The most important casualties of September 11 are respect for truth and American liberty. Propaganda has replaced deliberation based on objective assessment of fact. The resurrection of the Star Chamber has made moot the legal protections of liberty.
The US invasion of Iraq was based on the deliberate suppression of fact. The invasion was not the result of mistaken intelligence. It was based on deliberately concocted "intelligence" designed to deceive the US Congress, the American public, and the United Nations.
In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC News, General Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State at the time of the invasion, expressed dismay that he was the one who took the false information to the UN and presented it to the world. The weapons of mass destruction speech, he said, is a "blot" on his record. The full extent of the deception was made clear by the leaked top secret "Downing Street Memos."
Two and one-half years after the March 2003 invasion, the US Congress and the American people still do not know the reason Iraq was invaded. The US is bogged down in an expensive and deadly combat, and no one outside the small circle of neoconservatives who orchestrated the war knows the reason why. Many guesses are rendered — oil, removal of Israel’s enemy — but the Bush administration has never disclosed its real agenda, which it cloaked with the WMD deception.
This itself is powerful indication that American democracy is dead. With the exception of rightwing talk radio, everyone in America now knows that the invasion of Iraq was based on false information. Yet, 40 percent of the public and both political parties in Congress still support the ongoing war.
The CIA has issued a report that the war is working only for Osama bin Laden. The unprovoked American aggression against Iraq, the horrors perpetrated against Muslims in Abu Ghraib prison, and the slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqi noncombatants, have radicalized the Muslim world and elevated bin Laden from a fringe figure to a leader opposed to American hegemony in the Middle East. The chaos created in Iraq by the US military has provided al Qaeda with superb training grounds for insurgency and terrorism. Despite overwhelming evidence that the "war on terror" is in fact a war for terror, Republicans still cheer when Bush says we have to "fight them over there" so they don’t come "over here."
If fact played any role in the decision to continue with this war, the US would not be spending hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars to provide recruits and training for al Qaeda, to radicalize Muslims, and to destroy trust in the United States both abroad and among its own citizens.
American casualties (dead and wounded) of this gratuitous war are now approximately 20,000. In July, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said the war might continue for 12 years. US casualties from such protracted combat would eat away US troop strength. Considering the well-publicized recruitment problems, America would require a draft or foreign mercenaries in order to continue a ground war. Like the over-extended Roman Empire, the US would have to deplete its remaining wealth to pay mercenaries.
Dead and wounded Americans are too high a price to pay for a war based on deception. This alone is reason to end the war, if necessary by impeaching Bush and Cheney and arresting the neoconservatives for treason. Naked aggression is a war crime under the Nuremberg standard, and neoconservatives have brought this shame to America.
There is an even greater cost of the war — the legal system that protects liberty, a human achievement for which countless numbers of people gave their lives over the centuries. The Bush administration used September 11 to whip up fear and hysteria and to employ these weapons against American liberty. The Orwellian-named Patriot Act has destroyed habeas corpus. The executive branch has gained the unaccountable power to detain American citizens on mere suspicion or accusation, without evidence, and to hold Americans indefinitely without a trial.
Foolishly, many Americans believe this power can only be used against terrorists. Americans don’t realize that the government can declare anyone to be a terrorist suspect. As no evidence is required, it is entirely up to the government to decide who is a terrorist. Thus, the power is unaccountable. Unaccountable power is the source of tyranny.
The English-speaking world has not seen such power since the 16th and 17th centuries when the Court of Star Chamber became a political weapon used against the king’s opponents and to circumvent Parliament. The Star Chamber dispensed with juries, permitted hearsay evidence, and became so reviled that "Star Chamber" became a byword for injustice. The Long Parliament abolished the Star Chamber in 1641. In obedience to the Bush regime, the US Congress resurrected it with the Patriot Act. Can anything be more Orwellian than identifying patriotism with the abolition of habeas corpus?
Historians are quick to note that the Star Chamber was mild compared to Gitmo, to the US practice of sending detainees abroad to be tortured, and to the justice (sic) regime being run by Attorney General "Torture" Gonzales and his predecessor, "Draped Justice" Ashcroft, who went so far as to say that opposition to the Patriot Act was itself the mark of a terrorist.
The time-honored attorney-client privilege is another casualty of the "war on terror." Taking their cue from the restrictions placed on lawyers representing Stalin’s victims in the 1930s show trials, Justice (sic) Department officials seek to limit attorneys representing terrorist suspects to procedural niceties. Lynn Stewart, attorney for Omar Abdel Rahman, was handed a letter by a Justice (sic) Department prosecutor instructing her how to represent her client. When she did what every good lawyer would do and represented her client aggressively, she was arrested, indicted and convicted.
Many conservative lawyers have turned a blind eye, because Stewart is regarded as a leftwing lawyer whom they dislike. Only a few civil libertarians, such as Harvey Silverglate, have pointed out that prosecutors cannot create felonies by writing letters to attorneys. Stewart was convicted for violating a prosecutor’s letter (technically, a Special Administrative Measure). This should make it obvious even to the blind that American democracy has lost all control over law.
Federal officials have sensed the sea change in American law: arbitrary actions and assertions by federal officials are taking the place of statutory legislation. We saw an example recently when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that news media covering the New Orleans hurricane story were prohibited from taking pictures of the bodies of inhabitants drowned when the levees failed. Nowhere is FEMA given authority to override the First Amendment. Yet, FEMA officials saw no reason not to issue its decree. Rome had one caesar. America has them throughout the executive branch.
We see the same exercise of arbitrary authority in break-ins by police into New Orleans homes in order to confiscate legally owned firearms. No authority exists for these violations of the Second Amendment. No authority exists for the forceful removal of residents from non-damaged homes. Tyrannical precedents are being established by these fantastic abuses of government authority.
In the US today nothing stands in the way of the arbitrary exercise of power by government. Federal courts have acquiesced in unconstitutional detention policies. There is no opposition party, and there is no media, merely huge conglomerates or collections of federal broadcasting licenses, the owners of which are afraid to displease the government.
The collapse of the institutions that confine government to law and bind it with the Constitution was sudden. The president previous to Bush was impeached by the House for lying about a sexual affair. If we go back to the 1970s, President Richard Nixon had the decency to resign when it came to light that he had lied about when he first learned of a minor burglary. Bush’s failures are far more serious and numerous; yet, Bush has escaped accountability.
Polls show that a majority of Americans have lost confidence in the Iraq war and believe Bush did a poor job responding to flooded New Orleans. Many Americans hope that these two massive failures have put Bush back into the box of responsible behavior from which September 11 allowed him to escape. However, there is no indication that the Bush administration sees any constraints placed on its behavior by these failures.
The identical cronyism and corrupt government contract practices, by which taxpayers’ money is used to reward political contributors, so evident in Iraq, is now evident in New Orleans.
Despite having been fought to a stalemate by a few thousand insurgents in Iraq, the Bush administration continues to issue thunderous threats to Syria and Iran.
To press its fabricated case against Iran’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program, the Bush administration is showing every foreign diplomat it can corral an hour-long slide show titled, "A History of Concealment and Deception." Wary foreigners are reminded of the presentations about Iraq’s WMD and wonder who is guilty of deception, Iran or the Bush administration.
Now that the war in Iraq has established that US ground forces cannot easily prevail against insurgency, the Bush administration is bringing new military threats to the fore. The neocon orchestrated "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" abandons the established doctrine that nuclear weapons are last-resort options. The Bush administration is so enamored of coercion that it is birthing the doctrine of preemptive nuclear attack. US war doctrine is being altered to eliminate the need for a large invasion force and to use "preventive nuclear strikes" in its place.
Is this the face that the American people want to present to the world? It is hard to imagine a greater risk to America than to put the entire world on notice that every country risks being nuked based on mere suspicion. By making nuclear war permissible, the Bush administration is crossing the line that divides civilized people from barbarians. The United States is starting to acquire the image of Nazi Germany. Knowledgeable people should have no trouble drawing up their own list of elements common to both the Bush and Hitler regimes: the use of extraordinary lies to justify military aggression; reliance on coercion and threats in place of diplomacy; total belief in the virtue and righteousness of one’s cause; the equating of factual objections or "reality-based" analysis to treason; the redirection of patriotism from country to leader; the belief that defeat resides in debate and a weakening of will; refuge in delusion and denial when promised results don’t materialize.
As Professor Claes Ryn made clear in his book, America the Virtuous, the neoconservatives are neo-Jacobins. There is nothing conservative about them. They are committed to the use of coercion to impose their agenda. Their attitude is merciless toward anyone in their way, whether fellow citizen or foreigner. "You are with us or against us." For those on the receiving end, the Nazi and Jacobin mentalities come to the same thing.
The Bush administration has abandoned American principles. It is a Jacobin regime. Woe to its citizens and the rest of the world.
Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, former contributing editor for National Review, and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.