Power, Paranoia and Presidential Tyranny

That the United States, once touted as the "world’s greatest democracy," is now ruled by a presidential dictatorship is a fact beyond any serious dispute. Indeed, the nation’s political establishment seems to have accepted this revolutionary system with remarkable docility, even as its lineaments are further exposed week by week. The Bush Administration no longer bothers to hide the novel theory of government upon which its rule is based, but declares it openly, in court, in Congress, everywhere.

The theory holds that the president has the arbitrary right to ignore any law that he feels is an unconstitutional infringement of his power — and a law is automatically unconstitutional if the president feels it infringes on his power. This neatly-squared circle makes Congress irrelevant and removes the judiciary from the loop altogether. Thus the only effective power left in the land is the "unitary executive" — the fancy modern name that the legal minions of President George W. Bush have given to the ancient concept of "tyranny."

The true nature of this presidential dictatorship has been laid bare in a harrowing new book from reporter Ron Suskind: The One-Percent Doctrine. Suskind, who had earlier coaxed the Regime’s defining ethos from an arrogant Bushist — "We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality" — has painted the portrait of an administration drunk on lawless power, a junta operated from the shadows by the grim and literally heart-dead husk called Dick Cheney and his longtime companion in skullduggery, Don Rumsfeld.

As Suskind notes, it was Cheney who enunciated the certifiably paranoid principle that governs the regime’s behavior: If there is even a one-percent chance that some state or group might do serious harm to the United States, then America must respond as if that threat were a certainty — with full force, pre-emptively, disregarding any law or institution that might hinder what Bush likes to call the "path of action." Facts and truth are unimportant; the only thing that matters is the projection of unchallengeable power: "It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence," said Cheney. "It’s about our response."

This is plainly madness. Whether the insanity of the "doctrine" is genuine — i.e., a pathological panic reaction by gutless, pampered fat-cats scared of the slightest murmur from the dusky tribes out there beyond the iron gates and razor wire of privilege — or if, more likely, it is simply the chosen rationalization for a gang of predators tired of the few restraints that constitutional government has placed on their lust for loot and domination, the end result is the same: the most powerful country in the history of the world is being run by moral degenerates in thrall to a lunatic policy.

Suskind’s book is full of chilling passages — such as the vicious and pointless tortures inflicted, at Bush’s explicit suggestion, on a mentally ill al Qaeda flunky whom the Regime had, with knowing deceit, declared a top terrorist operative. When Abu Zubaydah was seized in Pakistan in March 2002, the White House trumpeted it as a "major victory" in the War on Terror. Bush declared that Zubaydah was one of al Qaeda’s "top operatives," a mastermind "plotting death and destruction to the United States." Bushist minions — and the ever-credulous press — identified Zubaydah as "chief of operations" for the terrorist organization, even "bin Laden’s potential heir," as Kurt Nimmo notes.

All of this was a lie. As interrogators quickly realized, Zubaydah was a lowly factotum — "al Qaeda’s travel agent" — who helped arrange journeys for the group’s members and families, and picked up people at the airport. He was also certifiably insane, suffering from a serious multiple personality disorder, displayed in the years of obsessively detailed diaries Zubaydah kept on his various fractured selves. He was virtually worthless as an intelligence asset.

But the White House wouldn’t accept this; they set out to "create their own reality." Told that Zubaydah had revealed nothing of value under ordinary interrogation, Bush first whined to CIA boss George Tenet — "You’re not gonna make me lose face on this, are ya?" — then pointedly asked: "So, do these harsh techniques work?" He was referring to the "torture memos" drawn up at his order in 2002 by the White House legal team: Machiavellian documents which declared that anything less than deliberate murder or permanent maiming should no longer be regarded as torture.

Bush’s sinister nod and wink were clearly understood. The wretched Zubaydah was then subjected to a series of tortures. As Suskind writes, he "was water-hooded, a technique in which a captive’s face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop, creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten. He was repeatedly threatened with and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuing noise and harsh lights." His broken mind snapped completely. He began spewing out whatever his tormentors wanted to hear: fantastic tales of plots targeting "shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, public water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty" — meat for countless "terror alerts" whenever the political situation called for a nice, juicy scare to goose the rubes.

But perhaps the most revealing moment in Suskind’s book is a brief vignette that captures the quintessence of Bush’s callous disregard for the American people — and the Regime’s strange, preternatural calm in the face of imminent attack. In August 2001, while Bush dawdled on his Texas dude ranch, the entire national security system was, in Tenet’s words, "blinking red" in expectation of a major terrorist strike; indeed, Tenet later said that the threat was so imminent that his "hair was on fire."

On Aug. 6, a CIA official brought the infamous "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" memo to Crawford, to read it out personally to the President and make sure he got the warning. Bush sat in silence as the briefer delivered his fell message. Duty done, the agent awaited the president’s orders, or the president’s guidance, or the president’s questions. He got nothing but a curt, snide dismissal: "All right, you’ve covered your ass now."

That was it. Bush had nothing else to say about this stark threat of impending slaughter. He had no questions, no advice; the "Commander-in-Chief" had no commands. Just smirking contempt. "You’ve covered your ass." You’ve gone through the motions, you’ve played your part in the charade, just like me — now get lost.

Even if you give Bush every benefit of the doubt here, even if you put the most charitable construction possible on his behavior — although his proven record of duplicity and malevolence deserves no such charity — even with all this, the very best you could say of his reaction is that it represents a blood-curdling degree of depraved indifference and criminal negligence, worthy of Nero.

Beyond this "best-case" scenario, you tumble into an abyss of ever-darker implications, a murk that may never be dispelled — "that dark maw where high politics and low murder feast on the same lies, the same flesh." But what we already know, what is plain as day, is bad enough: tyranny has come — aggressive, remorseless, murderous, mad.