The fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 are a good time to take stock of where we’ve come since that day, and it is not a pretty picture.
Others are writing about what has been done to make the country safer from such attacks in the future (answer: not much), and about how the Iraq War, far from being a part of that project, was a duplicitous diversion that had nothing to do with combating terror, and everything to do with establishing the president as a “commander in chief.”
I want to write about the five-year crime spree against the Constitution and the American people that began almost immediately as the buildings fell, and that today has the American Republic teetering on the brink of a totalitarian future. Because it is clear that Bush and his advisors, far from acting to unite the country and protect it from attack, used that horrible tragedy half a decade ago as an excuse to terrorize Congress and the American public, and as an excuse to set the nation on a permanent war footing, so as to aggrandize unchecked power and to usurp the powers of the Congress and the Courts, thus converting the presidency into a dictatorship.
We know the Bush team had their sights set on an invasion of Iraq from even before the president took his first oath of office. The ousted Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, a member from the outset of the White House National Security Council, has reported that at the first meeting of that body, several days into the first Bush term and long before the 9-11 attacks, the focus was on how to get the U.S. into a war against Iraq. “Find me a way to do this,” O’Neill quotes our draft-dodging president as saying.
Within days of the attacks, the White House had cobbled together a massive document composed of hundreds of police-state measures submitted to Congress by police and right-wing legislators, and summarily rejected, over the years and cynically called it the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act. Barbara Olshansky, my co-author on our new book The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, May 2006), and deputy director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says that many of the pages of the initial draft of that nightmarish legislation still had the old bill numbers of the rejected legislation that they had begun life as. Passed without discussion or debate, the new law effectively gutted the First, Fourth and Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. But that was just the start.
In attacking Afghanistan and the Al Qaeda organization operating there, the president appropriately sought, and was granted by Congress, an Authorization for the Use of Force. But he has subsequently interpreted that authorization to pursue terrorism in Afghanistan and other jurisdictions around the world to mean he had been given the permanent title of commander in chief in a “war on terror” that has no conceivable end, and no boundaries (it includes the domestic U.S. in his view), and that this title authorizes him to override acts of Congress, orders of the Courts, the rules of government laid out in the U.S. Constitution, and international treaties and laws adopted by the U.S.
In short order, the president ignored Congress’s passage of a funding bill for the war in Afghanistan, and called off the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, illegally shifting troops and personnel in that country away to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other areas around Iraq, in preparation for an invasion of that country.
While Bin Laden was left free and continue his plotting, a secret conspiracy was then organized by the Bush Administration, which included creation of an alternative intelligence unit, the Office of Special Plans, in the Pentagon, and a propaganda arm, the White House Iraq Group, all with the goal of manufacturing and pushing into the media fake evidence designed to frighten Congress and the American public into supporting war against Iraq. The OSP used lies and bogus “defectors” provided by the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress to gin up horror stories of germ weapons and chemical weapons programs, and even of a nonexistent nuclear weapons program by Saddam Hussein. One of the most elaborate hoaxes involved the use of forged documents purporting to be signed agreements by the government of the African state of Niger to provide 400 tons of uranium ore to Iraq.
These documents originated in Italy, where stationary and seals stolen from the Niger Embassy in Rome were used to give them a look of authenticity, but the forgers, apparently linked to the Italian intelligence service SISMI, were slipshod and signed the names of officials no longer in office in Niger. When the forgeries were easily spotted by U.S. intelligence experts, key members of the OSP, allegedly working together with Iran-Contra conspirator Michael Ledeen and notorious arms dealer and con-artist ManucherGorbanifar, as well as with the heads of Italian intelligence and defense, allegedly concocted a black-op scheme to recycle those forged documents through British intelligence, presenting them as “new” evidence of Hussein’s nuclear ambitions.
It was this scheme that Cheney and Condi Rice were mendaciously citing when they referred ominously to a mushroom cloud threat in the fall of 2002, and that Bush lyingly referred to in his 2003 State of the Union message, when he said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
The administration lies that launched the country into a war in Iraq were just that. Lies and a conspiracy against the public and against peace which have cost the lives of over 2700 American troops and of over 100,000 innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Even the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee has now admitted that the administration’s claims, like one linking Hussein to Al Qaeda, were bogus-but the did the trick all the same, and the country continues to pay the price, in blood and money.
Bush also used his “commander in chief” title to justify his decision to exempt hundreds of people captured in Afghanistan, and hundreds of others kidnapped from all over the world, and held in Guantanamo Bay’s detention center, from the protections of the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court recently ruled that this decision was a violation not only of the Geneva Convention, but of the U.S. Criminal Code, which adopted the Third Geneva Convention on Treatment of POWs as a part of U.S. law in 1996. The president, that is to say, has already been declared to be a criminal by the highest court in the land. (I should note that some of the “terrorists” held for five years at Guantanamo were kids, some as young as seven and eight, at the time of their “capture”-a violation of the Geneva Accords. One of these children, brought to Guantanamo at age 12 from Afghanistan, was one of the three captives who committed suicide last June in despair at ever being released. Compounding the horror, the government had determined several weeks earlier, that he had been wrongly accused and had scheduled for him for release just three days after the day of his suicide. But government officials didn’t bother to tell him. Though his attorney was told of his pending release, the government barred the attorney from contacting him.)
A lower federal court has also found the president to have criminally violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution for authorizing National Security Agency spying on the communications of tens of thousands of Americans without first seeking a warrant from the secret FISA Court.
When the Supreme Court slapped down the president’s claim to have special powers as commander in chief, it effectively pulled the plug on his argument justifying other criminal abuses of power, including his refusal to provide information demanded by congressional committees and the bi-partisan 9-11 Commission, and his use of “signing statements” to invalidate all or part of over 850 laws enacted by Congress. The same court ruling undermines the president’s claim that as commander in chief he has the power to declare any American to be an enemy combatant, subject to arrest without charge and detention without the right of habeas corpus access to the courts, or the power to authorize the use of torture against such individuals, or against other captured in the bogus “war” on terror.
The problem is that while the Supreme Court has made this determination regarding the president’s criminal behavior, the president is constitutionally invulnerable from prosecution, even from war crimes. The only recourse is impeachment, which is the power to remove an elected president or any other federal official, and which belongs solely to the Congress.
Because both houses of Congress, and most importantly, the House of Representatives, are currently controlled by the Republican Party, which is in league with the president, there will be no impeachment of the president until at least this November.
At that point, however, if Democrats manage to gain the necessary 15 seats to gain a majority in the House, impeachment becomes not only a possibility, but a duty and a necessity.
It simply cannot be allowed for a president to commit the broad array of crimes against the Constitution and the People of the United States that President Bush has already committed, and for there to be no effort to impeach him. To allow that travesty to happen would not only be an insult to the memory of the Founding Fathers (and of those who died on 9-11, in whose names most of these crimes have so cynically been committed). It would also condemn us to a future in which subsequent presidents, of both parties, could commit the same crimes with impunity, citing the Bush presidency as a precedent.
Take just one crime-the use of signing statements to invalidate acts of Congress. If a Democratic Congress were not to impeach on this issue, and were to allow the president to continue with this abuse of his power, not one significant piece of Democratic legislation could pass into law without the president doctoring it to fit his own political needs. Moreover, a future president-say Hillary Clinton or Russ Feingold-could use the same tactic to invalidate laws passed by some future Republican Congress.
There are less than two months remaining before the November congressional election, at which all members of the House and a third of the members of the Senate must face the voters. The American people owe it to themselves, to the founders and to all the American soldiers who have died over the years fighting to defend America and the Constitution, to ensure that: 1) Democrats are given control of the House of Representatives, and 2) their own representative, whether Democrat or Republican, understands that this president is a serial Constitutional criminal who must be brought to justice.
That will be the best commemoration of 9-11: That Americans finally stood up as citizens of a great republic and demanded that their country survive not just the threat of terror from without, but the even more serious threat of tyranny from within.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org