By Chris Floyd in The Moscow
We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep on saying it:
A country whose leader has the power to imprison any citizen, on his
order alone, and hold them indefinitely, in military custody, without
access to the courts, without a lawyer, without any charges, their fate
determined solely by the leader’s arbitrary whim—that country is a tyranny,
not a democracy, not a republic, not a union of free citizens.
Now, it may be that it is still a tyranny in utero, a rough beast slouching
toward Bethlehem—or in this case, Washington—to be born, and not yet
the full-blown monster, fangs bared and back plated with bristling armored
scales. But the tyranny has been conceived, it’s taken root in the womb,
gained definite form and is clawing, tearing its way toward the light.
President George W. Bush openly claims that he now holds this power
of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. His minions defend it with earnest
arguments. They have already begun acting on its dictatorial tenets.
If this claim is not rejected by the other two branches of government—an
unlikely event, with both branches now held by Bush partisans—then the
fundamental liberty of every American citizen will have been stripped
away finally and completely. Henceforth, liberty is not the inalienable
right of the citizen, but a privilege granted—or not—by an autocratic
What we are witnessing is the mutation of a democratic republic into
a military autocracy: Bush bases his claim of arbitrary power on the
president’s constitutional role as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed
forces. Although there is nothing in the constitution that warrants
the extension of military command to cover arbitrary rule over the entire
citizenry, and certainly nothing that countenances the abrogation of
basic rights and liberties on the unchallengeable say-so of an all-powerful
leader, the "commander-in-chief" argument nevertheless serves a useful
purpose for the autocrat, creating the illusion of a limited and temporary
suspension of liberties—a drastic but necessary "wartime" measure.
But Bush and his officials have already warned us that this "wartime
emergency" might never end. A direct quote from the commander-in-chief:
"There’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in
the homeland." The other branches concur in this militarization of American
society. Citing a political landscape "changed by war," the new head
of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner, says
he wants to "break down the barriers"—the constitutional barriers—that
restrict the military’s involvement in civilian life. The chief justice,
William Rehnquist, whose Supreme Court stands as the last defense against
the dictatorship of the executive branch, has already signaled his public
approval of military rule, quoting the old Roman maxim: "In time of
war, the laws are silent."
So if the wars never cease raging, the laws will no longer speak. Or
rather, they will speak only to ratify the will of the authoritarian
regime. Just this week, a "special" appeals court—a secret panel operating
outside the ordinary judicial system—upheld the right of the state to
invade the privacy of any citizen through expanded wiretap and surveillance
powers, Reuters reports. These invasions no longer need meet the already-lax
standards previously required for domestic surveillance, but can now
proceed virtually at the whim of the federal forces, even without any
direct connection to suspected terrorist or espionage activity.
The "special" court is a three-judge board made up of appointees from
the Reagan-Bush administration, chosen for this secret duty by that
obedient Roman, William Rehnquist. It overturned a lower-court ruling
that curbed surveillance powers after documenting 75 cases of their
abuse by federal agents in both the Clinton and Bush II administrations.
However, Attorney General John Ashcroft— whose agents will carry out
most of the secret investigations—said this week that the government
will not "overstep its legal bounds" with the new, broader powers. And
indeed, with a "silent" high court and a supine legislature willing
to lend an air of legitimacy to any action of the ruling junta—hijacking
a presidential election, imprisoning citizens without charge, waging
aggressive war—no doubt Ashcroft is right. There are no longer any "legal
bounds" to overstep.
Bush’s dictatorial powers of arrest and imprisonment are only part of
an unprecedented expansion of militarized state power into every aspect
of American life, coupled with an unprecedented level of secrecy surrounding
government activity. These changes are meant to be permanent—and they
are meant to remain under the control of the Bush Regime and like-minded
successors. It is absurd to believe that Bush, Cheney and the rest of
the junta are constructing this vast machinery of dominance only to
risk turning it over to any political adversary who genuinely opposed
empire, plutocracy and rule by a privileged elite. It is equally absurd
to believe that these new, unconstrained powers will not be abused.
The very fact of their assertion is itself an abuse, a perversion of
the freedoms that Bush has sworn—falsely—to uphold. They are a far greater
threat to the foundations of American liberty than even the most horrendous
attack by murderous criminals. No foreign terrorist can strip the entire
American system of its basic freedoms—the inviability of the citizen,
the right to due process, the constitutional separation of powers, the
people’s right to know what their government is doing in their name.
Only an American tyrant can do that. And he is doing it, day by day.
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