In one month we will know if Americans understand the danger of the Bush administration’s fanatical preoccupation with terrorism combined with one-party control of the executive and legislative branches. If voters let pass the opportunity in the November election to take Congress out of Republican hands, America will experience a more rapid descent into a police state.
The Bush administration’s response to 9/11, an event about which we have incomplete and unreliable information, has been to trample important civil liberties such as habeas corpus, the attorney-client privilege, privacy, due process, and prohibition against self-incrimination.
Today, “detainees” incarcerated by US government officials are held indefinitely without charges or warrants–essentially imprisoned without trial, denied access to lawyers and family, and tortured in an effort to attain self-incrimination, while US citizens are spied upon without court warrants.
These are the distinctive features of a police state. They have brought President Bush and his government into conflict with the US Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and US statutory law. To sanctify these violations of Constitution, treaty, and law, last week the US Republican Congress passed a warrantless surveillance bill and a detainee bill that destroys privacy and removes court protections and Geneva Conventions protections from detainees.
Many Americans are unconcerned about these developments, because they believe only real terrorists are affected. In fact, the majority of “terrorist detainees” are innocent people sold to Americans as “terrorists” for bounties. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says, “We have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars.” Amnesty International’s Claudio Cordone says of that organization’s report released September 29, “Bounty hunters, including police officers and local people, have captured individuals of different nationalities, often apparently at random, and sold them into U.S. custody.”
Moreover, the definition of “terrorist suspect” is subject only to the discretion of the arresting officials. No evidence has to be presented or even possessed to justify the detention of the person as a terrorist. As no evidence is required, anyone can be branded a terrorist suspect.
Consider, also, that laws tend to be expansively interpreted. For example, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was intended to apply to organized crime. Today a RICO claim can arise in almost any context, including divorce cases. It is applied to individuals, legitimate businesses, and political protest groups.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and a variety of neoconservative and Republican writers are attempting to broaden the definition of terrorist to include truthful critics of Bush’s Iraq war. On September 29, for example, the Associated Press reported that Bush said that critics who claim the Iraq war has made America less safe embrace “the enemy’s propaganda.”
In making this charge, Bush is damning the National Intelligence Estimate prepared by US intelligence agencies which concluded that the war in Iraq was making Americans less safe by breeding more terrorism.
If Bush can accuse the CIA of “embracing terrorist propaganda,” any columnist or reporter who reports truthfully can be put in the “against us” camp and interred for giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.”
By passing the detainee and surveillance bills, Congress has given the executive branch the power to silence dissent. Naive Americans believe that there is a difference between the government having arbitrary and unaccountable powers to arrest enemies and using these powers against its own citizens. But governments always use the powers they gain. Otherwise, there is no point to the US Constitution, which was written to restrain the growth of government power. If government can be trusted with arbitrary and unaccountable power, the US Constitution has no purpose.
The Democrats, of course, have done nothing to protect us from Bush’s illegal war or from his assaults on the Constitution and civil liberty. Democrats have been intimidated by the threat of being politically placed in the “against us” camp, and Democrats are as much in the pockets of AIPAC, the oil industry, and the military-industrial complex as Republicans.
Nevertheless, one-party rule magnifies error by marginalizing dissent and debate. The Republican Congress acquiesces to the Republican executive in order to maintain a common front that the opposition cannot penetrate. Detrimental policies and laws harmful to liberty are passed for the sake of party power, not because they are good for Americans or true to the Constitution.
The Democrats don’t deserve to be in office any more than do the Republicans, but by putting Democrats in office, voters can strengthen Americans’ ability to dissent from Bush’s police state measures and Bush’s commitment to interminable wars in the Middle East. One-party rule suppresses dissent within the government and, thus, makes dissent all the more difficult outside government.
Freedom and democracy in America are already impaired by a heavily concentrated media ownership that no longer serves the public interest. A one-party government combined with a corporate controlled press is no recipe for maintaining freedom and democracy in America.
PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org