Issue V: Civil Liberties, Torture, and the Constitution

17 May

In case you missed it
The French Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, 53% – 47%. The common law-wife of former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (they, ahem, never got married despite 4 kids between them) she was the mainstream candidate of the left while the winner, Nicolas Sarkozy, catered to the hard-right. The banileaus may catch fire again under this great guy.
So in my enlightened opinion, let’s not support Hillary if we want the Democrats to win the White House. And even if she wins it all, I don’t think it would be a win for progressive values at all. More mushy pro-corporate centrism will flower again from the White House. Yuck.

And if you don’t associate the words “Chiquita banana” with “right-wing paramilitary death squad” that is because you probably haven’t read this. It seems that Chiquita Banana paid the Colombian United Armed Self-Defense Forces (a right-wing paramilitary group and declared terrorist organization by the State Department) $1.7 million. This was presumably used to kill anyone suspected of being associated with the left-wing terrorist group FARC and, oh while they were at it, any union leaders in the area trying to get a better deal for Colombian workers. Too crazy to be true? They were probably copying Coca-Cola who did the same thing against a Colombian union organizing a bottling factory.

If you judge a man by his friends, I don’t think the fact the Colombia is our strongest ally in South America reflects well on the United States given that the president is a murderous, right-wing narco-trafficker with fat ties with the AUC. Oh yeah, and Colombia is the number 1 recipient of American aid in the Americas (third in the world after Israel and Egypt).

And right-wing terrorists are A-OK with U.S, especially when they kill Cubans.

My opinion
If you’ve read anything I have written about the news, it’s probably no secret that I am not a fan of the current president. I am a man of the left, and the president is a man of the far-right. Though I do disagree very strongly with the president’s social and economic policies, I want to state clearly that the main reason (besides Iraq) I consider George W. Bush one of the worst presidents in American history will be because of his attacks on separation of powers, the judiciary, civil liberties, the separation between church and state, federal law, and the independence of career civil servants in the federal government. In short, I believe that the President is a threat to the rule of law and the Constitution.

Does that sound extreme? You tell me after I tell you my reasons (and maybe check out the 10 steps for a fascist America for more info). I am going to focus on torture and signing statements for this round.

To quote Bill Maher, “He put his hand on the Bible to swear to uphold the Constitution. He didn’t put his hand on the Constitution to sweat to uphold the Bible.”

My most unfavorite airline, Air Torture

The most disturbing thing about this Administration is the fact they are want to increase presidential power at the expense of Congress, the judiciary, and the law. And what do they do with that power? Torture people.

Secret detention centers were broken by the Washington Post in 2005. However, I knew about this even earlier from the Guardian of London when they wrote about a German citizen who was kidnapped-deported from Yugoslavia by the CIA and tortured for months in Afghanistan. He pleaded that he was innocent, and his family thought he was dead after that long. Finally, pleading from the German embassy and Condaleeza Rice’s personal request got him back.

This practice of kidnapping suspected terrorists (emphasis on suspected) and taking them to secret prisons was suspected by the Red Cross. The Red Cross is more famous for its efforts in disaster relief, but one of the other things it does is monitor the status of prisons around the world and write confidential reports on prison conditions to the governments that run the prisons. However, a Red Cross prison report was leaked that said that the Red Cross suspected that the United States not telling them where all their prisons where and that there were, in fact, secret prisons off the books that no one knew about and were not monitored. These secret prisons are called “black sites” because people basically drop off the face of the earth, and no one hears from them again. Thousands of people are being kept in these secret prisons. People are being disappeared. Some of them are killed under questioning.

This practice of kidnapping suspects and torturing them in friendly countries (Poland and Afghanistan) and dictatorships (like Jordan) is called extraordinary rendition. One of the kidnappings occurred in Italy, and Italian judge has issued warrants for the arrests of the CIA officers who kidnapped the suspects. We have extradition treaties with countries, and by God we SHOULD FOLLOW THEM.

In case you weren’t aware, torture is sort of banned by the Eighth Amendment and federal law and by treaty. Outsourcing the torture to another country is also illegal under federal law. George Bush thinks he is above the Constitution, federal law, and international treaties because his little weasel lawyer, Alberto Gonzales, wrote some memos saying otherwise. And that makes him the threat to the Constitution I say he is.

Presidential Power
Dick Cheney thinks the president can do whatever he wants . The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer this year for its series on presidential power and how the current administration thinks it can go back to the good ol’ days of the imperial presidencies of JFK, Johnson, and Nixon. To quote:

The Constitution empowers Congress to pass laws regulating the executive branch, but over the course of his career, Cheney came to believe that the modern world is too dangerous and complex for a president’s hands to be tied. He embraced a belief that presidents have vast “inherent” powers, not spelled out in the Constitution, that allow them to defy Congress.

I know someone who said something like that, emperor-president Nixon who said, “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Dick Cheney also believes a president can go to war without the approval of Congress. This about the first Gulf War when Cheney was the secretary of defense:

But Bush rejected Cheney’s advice and asked Congress for a vote in support of the war. The resolution passed — barely. Had Congress voted no, Cheney later said, he would have urged Bush to launch the Gulf War regardless.

“From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed,” Cheney said in the 1996 documentary. “If we’d lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway.”

Call me a prude, but I find that pretty shocking that the president can override Congress even on the matter of starting a war. I remember before the present war that the Administration tried to pretend they didn’t need authorization for the Iraq war because they had it in the Afghanistan/9-11 authorization. THEN when they went to Congress with a proposal, it was initially worded to say the “Middle East” and not “Iraq” so they could invade anywhere they wanted to. They had to take that part out, but it gives you an idea of the mindset these people have.

Signing Statements
Now I am going to combine these two threads by showing how Bush claimed authority to break the law. When the torture scandals broke out, Sen. John McCain made a very big deal about how he thought the United States should not torture people. Being a victim of torture in Vietnam, he felt that the United States belittles itself when it stoops to the level of torture and that torturing others will allow our enemies to justify torturing our own soldiers.

So Mr. McCain wrote an amendment to be added to the Defense Department budget banning torture by the CIA by making them follow the same guidelines as the United States Army which forbids torture. Dick Cheney went fucking ballistic and did everything he could to keep the Senate from adopting the amendment which couldn’t be vetoed without vetoing the whole Pentagon budget. When McCain refused to back down because he had over 90 votes for his amendment, Cheney gave up. The amendment was added and the budget went to Bush for signing.

Now pop quiz ladies and gentlemen. When a president receives a bill, according the Constitution, what can he do? The correct answer is A) Sign it into law or B) Veto it (which can be overridden by 2/3 of Congress, which McCain had). Very good children. And what do we do if we are George W. Bush, the threat to the American Republic?

We sign the bill into law, and then add a “signing statement.” These signing statements add WHATEVER THE PRESIDENT WANTS to the law passed by Congress (and presidents don’t write laws last time I checked). Which is what George Bush did. And what did his signing statement say? It said that torture is illegal, unless the president doesn’t feel like it. George Bush basically took a piss on Congress, the rule of law, and the anti-torture amendment by adding “a waiver” to the torture ban.

Isolated incident? The President has been signing hundreds of laws with “signing statements” including most outrageously, a signing statement to a routine post office bill saying that he can spy on your mail without a warrant despite the fact that bill SPECIFICALLY FORBID THIS. The American Bar Association said that the practice was dangerous and unconstitutional and an affront to separation of powers.

I agree. I kinda like the Constitution the way it was. Must be nostalgia mixed with that old-fashioned American hatred of tyranny.

Phone Spying! Ker-pow! With a dialtone!
The president is also point-blank breaking the law by monitoring the phone conversations of of Americans without a warrant from the secret FISA court which issues warrants for phone taps. This story came from the New York Times in 2005. However, they had known this since 2004 and SAT ON THE STORY for a year because the Bush Administration told them not to publish it. How nice of them!!! It’s so cute when the “liberal media” plays footsie with the President. They probably didn’t want to hurt his feelings…. or I dunno…. that thing that happened in 2004…. some sort of election. I forget.

USA Today (yeah I know) actually broke a story for once in its life when it revealed in 2006 that the National Security Agency was making a database of millions of long distance calls with BellSouth, Southwestern Bell, and Verizon (so everywhere but the Northwest, which has Qwest). The American Civil Liberties Union sued saying that the program was unconstitutional. The program was been ruled illegal by a judge who wrote, “There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution .”

Damn straight.

The new news this week, though, is that Attorney General Ashcroft (AG during Bush’s first term) thought the NSA program was illegal and refused to sign off on it. So Alberto Gonzales (the current attorney general, then just a White House lawyer) waited until Ashcroft was in the hospital after gallbladder surgery to get Ashcroft to sign off on it hoping he’d be woozy from the surgery. And Ashcroft (who I totally hated for his anti-freedom agenda) SAID NO! That tells you something when John Ashcroft thinks anti-terrorism is gone too far in bending the laws, and that tells you what kind of weasel our current idiot attorney general is. And btw, that’s how Newt Gingrich got divorced…. he brought the papers to his wife’s hospital room.

Why you should give a shit
Because the Constitution matters. And because freedom matters. And because freedom can’t defend itself. And because of what was done before these anti-snooping laws existed.

Once upon a time, there was a racist transvestite who didn’t believe in the Mafia and had the largest stash of pornography in the United States. You may know him as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover ran the FBI from when it was founded until his death in the 1970s. When he died, and after that little thing called Watergate, people became sort of interested in the organized crime known as government. And this is what they found out.

J. Edgar Hoover kept files on everybody. Anybody who he thought was a threat to America or anti-American. I’m talking John Lennon, Albert Einstein, John Kerry, the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King. Oh yeah, and the Doors too. One of the things found out by the Church Committee (named after Sen. Frank Church) was a program of massive spying on peaceful Americans involved in the antiwar movement, civil rights, and the counterculture (see this about the spying at UT-Austin). Movements would be infiltrated with cops and soldiers and people wouldn’t know who was a real activist and who was a cop. Most famously, the FBI wiretapped Martin Luther King’s phones and taped him having sex. They sent the tapes to all the major media and told them to publish the story of his affair (nobody did). Then they sent a letter to his wife with the tape, and a letter to MLK saying, “we suggest that you kill yourself.”

COINTELPRO is another program (counter-intelligence program) that spied on the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King and other “communist front groups.” If you care enough, you can look up the declassified documents of this program on the Internet. If I remember correctly, some of the documents mention “neutralizing” King (politically or mortally is not said). This is probably were the rumors (or truth?) of the FBI being involved in Martin Luther King’s assassination. See the Church Committee on King.

These anti-spying laws were passed for a reason. Political protest and organization is protected under the Bill Rights, and we have a right to not be kept from using that right. Spying and subversion of protest cuts at the heart of our democracy. Bush and his old Nixon hands (like Cheney) working in his Cabinet want us to return to those days of the 60s and 70s. They want to return us to the days of the imperial presidency. And that, my friends, is why they are a threat to the Constitution.

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One Response to “Issue V: Civil Liberties, Torture, and the Constitution”

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  1. Because the Constitution isn’t a Special Interest « The Bhatany Report - July 10, 2008

    […] Bhatany Report – Issue V: Civil Liberties, Torture, and the Constituion […]

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