration. The very suggestion that the 2004 election could be postponed is itself a call to arms to defend the ideal of American democratic self-government.

The Assault on Civil Liberty

The Bush/Cheney administration has become identified with disdain for human rights and the rule of law itself. Consider only the most prominent examples: Withdrawing the US from the International Criminal Court (for fear of prosecutions of Americans for war crimes, including human rights violations and crimes against humanity), enacting the so-called “USA PATRIOT” Act (which violates basic human rights), illegally and indefinitely detaining alleged “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay and in the U.S. (struck down in landmark decisions of the US Supreme Court this summer), the Abu Ghraib prison abuses and arbitrary mass arrests and prosecutions of protesters, activists, and even a defense attorney (Lynne Stewart). The so-called “war on terrorism” has caused more human rights abuses and less safety. Amnesty International reported recently that the US has set an example of disregard for human rights worldwide.

The administration continues to label suspects as “enemies,” and uses that label as a political tool, even where such identification was not relevant to hunting down terrorists. For example, designating Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil,” and Bush’s assertion that “If you’re not with us; you’re against us!” Another example: while the “USA PATRIOT” Act specifically disclaims any bias against Muslims and Arabs, thousands of Arabic-speaking persons or followers of Islam were rounded up and detained after 9/11 without probable cause of criminal activity, solely on the basis of their ethnic origins and religious practices. It is virtually impossible to imagine a program that would be better calculated to drive People away from the kinds of cooperation with legitimate authorities that might help prevent future terrorist crimes!

The current, unelected US government is cynically exploiting fear and extreme nationalist/ fundamentalist fervor, in an attempt to retain their illegitimate hold on power. In the name of “fighting terrorism,” and in reaction to vocal, worldwide demands for global justice, peace and democracy, they and their corporate and ideological supporters are pursuing a strategy of US empire-building through military force. They are counting on the fear of terrorism, war, and economic privation to whip people into line behind their leadership.

There simply has to be a better alternative than this new American nightmare. We have to choose between the government of laws enshrined in our national charter and history, and that of unaccountable power, currently arising out of the “war against terrorism.” The recent suggestion that some unspecified terrorist attack could “force” the government to postpone the November 2004 presidential election, just as it appears to be slipping away from candidate Bush because of his unsurpassed record of lying and abuse, should be seen by all for exactly what it is: an admission of their failure and absolute moral bankruptcy.

It’s the Torture, Stupid

In late April and May 2004, with the military occupation of Iraq trying unsuccessfully to suppress a coordinated, violent uprising throughout the country, graphic images of the reality of US “liberation” and “freedom” for that nation burst into public view. The revelations of torture and abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram air base, Guantanamo Bay and other secret US military torture centers, both exposed the reality of the “war on terror,” and laid the basis for the recent suggestion that it might cause the government to postpone the election.

There has been a flood of shocking revelations: knowledge and approval of torture coming from the highest levels of the US government. The New York Times reported on a legal memorandum addressed to White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez, assessing the “issue” of how much pain constitutes “torture” under the law, and referring to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions as being “obsolete” and “quaint.” Even more stunning, the Wall Street Journal revealed a memo prepared by a team of administration lawyers, developing at length the arguments that “torture” is not “torture,” without “specific intent” to cause severe and long-lasting harm (i.e., if the torturer’s intent is to get information, and pain and suffering is an unfortunate collateral consequence, it’s not ­ and can’t be – torture). Perhaps even more appalling from a purely legal point of view, this leaked internal Justice Department document that has become widely known as “the torture memo” argues for a quasi-royal prerogative, that the president as commander-in-chief of the military, is not bound by legal prohibitions on torture. Still, the leaks haven’t stopped. The Center for Constitutional Rights posted on their web site lengthy excerpts from an extensive Pentagon torture manual. Its official name is “Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism: Assessment of Legal, Historical, Policy, and Operational Considerations.” But Orwellian and Kafkaesque word games aside, it’s a torture manual. In light of what we now know from the offensive pictures taken inside Abu Ghraib, and also from the Bush/Cheney administration’s many coded admissions (for example, Bush’s own statement in his 2003 State of the Union Address: “[M]any others have met a different fate. Let’s put it his way. They are no longer a problem”) the leaked torture documents opened coast-to-coast floodgates of righteous democratic anger and opposition. San Diego University law professor Marjorie Cohn has written that these revelations mean it is now time to call for the impeachment of Bush. Former New York City Congresswoman and prosecutor Elizabeth Holtzman (who served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of Nixon) has called for appointment of a Special Prosecutor. Approximately 500 law professors signed a detailed, reasoned letter calling for impeachment. On June18 the National Lawyers Guild issued a press release demanding prosecution of Bush for war crimes and torture. NLG President Michael Avery aptly described the Justice Department’s torture memorandum as reading “like a pre-trial brief on behalf of the Nazi defendants in the Nuremberg trial.” Is it any wonder they want to cancel the election, under these extreme circumstances?

The combined precedents set by the USA PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo, Iraq, and the withdrawal from ICC, amount to an attempted rolling coup-in-progress. Although the Bush/Cheney administration has pursued this coup in the name of freedom, compassionate conservatism, national security and the war on terror, the main features of it are exactly the opposite: dissolution of the rule of law, arbitrary arrests and detentions, violations and abuses of human rights and dignity, disregard for the sovereignty of other nations and even for the most basic principles of widely accepted international norms, and increasing forms of international terror and violence in many forms. Abu Ghraib should not shock those who have witnessed the repeated violations of domestic and international law committed by and for the Bush/Cheney Administration. It should not surprise those who noted how the Supreme Court put Bush into the presidency, or those who are aware of Bush’s family connections or business dealings before 2000. Nor should it shock those who followed events from 9/11 to the unlawful invasion of Iraq. A lawless administration cannot be expected to engender anything but lawless subordinates. As Human Rights Watch says:

This pattern of abuse [at Abu Ghraib] did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside.

Abu Ghraib was not the beginning. Members of the Bush Administration showed a penchant for torture long before Abu Ghraib. The Administration recruited and elevated several previously indicted war criminals. Bush’s frequent use of the death penalty and his indifference to human suffering while he was governor of Texas are well-established. John Negroponte, who was implicated in systematic human rights abuses in Central America in the 1980’s, was appointed ambassador to Iraq. Bush even attempted to appoint Henry Kissinger, who is under indictment for war crimes in numerous countries, to head the 9/11 commission.

Government of Laws, not of Corporate War Criminals

Since September 11, 2001, our government has placed us in further danger with policies that inflame the conditions giving rise to terrorism. We must replace this regime, and continue to work for peace and social justice in order to create a brighter future for our children. The U.S. response to the September 11 crimes against humanity has led us into even greater peril. Under these crisis conditions, George W. Bush’s incompetence and Dick Cheney’s arrogance threaten our survival. We must start acting like self-governing adults who reject rule by the oil industry, military contractors, and other corporate profiteers. One of our best-loved artists sings in tribute to the unforgettable heroes of September 11, who bravely raced into the fire in service of others and died:

May your strength give us strength May your faith give us faith May your hope give us hope May your love give us love

George W. Bush and his government lack the moral strength to serve social justice and peace rather than big business. They lack faith in democracy. They lack hope for a better world for the masses of the world’s People, which is the only real answer to terrorism. And they lack the love of humanity. Their strength is killing, making money, and lying about it. Their faith is non-existent. They hope for apathy of the American People. They love only money and power. George W. Bush and his government lack legitimacy.

Jennifer Van Bergen, J.D., is the author of The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America, coming out September 1, 2004, Common Courage Press. She is one of the foremost experts on the USA PATRIOT Act and has taught anti-terrorism law at the New School University.

Tom Stephens is a lawyer and a member of the National Lawyers Guild in Detroit.