Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The New Scorched Earth Policy

In light of the blossoming domestic spying scandal, it's become clear that the Bush administration's preferred tactic in fighting the "War on Terror" is a frightening homage to the Soviet Union's "scorched earth" defense against the Nazi invasion during World War II. The tactic basically involves giving ground to an advancing enemy, but destroying that ground as you do. That way, the invading forces have fewer resources to draw upon and less incentive to continue their advance. After all, it does little good to capture a city once it's been burned to the ground. This tactic worked very well in bogging down the Nazi advance on the Eastern Front, though it exacted a hideous cost from the citizens of the Soviet Union.

Bush's approach to the "War on Terror" has been much the same, we now know. Per Bush, the stated goal of "the terrorists" is to "destroy what America stands for" because "they hate our freedom." Well, nothing defines what America stands for better than civil rights for the citizenry. The rights of the individual were the entire impetus behind the Declaration of Independence and the reason the United States broke away from England. The Framers of our Constitution envisioned a nation where the individual determined the character and scope of the government, instead of the reverse, as had been the case for centuries in Europe.

Bush and his cronies have engaged in a systematic "scorched earth" policy towards civil rights in the United States, all under the guise of protecting Americans from "the terrorists". Under Bush, American citizens have been arrested and held without charge or trial. American citizens have been subjected to warrantless spying on our communications and activities by the NSA. Bush has used the FBI to monitor the activities of political advocacy groups and charitable organizations, such as PETA and GreenPeace, again without legal cause or justification. Perhaps most disturbing of all, Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez have argued that the President has practically limitless power to act as Commander in Chief in a time of war, based on their interpretation of the Constitution and the Congressional authorization for the invasion of Afghanistan.

From AmericaBlog:

"This is not a backdoor approach," Gonzales said at the White House. "We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance." He acknowledged that the administration discussed introducing legislation explicitly permitting such domestic spying but decided against it because it "would be difficult, if not impossible" to pass.

It confounds the imagination to even begin to believe that Gonzalez and Bush actually think that Congress intended to grant expanded powers to the Executive implicitly within the use-of-force authorization for Afghanistan (and the greater "War on Terror") but would not have been willing to do so explicitly. This is either one of the stupidest lies ever used to defend the abuse of government power or else Bush and Gonzalez really believe that waging war is just another arena of partisan politics. Either criminal mendacity or clueless incompetence; a devil's choice if ever there was one.

Looking at this most recent and possibly most widespread offense, this spying on of Americans by the NSA without a FISA warrant, should be troubling all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. After all, the rights of the individual to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures" is guaranteed by the 4th Amendment. Of course, that assumes that both sides of the political fence want to live in the kind of America envisioned by the Founding Fathers. One side, clearly, does not, starting with its elected officials.

From The Seaxneat Project:

"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former judge and close ally of the president who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Truly the embodiment of the American Revolution. I guess if Patrick Henry were alive today, he'd certainly be singing the same tune, right? "Give me liberty, or give me-- No, wait. Give me liberty, unless there are some scary brown people out there."

What Senator Box Turtle has so artlessly expressed here is one of the basic coercive ideologies expressed by both Hitler and Stalin as ways to solidify their authoritarian power with the masses. If any form of imminent danger is reason enough to surrender our republic and void our Constitution then the United States is nothing more than an authoritarian police state. We should really just save ourselves the tax funds by canceling all further elections and disbanding the Congress. If American civil rights are not worth dying for, then neither is America, for one does not exist without the other. It's disgraceful that a U.S. Senator would actually place partisan loyalty to a Republican President ahead of the ideals upon which our country is founded. Since when is sycophantic loyalty to one man and one party considered a "moral value"?

These affirmations of Bush's policy by Gonzalez and Cornyn beg the question of whether or not such assertions pass expert muster. Does the Executive Branch actually have the authority, either statutorily or Constitutionally, to authorize the NSA to spy on Americans, with no warrant and no Congressional oversight? Not according to Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School (via a link from Scout Prime):

What happened in this case, I just tell you, I don't see any basis to conclude it was anything but a Federal crime that the President ordered. These arguments that have been made by the White House border on the legally absurd. I mean, I don't know anyone who seriously believes the force resolution gave the President this authority. And it raises very troubling questions. If this is a Federal crime, and I believe it is, the President ordered such a crime and ordered US officials to commit it. And that raises troubling questions, not just for the presidency, but for the President.

Finally, a very pertinent question has arisen already from the Conservative Right and essentially that question is: "Who cares?". This question seems to be coupled with the notion that anyone even worrying about this issue probably ought to be spied upon by the government, just in case. After all, the thinking goes, anyone with nothing to hide, who is "innocent", should have no fear of being spied upon. Only those who are sympathetic to the terrorists or not loyal to America need be concerned. The problem they fail to recognize with this line of thinking is that once our President grants himself nearly limitless power, there is no longer any objectivity to innocence. Innocence becomes whatever the thug in charge decides it is. The flip side to absolute power in a leader is absolute powerlessness in the people. History has shown time and again the dangerous slippery slope of trading civil rights away for the promise of authoritarian safety.

Bush's belief in the almost limitless powers of the Executive in a time of war harkens back to the time of another war in U.S. history, also an ideologically-driven invasion of a sovereign nation that bogged down into an inwinnable guerilla insurgency. In that day, it was President Richard M. Nixon abusing the power of his office in order to advance his political goals. Ironically, the FISA Act, which Bush and Gonzalez have argued is an obstacle on the Executive's power to conduct the "War on Terror", was actually passed just for that very reason, in response to such abuses by Nixon. It's entire purpose has been to insure that the President cannot do exactly what Bush is claiming the authority to do: ignore the law and the Constitution in order to fight a war more effectively. In a war in which Bush has admitted has no foreseeable end, this amounts to dictatorial powers for an American President, exercised in secret.

President Bush has abused his position as President and ordered a government agency under his control to break the law. In light of this, the remedy of impeachment must, finally, be given due consideration. Personally, I believe that the Iraq invasion itself should be sufficient grounds for such, though I recognize that establishing such a case would be nearly impossible. This domestic spying issue is entirely different, however. Not only do we have credible evidence that Bush both broke the law and violated the Constitution, Bush himself admits as much, while arguing that the Constitution doesn't really say what scholars have believed for 200 years that it says. So much for strict construction. It, along with most of our American concepts of civil rights and governmental powers, have fallen prey to the scorched earth policy of Bush's "War on Terror". If the goal of Al-Qaida is to destroy our way of life, then perhaps the NSA could find an operative complicit in those goals sitting in the Oval Office.

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