25 June 2004

Democracy Itself is in Grave Danger 

by Al Gore

American Constitution Society
Georgetown University Law Center

June 24, 2004

When we Americans first began, our biggest danger was clearly in view: we knew from the bitter experience with King George III that the most serious threat to democracy is usually the accumulation of too much power in the hands of an Executive, whether he be a King or a president. Our ingrained American distrust of concentrated power has very little to do with the character or persona of the individual who wields that power. It is the power itself that must be constrained, checked, dispersed and carefully balanced, in order to ensure the survival of freedom. In addition, our founders taught us that public fear is the most dangerous enemy of democracy because under the right circumstances it can trigger the temptation of those who govern themselves to surrender that power to someone who promises strength and offers safety, security and freedom from fear.

It is an extraordinary blessing to live in a nation so carefully designed to protect individual liberty and safeguard self-governance and free communication. But if George Washington could see the current state of his generation's handiwork and assess the quality of our generation's stewardship at the beginning of this twenty-first century, what do you suppose he would think about the proposition that our current president claims the unilateral right to arrest and imprison American citizens indefinitely without giving them the right to see a lawyer or inform their families of their whereabouts, and without the necessity of even charging them with any crime. All that is necessary, according to our new president is that he - the president - label any citizen an "unlawful enemy combatant," and that will be sufficient to justify taking away that citizen's liberty - even for the rest of his life, if the president so chooses. And there is no appeal.

What would Thomas Jefferson think of the curious and discredited argument from our Justice Department that the president may authorize what plainly amounts to the torture of prisoners - and that any law or treaty, which attempts to constrain his treatment of prisoners in time of war is itself a violation of the constitution our founders put together.

What would Benjamin Franklin think of President Bush's assertion that he has the inherent power - even without a declaration of war by the Congress - to launch an invasion of any nation on Earth, at any time he chooses, for any reason he wishes, even if that nation poses no imminent threat to the United States.

How long would it take James Madison to dispose of our current President's recent claim, in Department of Justice legal opinions, that he is no longer subject to the rule of law so long as he is acting in his role as Commander in Chief.

I think it is safe to say that our founders would be genuinely concerned about these recent developments in American democracy and that they would feel that we are now facing a clear and present danger that has the potential to threaten the future of the American experiment.

Shouldn't we be equally concerned? And shouldn't we ask ourselves how we have come to this point?

Even though we are now attuned to orange alerts and the potential for terrorist attacks, our founders would almost certainly caution us that the biggest threat to the future of the America we love is still the endemic challenge that democracies have always faced whenever they have appeared in history - a challenge rooted in the inherent difficulty of self governance and the vulnerability to fear that is part of human nature. Again, specifically, the biggest threat to America is that we Americans will acquiesce in the slow and steady accumulation of too much power in the hands of one person.

Having painstakingly created the intricate design of America, our founders knew intimately both its strengths and weaknesses, and during their debates they not only identified the accumulation of power in the hands of the executive as the long-term threat which they considered to be the most serious, but they also worried aloud about one specific scenario in which this threat might become particularly potent - that is, when war transformed America's president into our commander in chief, they worried that his suddenly increased power might somehow spill over its normal constitutional boundaries and upset the delicate checks and balances they deemed so crucial to the maintenance of liberty.

That is precisely why they took extra care to parse the war powers in the constitution, assigning the conduct of war and command of the troops to the president, but retaining for the Congress the crucial power of deciding whether or not, and when, our nation might decide to go war.

Indeed, this limitation on the power of the executive to make war was seen as crucially important. James Madison wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, "The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature."

In more recent decades, the emergence of new weapons that virtually eliminate the period of time between the decision to go to war and the waging of war have naturally led to a reconsideration of the exact nature of the executive's war-making power. But the practicalities of modern warfare which necessarily increase the war powers of the President at the expense of Congress do not render moot the concerns our founders had so long ago that the making of war by the president - when added to his other powers - carries with it the potential for unbalancing the careful design of our constitution, and in the process, threatening our liberty.

They were greatly influenced - far more than we can imagine - by a careful reading of the history and human dramas surrounding the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman republic. They knew, for example, that democracy disappeared in Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon in violation of the Senate's long prohibition against a returning general entering the city while still in command of military forces. Though the Senate lingered in form and was humored for decades, when Caesar impoliticly combined his military commander role with his chief executive role, the Senate - and with it the Republic - withered away. And then for all intents and purposes, the great dream of democracy disappeared from the face of the Earth for seventeen centuries, until its rebirth in our land.

Symbolically, President Bush has been attempting to conflate his commander-in-chief role and his head of government role to maximize the power people are eager to give those who promise to defend them against active threats. But as he does so, we are witnessing some serious erosion of the checks and balances that have always maintained a healthy democracy in America.

In Justice Jackson's famous concurring opinion in the Youngstown Steel case in the 1950's, the single most important Supreme Court case on the subject of what powers are inherent to the commander in chief in a time of war, he wrote, "The example of such unlimited executive power that must have most impressed the forefathers was the prerogative exercised by George III, and the description of its evils in the declaration of independence leads me to doubt that they created their new Executive in their image...and if we seek instruction from our own times, we can match it only from the Executive governments we disparagingly describe as totalitarian."

I am convinced that our founders would counsel us today that the greatest challenge facing our republic is not terrorism but how we react to terrorism, and not war, but how we manage our fears and achieve security without losing our freedom. I am also convinced that they would warn us that democracy itself is in grave danger if we allow any president to use his role as commander in chief to rupture the careful balance between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. Our current president has gone to war and has come back into "the city" and declared that our nation is now in a permanent state of war, which he says justifies his reinterpretation of the Constitution in ways that increase his personal power at the expense of Congress, the courts, and every individual citizen.

We must surrender some of our traditional American freedoms, he tells us, so that he may have sufficient power to protect us against those who would do us harm. Public fear remains at an unusually high level almost three years after we were attacked on September 11th, 2001. In response to those devastating attacks, the president properly assumed his role as commander in chief and directed a military invasion of the land in which our attackers built their training camps, were harbored and planned their assault. But just as the tide of battle was shifting decisively in our favor, the commander in chief made a controversial decision to divert a major portion of our army to invade another country that, according to the best evidence compiled in a new, exhaustive, bi-partisan study, posed no imminent threat to us and had nothing to do with the attack against us.

As the main body of our troops were redeployed for the new invasion, those who organized the attacks against us escaped and many of them are still at large. Indeed, their overall numbers seem to have grown considerably because our invasion of the country that did not pose any imminent threat to us was perceived in their part of the world as a gross injustice, and the way in which we have conducted that war further fueled a sense of rage against the United States in those lands and, according to several studies, has stimulated a wave of new recruits for the terrorist group that attacked us and still wishes us harm.

A little over a year ago, when we launched the war against this second country, Iraq, President Bush repeatedly gave our people the clear impression that Iraq was an ally and partner to the terrorist group that attacked us, al Qaeda, and not only provided a geographic base for them but was also close to providing them weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear bombs. But now the extensive independent investigation by the bipartisan commission formed to study the 9/11 attacks has just reported that there was no meaningful relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda of any kind. And, of course, over the course of this past year we had previously found out that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So now, the President and the Vice President are arguing with this commission, and they are insisting that the commission is wrong and they are right, and that there actually was a working co-operation between Iraq and al Qaeda.

The problem for the President is that he doesn't have any credible evidence to support his claim, and yet, in spite of that, he persists in making that claim vigorously. So I would like to pause for a moment to address the curious question of why President Bush continues to make this claim that most people know is wrong. And I think it's particularly important because it is closely connected to the questions of constitutional power with which I began this speech, and will profoundly affect how that power is distributed among our three branches of government.

To begin with, our founders wouldn't be the least bit surprised at what the modern public opinion polls all tell us about why it's so important particularly for President Bush to keep the American people from discovering that what he told them about the linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda isn't true. Among these Americans who still believe there is a linkage, there remains very strong support for the President's decision to invade Iraq. But among those who accept the commission's detailed finding that there is no connection, support for the war in Iraq dries up pretty quickly.

And that's understandable, because if Iraq had nothing to do with the attack or the organization that attacked us, then that means the President took us to war when he didn't have to. Almost nine hundred of our soldiers have been killed, and almost five thousand have been wounded.

Thus, for all these reasons, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have decided to fight to the rhetorical death over whether or not there's a meaningful connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. They think that if they lose that argument and people see the truth, then they'll not only lose support for the controversial decision to go to war, but also lose some of the new power they've picked up from the Congress and the courts, and face harsh political consequences at the hands of the American people. As a result, President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

If he is not lying, if they genuinely believe that, that makes them unfit in battle with al Qaeda. If they believe these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge? Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick.

But the truth is gradually emerging in spite of the President's determined dissembling. Listen, for example, to this editorial from the Financial Times: "There was nothing intrinsically absurd about the WMD fears, or ignoble about the opposition to Saddam's tyranny - however late Washington developed this. The purported link between Baghdad and al Qaeda, by contrast, was never believed by anyone who knows Iraq and the region. It was and is nonsense."

Of course the first rationale presented for the war was to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist. Then the rationale was to liberate Iraqis and the Middle East from tyranny, but our troops were not greeted with the promised flowers and are now viewed as an occupying force by 92% of Iraqis, while only 2% see them as liberators.

But right from the start, beginning very soon after the attacks of 9/11, President Bush made a decision to start mentioning Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the same breath in a cynical mantra designed to fuse them together as one in the public's mind. He repeatedly used this device in a highly disciplined manner to create a false impression in the minds of the American people that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Usually he was pretty tricky in his exact wording. Indeed, Bush's consistent and careful artifice is itself evidence that he knew full well that he was telling an artful and important lie -- visibly circumnavigating the truth over and over again as if he had practiced how to avoid encountering the truth. But as I will document in a few moments, he and Vice President Cheney also sometimes departed from their tricky wording and resorted to statements were clearly outright falsehoods. In any case, by the time he was done, public opinion polls showed that fully 70% of the American people had gotten the message he wanted them to get, and had been convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

The myth that Iraq and al Qaeda were working together was no accident - the President and Vice President deliberately ignored warnings before the war from international intelligence services, the CIA, and their own Pentagon that the claim was false. Europe's top terrorism investigator said in 2002, "We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. If there were such links, we would have found them. But we have found no serious connections whatsoever." A classified October 2002 CIA report given to the White House directly undercut the Iraq-al Qaeda claim. Top officials in the Pentagon told reporters in 2002 that the rhetoric being used by President Bush and Vice President Cheney was "an exaggeration."

And at least some honest voices within the President's own party admitted as such. Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated war hero who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said point blank, "Saddam is not in league with al Qaeda...I have not seen any intelligence that would lead me to connect Saddam Hussein with al Qaeda."

But those voices did not stop the deliberate campaign to mislead America. Over the course of a year, the President and Vice President used carefully crafted language to scare Americans into believing there was an imminent threat from an Iraq-armed al Qaeda.

In the fall of 2002, the President told the country "You can't distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam" and that the "true threat facing our country is an al Qaeda-type network trained and armed by Saddam." At the same time, Vice President Cheney was repeating his claim that "there is overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government."

By the Spring, Secretary of State Powell was in front of the United Nations claiming a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network."

But after the invasion, no ties were found. In June of 2003, the United Nations Security Council's al Qaeda monitoring agency told reporters his extensive investigation had found no evidence linking the Iraqi regime to al Qaeda. By August, three former Bush administration national security and intelligence officials admitted that the evidence used to make the Iraq-al Qaeda claim was "tenuous, exaggerated and often at odds with the conclusion of key intelligence agencies." And earlier this year, Knight-Ridder newspapers reported "Senior U.S. officials now say there never was any evidence" of a connection.

So when the bipartisan 9/11 commission issued its report finding "no credible evidence" of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, it should not have caught the White House off guard. Yet instead of the candor Americans need and deserve from their leaders, there have been more denials and more insistence without evidence. Vice President Cheney insisted even this week that "there clearly was a relationship" and that there is "overwhelming evidence." Even more shocking, Cheney offered this disgraceful question: "Was Iraq involved with al-Qaeda in the attack on 9/11? We don't know." He then claimed that he "probably" had more information than the commission, but has so far refused to provide anything to the commission other than more insults.

The President was even more brazen. He dismissed all questions about his statements by saying "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." He provided no evidence.

Friends of the administration tried mightily to rehabilitate their cherished but shattered linkage. John Lehman, one of the Republicans on the commission, offered what sounded like new evidence that a Saddam henchman had attended an Al Qaeda meeting. But within hours, the commissions files yielded definitive evidence that it was another man with a similar name - ironically capturing the near-miss quality of Bush's entire symbolic argument.

They have such an overwhelming political interest in sustaining the belief in the minds of the American people that Hussein was in partnership with bin Laden that they dare not admit the truth lest they look like complete fools for launching our country into a reckless, discretionary war against a nation that posed no immediate threat to us whatsoever. But the damage they have done to our country is not limited to misallocation of military economic political resources. Whenever a chief executive spends prodigious amounts of energy convincing people of lies, he damages the fabric of democracy, and the belief in the fundamental integrity of our self-government.

That creates a need for control over the flood of bad news, bad policies and bad decisions also explains their striking attempts to control news coverage.

To take the most recent example, Vice President Cheney was clearly ready to do battle with the news media when he went on CNBC earlier this week to attack news coverage of the 9/11 Commission's conclusion that Iraq did not work with Al Qaeda. He lashed out at the New York Times for having the nerve to print a headline saying the 9/11 commission "finds no Qaeda-Iraq Tie" - a clear statement of the obvious - and said there is no "fundamental split here now between what the president said and what the commission said." He tried to deny that he had personally been responsible for helping to create the false impression of linkage between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

Ironically, his interview ended up being fodder for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart played Cheney's outright denial that he had ever said that representatives of Al Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence met in Prague. Then Stewart froze Cheney's image and played the exact video clip in which Cheney had indeed directly claimed linkage between the two, catching him on videotape in a lie. At that point Stewart said, addressing himself to Cheney's frozen image on the television screen, "It's my duty to inform you that your pants are on fire."

Dan Rather says that post-9/11 patriotism has stifled journalists from asking government officials "the toughest of the tough questions." Rather went so far as to compare Administration efforts to intimidate the press to "necklacing" in apartheid South Africa, while acknowledging it as "an obscene comparison." "The fear is that you will be necklaced here (in the U.S.), you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck," Rather explained. It was CBS, remember, that withheld the Abu Ghraib photographs from the American people for two weeks at the request of the Bush Administration.

Donald Rumsfeld has said that criticism of the Administration's policy "makes it complicated and more difficult" to fight the war. CNN's Christiane Amanpour said on CNBC last September, "I think the press was muzzled and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say but certainly television, and perhaps to a certain extent my station, was intimidated by the Administration."

The Administration works closely with a network of "rapid response" digital Brown Shirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for "undermining support for our troops." Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, was one of the first journalists to regularly expose the President's consistent distortions of the facts. Krugman writes, "Let's not overlook the role of intimidation. After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative of the President...you had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation.

Bush and Cheney are spreading purposeful confusion while punishing reporters who stand in the way. It is understandably difficult for reporters and journalistic institutions to resist this pressure, which, in the case of individual journalists, threatens their livelihoods, and in the case of the broadcasters can lead to other forms of economic retribution. But resist they must, because without a press able to report "without fear or favor" our democracy will disappear.

Recently, the media has engaged in some healthy self-criticism of the way it allowed the White House to mislead the public into war under false pretenses. We are dependent on the media, especially the broadcast media, to never let this happen again. We must help them resist this pressure for everyone's sake, or we risk other wrong-headed decisions based upon false and misleading impressions.

We are left with an unprecedented, high-intensity conflict every single day between the ideological illusions upon which this administration's policies have been based and the reality of the world in which the American people live their lives.

When you boil it all down to precisely what went wrong with the Bush Iraq policy, it is actually fairly simple: he adopted an ideologically driven view of Iraq that was tragically at odds with reality. Everything that has gone wrong is in one way or another the result of a spectacular and violent clash between the bundle of misconceptions that he gullibly consumed and the all-too-painful reality that our troops and contractors and diplomats and taxpayers have encountered. Of course, there have been several other collisions between President Bush's ideology and America's reality. To take the most prominent example, the transformation of a $5 trillion surplus into a $4 trillion deficit is in its own way just as spectacular a miscalculation as the Iraq war.

But there has been no more bizarre or troubling manifestation of how seriously off track this President's policies have taken America than the two profound shocks to our nation's conscience during the last month. First came the extremely disturbing pictures that document strange forms of physical and sexual abuse - and even torture and murder - by some of our soldiers against people they captured as prisoners in Iraq. And then, the second shock came just last week, with strange and perverted legal memoranda from inside the administration, which actually sought to justify torture and to somehow provide a legal rationale for bizarre and sadistic activities conducted in the name of the American people, which, according to any reasonable person, would be recognized as war crimes. In making their analysis, the administration lawyers concluded that the President, whenever he is acting in his role as commander in chief, is above and immune from the "rule of law." At least we don't have to guess what our founders would have to say about this bizarre and un-American theory.

By the middle of this week, the uproar caused by the disclosure of this legal analysis had forced the administration to claim they were throwing the memo out and it was, "irrelevant and overbroad." But no one in the administration has said that the reasoning was wrong. And in fact, a DOJ spokesman says they stand by the tortured definition of torture. In addition the broad analysis regarding the commander-in-chief powers has not been disavowed. And the view of the memo - that it was within commander-in-chief power to order any interrogation techniques necessary to extract information - most certainly contributed to the atmosphere that led to the atrocities committed against the Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. We also know that President Bush rewarded the principle author of this legal monstrosity with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals. President Bush, meanwhile, continues to place the blame for the horrific consequences of his morally obtuse policies on the young privates and corporals and sergeants who may well be culpable as individuals for their actions, but who were certainly not responsible for the policies which set up the Bush Gulag and led to America's strategic catastrophe in Iraq.

I call on the administration to disclose all its interrogation policies, including those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and those employed by the CIA at its secret detention centers outside the U.S., as well as all the analyses related to the adoption of those policies.

The Bush administration's objective of establishing U.S. domination over any potential adversary led to the hubristic, tragic miscalculation of the Iraq war, a painful adventure marked by one disaster after another based on one mistaken assumption after another. But the people who paid the price have been the U.S. soldiers trapped over there and the Iraqis in prison. The top-heavy focus on dominance as a goal for the U.S. role in the world is exactly paralleled in their aspiration for the role of the president to be completely dominant in the constitutional system. Our founders understood even better than Lord Acton the inner meaning of his aphorism that power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely. The goal of dominance necessitates a focus on power. Ironically, all of their didactic messages about how democracies don't invade other nations fell on their own deaf ears. The pursuit of dominance in foreign and strategic policy led the Bush administration to ignore the United Nations, do serious damage to our most important alliances in the world, violate international law and risk the hatred of the rest of the world. The seductive exercise of unilateral power has led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that would have been the worst nightmare of our framers.

And the kind of unilateral power he imagines is fools gold in any case. Just as its pursuit in Mesopotamia has led to tragic consequences for our soldiers, the Iraqi people, our alliances, everything we think is important, in the same way the pursuit of a new interpretation of the presidency that weakens the Congress, courts and civil society is not good for either the presidency or the rest of the nation.

If the congress becomes an enfeebled enabler to the executive, and the courts become known for political calculations in their decisions, then the country suffers. The kinds of unnatural, undemocratic activities in which this administration has engaged, in order to aggrandize power, have included censorship of scientific reports, manipulation of budgetary statistics, silencing dissent, and ignoring intelligence. Although there have been other efforts by other presidents to encroach on the legitimate prerogatives of congress and courts, there has never been this kind of systematic abuse of the truth and institutionalization of dishonesty as a routine part of the policy process.

Two hundred and twenty years ago, John Adams wrote, in describing one of America's most basic founding principles, "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them...to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men."

The last time we had a president who had the idea that he was above the law was when Richard Nixon told an interviewer, "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal... If the president, for example approves something, approves an action because of national security, or, in this case, because of a threat to internal peace and order, of significant order, then the president's decision in this instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating the law."

Fortunately for our country, Nixon was forced to resign as President before he could implement his outlandish interpretation of the Constitution, but not before his defiance of the Congress and the courts created a serious constitutional crisis.

The two top Justice Department officials under President Nixon, Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, turned out to be men of great integrity, and even though they were loyal Republicans, they were more loyal to the constitution and resigned on principle rather than implement what they saw as abuses of power by Nixon. Then Congress, also on a bipartisan basis, bravely resisted Nixon's abuse of power and launched impeachment proceedings.

In some ways, our current President is actually claiming significantly more extra-constitutional power, vis-à-vis Congress and the courts, than Nixon did. For example, Nixon never claimed that he could imprison American citizens indefinitely without charging them with a crime and without letting them see a lawyer or notify their families. And this time, the attorney general, John Ashcroft, is hardly the kind of man who would resign on principle to impede an abuse of power. In fact, whenever there is an opportunity to abuse power in this administration, Ashcroft seems to be leading the charge. And it is Ashcroft who picked the staff lawyers at Justice responsible for the embarrassing memos justifying and enabling torture.

Moreover, in sharp contrast to the courageous 93rd Congress that saved the country from Richard Nixon's sinister abuses, the current Congress has virtually abdicated its constitutional role to serve as an independent and coequal branch of government.

Instead, this Republican-led Congress is content, for the most part, to take orders from the President on what they vote for and what they don't vote for. The Republican leaders of the House and Senate have even started blocking Democrats from attending conference committee meetings, where legislation takes its final form, and instead, they let the President's staff come to the meetings and write key parts of the laws for them. (Come to think of it, the decline and lack of independence shown by this Congress would shock our founders more than anything else, because they believed that the power of the Congress was the most important check and balance against the unhealthy exercise of too much power by the Executive branch.)

This administration has not been content just to reduce the Congress to subservience. It has also engaged in unprecedented secrecy, denying the American people access to crucial information with which they might hold government officials accountable for their actions, and a systematic effort to manipulate and intimidate the media into presenting a more favorable image of the Administration to the American people.

Listen to what U.S. News and World Report has to say about their secrecy: "The Bush administration has quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government - cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters."

Here are just a few examples, and for each one, you have to ask, what are they hiding, and why are they hiding it?

More than 6000 documents have been removed by the Bush Administration from governmental Web sites. To cite only one example, a document on the EPA Web site giving citizens crucial information on how to identify chemical hazards to their families. Some have speculated that the principle threat to the Bush administration is a threat by the chemical hazards if the information remains available to American citizens.

To head off complaints from our nation's Governors over how much they receive under federal programs, the Bush Administration simply stopped printing the primary state budget report.

To muddy the clear consensus of the scientific community on global warming, the White House directed major changes and deletions to an EPA report that were so egregious that the agency said it was too embarrassed to use the language.

They've kept hidden from view Cheney's ultra-secret energy task force. They have fought a pitched battle in the courts for more than three years to continue denying the American people the ability to know which special interests and lobbyists advised with Vice President Cheney on the design of the new laws.

And when mass layoffs became too embarrassing they simply stopped publishing the regular layoff report that economists and others have been receiving for decades. For this administration, the truth hurts, when the truth is available to the American people. They find bliss in the ignorance of the people. What are they hiding, and why are they hiding it?

In the end, for this administration, it is all about power. This lie about the invented connection between al Qaeda and Iraq was and is the key to justifying the current ongoing Constitutional power grab by the President. So long as their big flamboyant lie remains an established fact in the public's mind, President Bush will be seen as justified in taking for himself the power to make war on his whim. He will be seen as justified in acting to selectively suspend civil liberties - again on his personal discretion - and he will continue to intimidate the press and thereby distort the political reality experienced by the American people during his bid for re-election.

War is lawful violence, but even in its midst we acknowledge the need for rules. We know that in our wars there have been descents from these standards, often the result of spontaneous anger arising out of the passion of battle. But we have never before, to my knowledge, had a situation in which the framework for this kind of violence has been created by the President, nor have we had a situation where these things were mandated by directives signed by the Secretary of Defense, as it is alleged, and supported by the National Security Advisor.

Always before, we could look to the Chief Executive as the point from which redress would come and law be upheld. That was one of the great prides of our country: humane leadership, faithful to the law. What we have now, however, is the result of decisions taken by a President and an administration for whom the best law is NO law, so long as law threatens to constrain their political will. And where the constraints of law cannot be prevented or eliminated, then they maneuver it to be weakened by evasion, by delay, by hair-splitting, by obstruction, and by failure to enforce on the part of those sworn to uphold the law.

In these circumstances, we need investigation of the facts under oath, and in the face of penalties for evasion and perjury. We need investigation by an aroused congress whose bipartisan members know they stand before the judgment of history. We cannot depend up on a debased department of Justice given over to the hands of zealots. "Congressional oversight" and "special prosecution" are words that should hang in the air. If our honor as a nation is to be restored, it is not by allowing the mighty to shield themselves by bringing the law to bear against their pawns: it is by bringing the law to bear against the mighty themselves. Our dignity and honor as a nation never came from our perfection as a society or as a people: it came from the belief that in the end, this was a country which would pursue justice as the compass pursues the pole: that although we might deviate, we would return and find our path. This is what we must now do.

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When an apology just isn't enough 

June 25, 2004
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Tom Frame has asked for God's forgiveness. There are others he should speak to, writes Tim Ferguson.

Dr Tom Frame has asked for God's forgiveness for his support of the Iraq war ("Forgive me, I was wrong on Iraq", on this page last Friday). In this instance, seeking God's forgiveness is not enough.

As the Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force, Dr Frame's most strident endorsement of military action against Iraq came in his article "Is war against Iraq just? - yes", published in The Australian on February 11 last year.

In that article, Dr Frame argued that the churches' seven criteria of the Just War Doctrine (which dates back to the time of Thomas Aquinas) had been fulfilled in relation to Iraq. He quoted a hymn - "Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side."

"This is one such moment," said Dr Frame. "Indifference is not an option."

The seven criteria for war he outlined are as follows.
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1. "War must be declared by a legitimate authority."
This criterion is the only one to be fulfilled. Legitimate, democratically elected governments started the war.

2. "The cause itself must be just. Self-defence is considered just cause."
While political leaders must see war in these terms, the Christian God of the New Testament does not recognise national boundaries as being sacrosanct. Christian leaders cannot weigh the lives of others against those of their own flock. This justification for war serves governments, not God. Precedents are no argument.

3. "The intention must be just rather than expedient."
Dr Frame did not find compelling the assertion that the war was driven by the US Government's desire for control of Iraq's oil. Of course not. Such motives are manifested after war, not before. It now appears the desire for oil was real. The US Government has tendered contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq's oil industry almost entirely to American companies.

Further, US Vice-President Dick Cheney appears to have co-ordinated the awarding of contracts to Halliburton, the company of which he was CEO from 1995 to 2000. On March 5, 2003, an email from a US Army Corps Engineers official to another Pentagon employee stated that Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, would award a contract to Halliburton "contingent on informing WH (White House) tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been co-ordinated w(ith) VP's office." It seems that Cheney had more than a democratic Iraq and US national security in mind when he argued for war. Dr Frame was wrong to dismiss assertions of US calumny.

4. "Force can only be used after all other methods of resolution have failed."
"This is difficult to judge," Dr Frame wrote in February 2003. Nonetheless, he insisted the criterion was satisfied. He now agrees it wasn't.

Jesus was clear on this issue - "Blessed are the peacemakers". That includes, no doubt, the United Nations.

5. "There must be reasonable hope of achieving a just outcome."
There was hope. It has yet to be proven reasonable. Dr Frame has now admitted the weakness of, or lack of, evidence he so confidently described as justification for a war in February 2003. Yes, the Saddam regime ended, but a credible, democratic and stable government for Iraq is far off. (And the pictures of American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners undermine the coalition's moral authority.) There were no WMD. Finally, the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda has now been debunked by the US commission investigating the September 11 attacks.

6. "The amount of force employed must be proportional to the threat being faced."
Or, in Dr Frame's words, "Sledgehammers should not be used to crack nuts." The term "shock and awe" depicts implacable, overwhelming, terrifying force. In other words, a military sledgehammer. What else was Dr Frame expecting from the world's largest military establishment promising a swift war?

7. "The outcome should bear a very close relationship to the cost."
Dr Frame wrote: "We can only speculate on the number of people killed or the value of property destroyed." It is absurd, in the darkest sense, for a religious leader to validate a war's likely outcome without the first idea what that outcome might be. But validate it he did.

"Each criterion," said Dr Frame, "is satisfied in relation to a campaign against Iraq."

Dr Frame was the only Anglican bishop to speak in favour of the war. He also happens to be the bishop to the Australian Defence Force. One wonders if the military company he kept in early 2003 affected his judgement.

Dr Frame displayed an accord with the Howard Government's position that seems akin to the politicised subservience our military leaders have shown towards the Government in the present debate over the Abu Ghraib violations.

Our society is based upon a separation of church, military and state. Dr Frame's flawed endorsement of our Government's war with Iraq represents a blurring of that separation. In the future, one would hope he is not so hasty to lend the weight of his position to another military venture with such flimsy evidence and misjudged ethical brinkmanship. Government haste should be tempered by church patience.

Dr Frame asks God's forgiveness "for my complicity in creating a world in which this sort of action was ever considered by anyone to be necessary. Even so, come Lord Jesus."

It is not only God from whom Dr Frame should seek forgiveness. His church deserves an apology for the careless misuse of its doctrine. His flock, the Australian Defence Force, deserves an apology for his endorsement of decisions that placed them prematurely, if not wrongly, in harm's way. And, most importantly, he should beg forgiveness from the innocents killed and maimed by coalition weapons during the conflict.

Come Lord Jesus, indeed.

Tim Ferguson is a Melbourne TV producer and writer.

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21 June 2004

Forgive Me, I was Wrong on Iraq 

........ in the absence of any clear mitigation, there is no alternative to concluding that the March 2003 invasion was neither just nor necessary.

by Tom Frame

Go to original

As the only Anglican bishop to have publicly endorsed the Australian Government's case for war, I now concede that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. It did not pose a threat to either its nearer neighbours or the United States and its allies. It did not host or give material support to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

But did the Australian Government and the Australian Defence Force really believe that Iraq possessed WMD and would employ them in support of its national interests? Definitely. Were intelligence assessments of Iraq's WMD arsenal and its ability to mount military operations exaggerated and inaccurate? Certainly. But in the absence of any clear mitigation, there is no alternative to concluding that the March 2003 invasion was neither just nor necessary.

Let me be clear on two points: I am not saying the war failed to produce any positive outcomes - happily, the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein has gone - nor that it cannot be explained in constructive political terms - the shift to democracy in Baghdad is most welcome. My judgement is simply that the war cannot be reconciled with just war principles.

Is this of concern? Yes. The relationship of trust that needs to exist between the Government and the people for a healthy democracy to exist may have been damaged by what must be regarded as an unnecessary pre-emptive military strike.

As we ponder the invasion and occupation of Iraq, three important observations can be made.

First, there is a continuing need of better systems for arbitrating international disputes. When the "coalition of the willing" invaded Iraq, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked: "If we are going to make preventive action, or war, part of our response to these new threats, what are the rules? Who decides? Under what circumstances? Did what happened in Iraq constitute an exception? A precedent others can exploit? What are the rules?" These are good questions that cannot go unanswered.

I continue to seek God's forgiveness for my complicity in creating a world in which this sort of action was ever considered to be necessary.In my view, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was right to propose "a standing commission on security within the UN structures, incorporating legal and other professionals, capable of taking expert evidence, which could advise on these questions and recommend UN intervention when necessary - instead of complete reliance on the present Security Council framework". Reform of the UN must continue.

Second, there must be sombre recognition of the complexities associated with armed intervention. While the overthrow of a despotic regime might be quickly achieved, rebuilding countries with a poisoned political culture takes considerably longer.

The use of military force is very much subordinate to a larger political solution in places such as Iraq. This is because the root causes of disorder and violence are varied and profound. They include the availability of guns and drugs, and the prevalence of racism and sexism together with the dissipation of the family. These are factors that diminish respect for human life.

If there is a pervasive cause, it would appear to be poverty. The UN has rightly engaged in a "war on poverty" where the protagonists are the poor who attempt to steal from the poorer.

The weapons of war are not bullets and bombs but humanitarian aid, and direct economic relief and assistance. Armed intervention is time-consuming and expensive if genuine political and economic progress is to be made. This must not be forgotten.

Third, attempts to rebuild civil society are certainly impeded if the invading army or the occupying force fails to uphold certain standards of behaviour. Although soldiers are not routinely trained to be prison warders or civil police, they know what constitutes acceptable conduct in an operational zone.

The calculated humiliation of Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad over the past six months has damaged the Bush Administration's attempts to portray the US Army as a liberating force. What is worse, men and women from a nation claiming to be civilised have shown they are just as capable of the barbarism that characterised Saddam's Baathist regime. These acts retard political and social progress and perpetuate the cycles of recrimination and violence that interventions are intended to break. Occupying forces must do better.

On March 18 last year - two days before the war began - I addressed students in the united faculty of theology at Melbourne University. In reply to the question: "Is the proposed war against Iraq just, or just another war?" I said: "We are, as yet, unable to say with complete confidence. The final determination cannot be made until we are acquainted with the information now known by the Government, when we have seen the extent of the WMD that the 'coalition of the willing' alleges Iraq maintains, and when the full human cost of war has been calculated." I am now able to answer that question: it was just another war.

Looking back on the events of the past 18 months I continue to seek God's forgiveness for my complicity in creating a world in which this sort of action was ever considered by anyone to be necessary. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Dr Tom Frame is the Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force and the author of Living by the Sword? The Ethics of Armed Intervention (UNSW Press, 2004).

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Outrageous, yes - but it's hardly news 

Go to original

June 18, 2004


There was an interesting little news item in Wednesday's paper, tucked among the stories about the Pistons' championship, the impending sale of Motor City Casino, and the assassination of yet another luckless Iraqi bureaucrat.

The item said the bipartisan commission investigating the 9/11 attacks on America had concluded -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- that there's every reason to believe the president of the United States was lying through his teeth when he suggested the existence of a collaborative relationship between Al Qaeda and the government of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Now, it wasn't so long ago that such an embarrassing exposure of presidential perfidy would have piqued the public's interest for a couple of news cycles -- or at least until the next quarter-turn in the Laci Peterson saga.

So a reasonable person has to wonder: Why aren't responsible leaders in both parties -- those who care about their country and its credibility in the world -- calling for George Bush's resignation?

Too little sex, too much smoke

There are a number of reasons why the latest example of presidential prevarication hasn't elicited much outrage:

1) Nobody expects the president of the United States to tell the truth about something as personal as his reasons for going to war.

2) Nobody with the brains God gave tapioca pudding ever believed there was a Saddam-Osama connection in the first place.

3) It's not as though the precise details of any strategic relationship that may or may not have existed between two of America's most implacable enemies are important -- or at least not as important as the precise details of a sexual relationship between the president and one of his employees would be.

4) How 'bout them Pistons?

There's also the fact that the Bush White House has been sophisticated in putting up its Saddam-Osama smoke screen. There's been nothing as egregiously impeachable as "I am not a crook" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" -- just a steady stream of innuendo about "close ties" and "high-level contacts" between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

Connecting the dots

"You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," Bush asserted in a press conference six months before the invasion of Iraq. And if fully half the American public leaped to the erroneous conclusion that Iraq bore some responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, well, that wasn't the president's fault, was it?

One is reminded of Samuel Butler's observation that "the best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way."

It sickens me to write these words, because I am one of those who gave Bush the benefit of the doubt -- one of the many Americans who, however much we may have disagreed with him on a dozen other issues, simply could not bring ourselves to believe that any president would mislead his constituents about so important a matter, or be so cynical about exploiting the emotional dynamite of 9/11.

As for Bush's insistence that there is no direct contradiction between his vague assertions of a Saddam-Osama connection and the 9/11 commission's conclusion that there was never any cooperation between the two, well, that depends on what your definition of "is" is, doesn't it?

The bottom line is that this president's pants are on fire -- again.

And that's an outrage worth our attention, even if it is becoming old news.

Contact BRIAN DICKERSON at 248-351-3697

This is a reprint from The Detriot Free Press

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US strike 'killed family, not guerillas' 

Top Iraqi security officials in the flashpoint town of Fallujah yesterday challenged US assertions that a house destroyed in a deadly air strike was used by al-Qaeda fighters.

The US military said Saturday's attack, which killed 22 Iraqis, was launched against a safe house for militants commanded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, described by the Americans as the top al-Qaeda operative in Iraq.

But Brigadier Nouri Aboud, a member of the Fallujah Brigade, which the US military has entrusted with imposing security in the city, 50 kilometres west of Baghdad, said there was no evidence to suggest the site was anything but the home of an extended Iraqi family.
CIA contractor charged over brutal assault

A private contractor working for the CIA in Afghanistan has been charged with brutally assaulting a prisoner during three days of interrogations that ended in the Afghan man's death last year.

David Passaro, 38, a former army ranger who had been hired by the CIA seven months before the lethal interrogation, is the first civilian to be charged in the scandal surrounding abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A grand jury in Passaro's home state of North Carolina indicted him on four counts, including accusing him of using a large torch to beat a detainee suspected of participating in rocket attacks on a US base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
9/11 news 'sinks war rationale'

A United States report rejecting links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda had "blown apart" the Australian Government's reasons for going to war in Iraq, the Federal Opposition claimed yesterday.
Iraq abuse known of last June

Concerns about human rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners were raised in reports to Defence Minister Robert Hill last June and July, directly contradicting his version of events, according to Defence Department documents presented to the Senate last night.

Material tabled by Senator Hill to clarify Australian knowledge of the prisoner abuse scandal also reveals a series of other reports to Canberra by Australian officials warning about abuse allegations from late June, more than six months before the Howard Government claimed it became aware of the issue.

Senator Hill yesterday apologised to Prime Minister John Howard for falsely advising him that Australian personnel were not aware of the allegations last year, but the Opposition demanded he resign after a "disgrace" of an explanation.
Pentagon accused of wasting billions

The Pentagon may have wasted billions of dollars in Iraq because of a lack of planning and poor oversight, top congressional and Defence Department investigators say.

David Walker, head of the General Accounting Office (GAO), has told a congressional panel that Defence Department planners failed to determine adequately the needs of US soldiers in Iraq or effectively oversee the contracts worth billions of dollars that they had issued.

While Pentagon officials blamed any mistakes on the pressure of the war's early days, the investigators said they had found ongoing waste in the contracting process a year after the invasion.
Allies helped bin Laden: US officials

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia helped set the stage for the September 11 attacks by cutting deals with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden that allowed his al-Qaeda terrorist network to flourish, several members of the September 11 commission and US counter-terrorism officials say.

Financial aid to the Taliban and other assistance by two of the most important US allies in the US-declared "war on terrorism" dated back to at least 1996, and appeared to have helped immunise them from al-Qaeda attacks until long after the 2001 strikes, officials said.

"That does appear to have been the arrangement," one commission staffer said.
Halliburton says top executive took $7m

The giant oil services company Halliburton says it is severing all ties with Albert Stanley - until recently one of its highest-ranking executives - after investigations showed he secretly enriched himself by channelling as much as $US5 million ($7.25 million) from an elaborate payment scheme for a Nigerian energy project to a Swiss bank account.

No evidence of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties: 9/11 commission undermines another Bush war lie

The staff report of the 9/11 commission released June 16 further discredits one of the main lies employed by the Bush administration to justify its invasion and conquest of Iraq. It confirms that there was no Iraqi role in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and no “collaborative relationship” between Al Qaeda and former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The 12-page report summarizes evidence provided from hundreds of documents and witnesses and represents the consensus, not only the commission staff, but of currently serving CIA, FBI and other intelligence officials. While listing incidental contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, particularly in the period of Osama bin Laden’s residence in the Sudan, from 1991 to 1996, the report concluded: “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”
Latest horror could destroy President of divided nation

Is this the horror that will finally undo George Bush's presidency?

First Nicholas Berg, now Paul Johnson: in two months and in two different countries, two US civilians have been kidnapped and beheaded by their al-Qa'ida-affiliated captors, becoming not only pawns in a deadly geopolitical game but also symbols of the complicated feelings of revulsion unleashed by the Bush administration's "war on terror".
Stop shielding US from war-crimes issues, UN urged

Annan seeks end to exemption

UNITED NATIONS -- Defying the United States, Secretary General Kofi A. Annan urged the UN Security Council yesterday to stop shielding American peacekeepers from international prosecution for war crimes.

Annan cited the US prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq in opposing a US resolution calling for the blanket exemption for a third straight year.
American Empire Is Squeezing Out American Democracy

Outside the United States lies "Overseas America," which, led by a largely unaccountable Pentagon, resembles more and more an empire.

Most Americans don't sense the profound changes in the country since 9/11. That's due to a political bifurcation. Inside the 50 American states, democracy prevails. And so, in the domestic arena, money and votes can buy power. But in overseas America, the Pentagon uses power to get money -- and more power. The Pentagon has hundreds of bases all over the world, and Congress finances them with few questions asked. That alone shows that democracy is waning and empire waxing.

Like the Roman Empire's legions, armed forces are empire's main weapon. American democracy used to use the draft to fight wars or threats, in order to prevent the rise of standing armies. But empires need standing armies to control the huge territories they have to patrol. That is why, even without a draft, we have a Pentagon that gets money from Congress but only scantly reveals what the money is for. That's the situation in Iraq, where the Pentagon employs paid-for-service personnel. When that happens, the decline of democracy and the rise of empire speeds up even faster.
Rumsfeld admits he OKd secret detentions

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged Thursday that he ordered the secret detention of at least two prisoners captured in Iraq so that they could be interrogated by the CIA, a move some legal experts say may have violated the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions forbid holding prisoners incommunicado and require that detainees' identities be registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross. (Chi trib-requires registration)
US killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in “precision” strikes

Fifty so-called “precision” strikes were carried out by the US military in Iraq between March 19 and April 18, 2003, in attempts to kill Saddam Hussein and 12 other high-ranking Iraqi leaders. The cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs used in the attacks destroyed dozens of homes and other civilian buildings, and killed and wounded hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqi civilians.

The June 13 New York Times carried admissions by unnamed US military and intelligence officials that underscore the utterly criminal and murderous character of these strikes. The Times’s sources acknowledged that not one of these “precision” attacks hit an Iraqi political or military leader and that the US military did not have any reliable information that the intended victims were even in the targeted buildings.

A senior military officer told the Times: “It was all just guesswork where they [the Iraqi leaders] were.”
Politicians Face Censure From Bishops on Abortion Rights

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops approved a statement on Friday on "Catholics in Political Life" that brands politicians who support abortion rights as "cooperating in evil" and leaves the door open for bishops to deny communion to such lawmakers.

The bishops, meeting outside Denver, stopped short of saying that those lawmakers should be forbidden to take communion. But they reminded all Catholics that they were not worthy to receive communion until they had examined their consciences, including their "fidelity to the moral teaching of the church in personal and public life." (nyt-requires registration)

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