January 22, 2011
In anticipation of President Obama’s State of the Union Address, representatives of both parties have reached out to each other and made special arrangements to sit together while the President delivers his speech. The symbolic gesture is seen as a sign that both parties have learned an important lesson about civility after the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona earlier this month. Perhaps, the sight of Democrats and Republicans intermingling on television rather than sitting across from each other as they did in previous State of the Union addresses will emphasize in most viewers minds a more negative thought than the representatives expect – that both parties share co-responsibility for the high unpopularity of the Congress.
|Coleen Rowley was picked to be one of three of Time’s Persons of the Year in 2002.|
One way to improve their image with the American people and the global public would be to finally begin serious hearings into the abuses of the Bush administration, and put pressure on the Obama Justice Department to investigate torture, and other crimes. By failing to restore the rule of law, and instead, embracing political theater and the insincere rhetoric about civility, leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as President Obama, essentially open themselves up for public ridicule, and public anger. The message about “civility” is dead on arrival. How can uncivilized men, who support criminal wars, mass spying of citizens, and torture, preach about civility? Words must match deeds, and so far, that has not happened in post-Bush Washington.
Last year, Glenn Greenwald wrote in an article called, The crime of not “Looking Backward,” about how President Obama and the rest of the political establishment immediately embraced the “grotesque immorality of the “Look Forward, Not Backwards” consensus,” soon after President Bush was out of office. Greenwald said:
During the Bush years, the United States government committed some of the most egregious crimes a government can commit. They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the U.S. has long been a party. Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that — at most — they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important “state secrets,” thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.
Every Obama-justifying excuse for Looking Forward, Not Backwards has been exposed as a sham (recall, for instance, the claim that we couldn’t prosecute Bush war crimes because it would ruin bipartisanship and Republicans wouldn’t support health care reform). But even if those excuses had been factually accurate, it wouldn’t have mattered. There are no legitimate excuses for averting one’s eyes from crimes of this magnitude and permitting them to go unexamined and unpunished. The real reason why “Looking Forward, Not Backwards” is so attractive to our political and media elites is precisely because they don’t want to face what they enabled and supported.
Everything that the American people looked forward to on the night that Barack Obama was elected President has not transpired in the two years that Obama has been in the White House. The illegal wars in the Middle East are continuing, the complete takeover of the government by Wall Street is accelerating, the spying infrastructure is expanding, and lawlessness at the very top shows no sign of stopping.
Very few in the U.S. government have left their post in the face of such abuses, and assaults on the freedoms and dignity of the American people. But those that either resigned or retired remain vocal and determined to hold their political leaders accountable for breaking the law, and acting against the public good. One of those individuals is former FBI agent and government whistleblower Coleen Rowley, who was picked to be one of three Time’s Persons of the Year in 2002. In her latest article called, “How Top Secret America Misfires,” Rowley writes that “those who value constitutional rights and civil liberties must ask Congress to initiate “Church Committee”-type hearings.” Rowley is concerned about the FBI’s unlawful surveillance of political activists and other anti-establishment groups in the name of fighting terrorism and keeping people safe, saying that the government’s post-9/11 policies “attack our basic constitutional right to dissent without making us safer.”
A 2010 report by Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild called, “The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the U.S.” backs up the claim that the U.S. government’s post-9/11 policies amount to a war on dissent and freedom of speech. The report states:
Constraints on speech are incompatible with a democracy. The Guild’s experiences and documentation at mass demonstrations clearly indicate that domestic anti-terrorism laws and policies and aggressive police practices have had a chilling effect on First Amendment protected speech. Would-be protesters or communities frequently targeted by the police, some of whom might be thinking about publicly exercising their First Amendment rights for the ﬁrst time, may decide that it is not worth the risk of encountering police violence and possible arrest.
The report identified several anti-free speech practices taken by the U.S. government, which include:
1: Falsely labeling protest rhetoric and political hyperbole as “true threats” to justify aggressive policing and prosecution
2: Using grand juries to harass political activists by imprisoning them, without speciﬁc criminal charges, for noncooperation with government investigations
3: Prosecuting leaders and those providing support to activists, often before or during events
4: Labeling, and stigmatizing, activists as “domestic terrorists
5: False statements by police, and laws prohibiting the photographing of police
6: Preemptive actions by police in the absence of illegal activity
7: Repression based on “evidence” fabricated by the police
8: Police-initiated violence and abusive use of less-lethal munitions against civilians
9: Negative media coverage
These police-state tricks are being applied to all kinds of political activists, from liberals to conservatives and libertarians. In March 2009 a police officer in Missouri leaked a law enforcement report to Infowars.com that depicted libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, and pro-gun rights advocates as domestic extremists. Paul Joseph Watson, Kurt Nimmo & Alex Jones broke the story, writing:
A secret report distributed by the Missouri Information Analysis Center lists Ron Paul supporters, libertarians, people who display bumper stickers, people who own gold, or even people who fly a U.S. flag and equates them with radical race hate groups and terrorists. This is merely the latest example in an alarming trend which confirms that law enforcement across the country is being trained that American citizens are a dangerous enemy.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
The point that gets lost in the public discourse about civility and decency is that the most mean-spirited language appears in official government documents, where words like “domestic extremists,” “terrorists,” and “radicals,” are used to describe people who are simply practicing their right to free speech, and working to bring real change. The National Lawyers Guild report says that the U.S. government unlawfully and wrongly equates protest with terrorism:
These trends and practices are informed in part by the Department of Justice’s enactment of domestic terrorism laws following the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the 2002 and subsequent repeated relaxations of the 1976 Attorney General’s guidelines on FBI surveillance, allowing spying on and inﬁltration of political groups and meetings. With passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, those who criticize the government or maintain ties with international political movements may ﬁnd themselves under investigation for domestic terrorism. As has been widely documented, the term “terrorism” is deﬁned so broadly in the Act that anyone who engages in traditional forms of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience may fall prey to its chilling embrace.
It is obvious why high-level government officials and political leaders in Washington want to maintain a system of repression at a time when their popularity is very low. If the American people became fully aware of all the crimes that have been committed in their name behind the scenes and without their knowledge, they would rightfully demand real change, and a clean break with the past. Such a political transformation would mean big changes in the CIA, DIA, NSA, and FBI, and big prison terms for the current and former leaders of these agencies who have acted criminally, and who are using government secrecy and propaganda to protect themselves from justice. As of now, these anti-democratic agencies are used as instruments of tyranny by government evildoers.
Historian Chalmers Johnson wrote in his book, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” that the lack of congressional oversight of the CIA’s actions encourages criminal behavior, and ensures that it will continue indefinitely without public knowledge. Johnson:
Since everything the CIA writes and does is secret, including its budget (regardless of article 1, section 9, of the Constitution, which says “a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time”), accountability to the elected representatives of the people or even an accurate historical record of actions is today inconceivable. Congressional oversight of the agency–and many other, ever-expanding intelligence outfits in the U.S. government, including the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA)–is, at best, a theatrical performance designed to distract and mislead the few Americans left who are concerned about constitutional government. In fact, the president’s untrammeled control of the CIA is probably the single most extraordinary power the imperial presidency possesses–totally beyond the balance of powers intended to protect the United States from the rise of a tyrant.
This situation is hardly new, although in late 2004, former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman declared that the Bush administration’s record in relation to the CIA represented “the worst intelligence scandal in the nation’s history.”(Johnson, pg 91).
The need for a new investigation into the September 11 attacks is clear to many. But reform can’t stop there. There are significant benefits of a wider congressional hearing into the crimes and abuses of the Bush administration, and the American government’s lawless intelligence agencies. One, the rule of law would be fully restored in Washington, which means the American government would gain instant credibility with the American people, the Muslim world, and everybody else. Right now it is a mockery of human justice that a terrorist state is leading counter-terrorism efforts all over the world. Second, America would become more powerful because a just government can influence the world in more fruitful ways than an unjust government. And third, other problems in the world besides the manufactured problem of “terrorism” can be faced, and fixed with greater political, social, and economic resources.
Four years ago, after the Democrats won majority in the Congress, and there was a similar mood of hope and change in the air as when Obama became President, Glenn Greenwald wrote an article called, “Confrontational investigations, subpoenas, and hearings are the priority,” saying how live congressional hearings into government corruption and official criminality can make people enthusiastic and optimistic about the democratic process in a way that nothing else can. His point was that hearings make the dramatic nature of mega crimes like the Iraq war real for the public because it is the highest form of democratic theater. It is justice on display. People become engaged and empowered when they can match faces with facts, and names with crimes. Greenwald:
Hearings are able, in a dramatic and television-news-friendly environment, to shed light on how extreme and radical this administration really has been in all of these areas. More than trying to repeal the worst legislative abuses of the last Congress, hearings — real and dramatic and probing — were the real promise of electing Democrats to take over the Congress. It is time — and it is beginning to be past the time — for that to start in earnest.
You can’t convince Americans of the need to stop abuses until you demonstrate to them in a dramatic and undeniable way that those absues are being perpetrated and that they are harmful and dangerous. Just as one example, FISA itself was enacted only after the Church Committee conducted a probing and aggressive investigation and exposed the decades of eavesdropping abuses on the part of the Executive branch, whereby all the heinous transgressions from J. Edgar Hoover’s blackmail-motivated eavesdropping on Martin Luther King to the array of Nixonian surveillance excesses came to light in all of their unvarnished and ugly reality. Americans were not moved by abstract notions of privacy or checks and balances but by the real life anecdotes of abuses and the evidence demonstrating how widespread they were.
The chance that there will be congressional hearings into official criminality at the highest levels of the U.S. government will grow as long as the call for grand political reform by brave voices like Coleen Rowley get louder and louder. It would be a sign of great hope if other like-minded current and former government officials join her, and demand that Congress take serious action. The voices of civil society can awaken and alert the public about the dangers to their lives and freedoms from government criminals only up to a point, individuals in authority have to give credence to people’s grievances, and lend their support to calls for political reform. Ultimately, public pressure must be put on Congress to begin aggressive hearings into the abuses and crimes of the Bush administration by the American people, and by people across the world because the crimes of the American government reach far beyond its own borders.
How future hearings play out, and how justice will be dealt are two interesting questions. Will there be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like there was in Chile after the end of the Pinochet reign, and in South Africa after the fall of the Apartheid regime? Or will the American people demand that the war criminals face a greater ordeal?
Sam Stein of the Huffington Post reported on how bipartisan lawmakers might approach investigation into torture and other crimes back in April of 2009. He wrote:
If investigations actually do go forward, there seem to be three clear options: creating an independent commission, launching a congressional probe, or having the Department of Justice tackle the topic, likely by appointing a special prosecutor.
I hope legal minds and scholars of truth commissions get together and share their thoughts about how America should deal with its past, and its criminal leaders. The time to begin thinking about justice is never too late.
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