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How to Make a Power Grab 'Mundane'

James Bovard / Editor & Publisher | October 23 2006

The Washington Post's story today -- "Bush Signs Terrorism Measure" -- looks like just another routine report on the approval of a piece of legislation, accompanied by the usual "he said/ she said" quotes. A typical reader might shrug at this point and shift to the sports section to read the latest autopsy on the Redskins.

How will we know when a dictatorship has arrived? Not from reading the Washington Post. The Post's story today -- “Bush Signs Terrorism Measure” -- looks like just another routine report on the approval of a piece of legislation, accompanied by the usual “he said/ she said” balancing quotes.

The Military Commissions Act is widely seen as legalizing torture, but the article avoids any such mention of the T-word. Though the act revolutionizes American jurisprudence by permitting the use of tortured confessions in judicial proceedings, the Post discretely notes only that defendants will face “restrictions on their ability to ... exclude evidence gained through witness coercion.”

The lead of the Post article declares that the new law will “set the rules for the trials of key al-Qaeda members.” A typical subway strap hanger reader might shrug at this point and shift to the Sports section to read the latest autopsy on the Washington Redskins. The Post neglects to mention that the bill codifies the president's power to label anyone on Earth an “enemy combatant” -- based on secret evidence which the government need not disclose.

The Post mentions new “restrictions” on detainees' ability “to challenge their incarceration.” The article neglects to add “until hell freezes over.” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) characterized the bill's suspension of habeas corpus as akin to turning “back the clock 800 years.” But, according to the Post, this reform is simply another provision in just another bill - and, anyhow, so many bills get signed this time of year.

The Post says nothing about how the new law makes the president legislator, prosecutor, judge, and bailiff. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin notes, “The President has created a new regime in which he is a law unto himself on issues of prisoner interrogations. He decides whether he has violated the laws, and he decides whether to prosecute the people he in turn urges to break the law.”

The tone of the Post article is akin to a bored broadcaster's reading from the Teleprompter: “In other news today, the government announced that the price of gasoline would be reduced by seven cents a gallon and also suspended the Bill of Rights.”

The Military Commissions Act is a stark power grab - but one would never know it from the Post's account.

At some point, it is conceivable that the U.S. government's repression could become more overt. And how would the Washington Post likely cover that?

* “As U.S. army tanks rolled through the streets of Washington, the DC police chief reported that the robbery rate fell 27%.”

* “National Guard units fired on demonstrators on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday, damaging two Starbucks restaurants and seven newspaper vending machines.”

* “The president announced that he has the right to wiretap anyone's phones. ...” WAIT. This example doesn't work. The president already did that earlier this year so it is no longer news. Most of the media swallowed dutifully and deferred when the president relabeled the spying as “The Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

Amusingly, on the same page A4, just below the article on the military commissions act, the Post has a “Washington in Brief” snippet entitled “Bush signs Defense Bill with Some Reservations.” The Post's account notes that, when Bush signed the $532.8 billion military appropriations bill, he included a “long list of caveats.” Bush's signing statement “singled out about a dozen provisions that would require the White House to provide Congress with information on various subjects. Bush reminded lawmakers of ‘the president's constitutional authority to withhold information. ...'”

The president proclaims his right to violate laws by denying Congress information on what the U.S. military is doing - and the Post draws no inference on how the powers conveyed by the Military Commissions Act could be used.

Bush has added more than 800 “signing statements” to new laws since he took office. He is the first to use signing statements routinely to nullify key provisions of new laws. The American Bar Association recently declared that Bush's signing statements are "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers." But the Washington Post portrays the signing statements as simply a gentlemanly difference of opinion between the president and congressmen. It neglects to mention that the president now claims boundless prerogative to what is the law.

And this is how the Washington Post and much of the Establishment media portray almost every government seizure of power. It is never a question of looming tyranny: instead, it is only a question of different perspectives on how best to serve the American public. Waiting for the Washington press corps to sound the alarm on Leviathan is like waiting for Bush to renounce his love of power.

 

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