April 30, 2006

It Can't Happen Here

Except that, in principle, it already has happened. Jacob Hornberger writes about where we are today:
No one can deny that we now live in a country in which the ruler has the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war on his own initiative. To use the president’s words, when it comes to declaring and waging war against another country, he’s the "decider."

It wasn't always that way.


Yet we now live in a nation in which the president has the omnipotent power to ignore all constitutional restraints on his power. That might not be the way the president and his legal advisors put it, but that is the practical effect of what they are saying to justify his powers. They effectively claim that the Constitution vests the president — as military commander in chief during the "war on terrorism" — with such extraordinary powers that he is able to ignore restraints on his powers imposed both by the Constitution and by Congress.

No restraints on declaring and waging war against other nations. No restraints on the power to secretly record telephone conversations of the American people. No restraints on the power to kidnap and send people into overseas concentration camps for the purpose of torture and even execution. No restraints on the power to take Americans into custody as "enemy combatants" and punish them — even torture and execute them — without due process of law and jury trials.

If all that isn’t dictatorship, what is?
In his bracingly clear and concise article, Hornberger debunks two common but utterly misguided objections to these statements of fact. The first objection is that Bush can be trusted and that, in effect, he "means well," that he's only trying "to protect us." Among many other problems, this ignores that every authoritarian leader in history has made the same claim: that his regime is concerned only with the good of his people, or the good of his country, or to further the will of God, or... Except for the rare cases of sadists who glory in their openly acknowledged cruelty, rulers and their henchmen always claim to have the best of intentions, at least in the beginning.

It is worth noting Hornberger's response to the second objection:
"Well, then, where are the mass round-ups, and where are the concentration camps?"

Again, people who ask that type of question are missing the point. The point is not whether Bush is exercising his omnipotent, dictatorial power to the maximum extent. It’s whether he now possesses omnipotent, dictatorial power, power that can be exercised whenever circumstances dictate it — for example, during another major terrorist attack on American soil, when Americans become overly frightened again.
I've made this point repeatedly over the last several years, and it is only a measure of the remarkably primitive quality of our national conversation that so many Americans seem incapable of grasping it.

To put the point the other way, which will hopefully penetrate the wall of resistance erected by so many people: the only reason you aren't in a concentration camp right now is because Bush hasn't decided to send you to one -- yet. But he claims he has the power to do so -- and there are almost no voices of any prominence to dispute the contention. What is even worse than the loss of liberty is the fact that most Americans aren't even aware that the loss has occurred. If there are any national leaders who understand these issues and have the courage to fight for our freedom here at home, they ought to realize that the battle must be waged now. Given the hysteria that followed 9/11 -- and the hysteria that would certainly follow another terrorist attack in the U.S. of the same or even greater magnitude -- protesting against round-ups at that point would be entirely futile, and would come far too late.

As things stand now, this nation may finally have one of the worst epitaphs in history: They lost their liberty -- and they didn't even know it.