I got an email from the Democratic Party urging me to help Jim Webb craft a response to Bush’s State of the Union address. Unusually for me, I obliged, offering my two cents on Bush’s record on civil liberties. Needless to say, it’s weaker than it would’ve been without the constraint of not criticizing legislation like the Patriot Act, which the Democrats backed.
President Bush’s repeated attacks on our civil liberties are a grave concern. He has turned a blind eye to gross atrocities committed by American soldiers in Iraq. While Denmark responded to accusations of torture on the part of its troops by immediately recalling the base commander pending an investigation, Bush’s America contented itself with prosecuting a few enlisted men.
He has relied on fringe legal opinion in crafting a theory of a unitary executive, unbounded by any Congressional statute or Supreme Court ruling. Based on that theory, he ignored legislation requiring him to get warrants for wiretaps. That legislation is very lenient on the executive; while British counter-terrorism officers have to submit warrant requests to the same court regardless of whether the matter is terrorism or a petty crime, American ones can submit requests to a special FISA court, which only refuses a request in 3,600 and modifies one in a hundred. Despite that lenience, President Bush flouted the law and engaged in unsupervised, warrantless, unaccountable wiretapping.
His assault on civil liberties causes inmates in Guantanamo Bay to be held without charge and with barely if any access to legal counsel. Three days ago, the Attorney General appeared before Congress and said, “There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” When called on that remark, he resorted to legal sophistry, saying that the Constitution “simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended.”
President Bush’s defenders will say that giving the detainees of Guantanamo rights is absurd, because in World War Two the Allies kept German prisoners of war interned until the war ended. But in World War Two, the US Armed Forces did not randomly kidnap German civilians. They did not send people to Germany where they would be tortured for draft evasion or defection; the repatriation of Soviet prisoners of war is widely considered a murderous mistake. Domestically, Roosevelt did not intern German-Americans or Italian-Americans except those who members of Nazi or Fascist organizations; the interning of Japanese-Americans is considered one of the darkest moments in American history, together with slavery and segregation.
The President has repeatedly shown contempt for Constitutionally protected freedoms. His administration has deported people to countries where it knew they would be tortured. It ignored FISA and the Geneva Conventions, and then dragooned Congress to pass legislation retroactively legalizing its actions. It has made a mockery of the writ of habeas corpus. The Bush administration has become the very definition of the phrase “weak on civil liberties.”