When George W. Bush, in a pique about a website (gwbush.com) set up to ridicule him, declared on May 21, 1999, "There ought to be limits to freedom," pundits wrote it off as one in a series of gaffes by a Texas governor unaccustomed to the national spotlight. However it looks more and more as if that comment revealed W's true attitude toward civil liberties.
We're beginning to wonder about his July 30 crack that "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
Now, a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush has the USA Patriot Act, which not only permits the detention of non-citizens based merely on the attorney general's certification that he has "reasonable grounds to believe" the alien endangers national security. It also gives an unscrupulous attorney general (and we hardly ever get one of those) the tools to harass government critics even among the citizenry.
The act minimizes judicial supervision of federal telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement authorities, expands the ability of the government to conduct secret searches, gives the attorney general and the secretary of state the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and deport any non-citizen who belongs to them, grants the FBI broad access to sensitive business records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime and leads to large-scale investigations of American citizens for "intelligence" purposes.
The bill gives entirely too much discretion to the attorney general, who immediately showed his lack of discretion by announcing that he would order the monitoring of jailhouse conversations between terrorism suspects and their attorneys. The Justice Department also said they no longer would tell how many alien suspects were in custody, much less what was happening to them, and on Nov. 13, Bush signed an executive order allowing trials of suspected terrorists in military courts.
We agree with the Burlington, Iowa, Hawk-Eye, which editorialized on Nov. 10, "Law by law, edict by executive order, America has been racing toward fascism since Sept. 11."
Some might consider us paranoid to suggest that the Bush administration would use its powers for less than noble purposes, but consider how much of the world already views the raising of George W. Bush to the White House: The election of the son of a former CIA director/president depended on a handful of disputed votes in a state controlled by the candidate's brother. When election judges attempted to review the disputed ballots, Republicans sent thugs to disrupt the process. When the state Supreme Court attempted to order a recount, the US Supreme Court, in a split decision, overruled the state court on a tortured point and practically ordered the election handed to Bush.
Now, after a year of review that cost $1 million, eight media outlets declare that Bush's election was legitimate and the US Supremes didn't decide the election, even though the media recount found that Gore actually got more votes in Florida. Pundit logic holds that Gore only asked for a recount in four counties, and when those votes were correctly tallied and added to the rest of the flawed statewide count Bush finished with more votes. If Gore had thought to ask for a statewide recount, the mainstream media would have had to come up with another pretext to legitimize Bush's presidency.
But there's nothing like a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to legitimize a president with shaky public support. In the space of a few days in September Bush went from a barely 50% approval rating to 90%, just like his old man had done when he took on Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Still, while the mainstream US media are acting as cheerleaders, some questions need to be answered -- and they're mainly coming from overseas. Greg Palast and David Pallister, wrote in the London Guardian on Nov. 7 that FBI and other intelligence officials in Washington say they were prevented for political reasons from carrying out investigations into members of the bin Laden family in the US before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. FBI documents showed that agents earlier sought to investigate two of Osama bin Laden's relatives in Washington and their connection with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
But the FBI files were closed in 1996, apparently before any conclusions could be reached on either the bin Laden brothers or the organization itself. High-placed intelligence sources in Washington told the Guardian: "There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis." They said the restrictions became worse after the Bush administration took over this year. The intelligence agencies had been told to "back off" from investigations involving other members of the bin Laden family, the Saudi royals, and possible Saudi links to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. (For more information see www.GregPalast.com.)
Then there are reports out of France that a CIA agent met with Osama bin Laden in July, while bin Laden was in Dubai for medical treatment (see "Dispatches"). While US media have virtually ignored the report, the Guardian Nov 1 reported that the disclosures came from French intelligence, which wanted to reveal the CIA's ambiguous role in dealing with the terrorist threat.
Pakistan's chief spy Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, whose ISI had close ties with bin Laden and the Taliban, was in the US for consultations with the CIA and the Pentagon when the attacks occurred, having arrived on Sept. 4, noted Michel Chossudovsky of the Canadian Centre for Research on Globalisation (see globalresearch.ca). After Ahmad was replaced as military intelligence chief on Oct. 7, the Times of India reported links between Ahmad and the presumed "ringleader" of the WTC attacks, Mohamed Atta.
Other intelligence agencies reportedly passed along word that something big appeared to be in the offing before Sept. 11 -- but you couldn't tell it by the reaction of the FBI and the CIA. It is unthinkable that US intelligence agencies might have allowed such a terrorist attack to occur -- but they do stand to get a windfall of resources in the new war against terrorism, while the right wing gets a new enemy to replace the Soviet Union and keep the military-industrial complex running. Questions need to be answered.
But George W. Bush is making it harder to get those answers. Attorney General John Ashcroft has instructed the administration to resist Freedom of Information requests. Bush has been delaying the release of papers from the Reagan administration, which was required under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. There is speculation that the documents would tarnish current Bush administration members and perhaps Reagan's vice president, George Bush, the current president's father.
Under W's executive order, a former president, a sitting president -- even the family of a deceased president -- could block the release of records and force journalists, scholars or others to go to court to challenge such decisions.
In past interpretations of the Presidential Records Act, a former president could claim privilege for particular documents, but the national archivist could overrule him, and the former president would have to go to court to sustain his claim.
Even some Republicans, such as Rep. Stephen Horn of California, chairman of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, said the administration should "revisit" the order. If Bush doesn't back off, Congress should act to clarify its intent.
But Bush apparently is not a big believer in public records. The Austin Chronicle's Sept. 12 issue noted that Bush's records as governor were moved to this father's presidential library this past January, around the time of the Inaugural. The transfer apparently put Bush's records as governor under federal authority, which would close off access to the gubernatorial archives for the foreseeable future.
Maybe Bush really believes that democracy is not the people's business. We must set him and Congress straight. -- JMC