October 20, 2006

In Other News, the Bill of Rights Is Suspended

Several months ago, in restating my ongoing theme that intelligence (accurate or not) has very little to do with major foreign policy decisions, and usually nothing at all, I wrote:
At this point, no one should have any doubts on one issue: if the Bush administration wants "intelligence" that shows Iran is a "serious" and "growing" threat, they will find it or create it out of nothing, or next to nothing. The atmosphere of growing hysteria will be amplified by a press which continues to view itself primarily as an adjunct to the powerful (some rare exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, as noted here). With only one or two exceptions, the craven Democrats won't dare to oppose the tide -- and Armageddon, here we come.
The decision to invade and occupy Iraq had nothing to do with intelligence about WMD, and was determined by policy considerations announced by the interested parties a decade ago. Similarly, a decision to attack Iran will not be based on intelligence about any alleged threat that Iran represents -- and when the intelligence does not support a decision that has already been made, the administration buries it.

With regard to my observation that the press views itself "primarily as an adjunct to the powerful," I offer the following instructive example. Jim Bovard, whose superlative work on behalf of liberty I mentioned at the opening of a post the other day, writes in Editor and Publisher:
How will we know when a dictatorship has arrived? Not from reading the Washington Post. The Post’s story today -- “Bush Signs Terrorism Measure” -- looks like just another routine report on the approval of a piece of legislation, accompanied by the usual “he said/ she said” balancing quotes.

The Military Commissions Act is widely seen as legalizing torture, but the article avoids any such mention of the T-word. Though the act revolutionizes American jurisprudence by permitting the use of tortured confessions in judicial proceedings, the Post discreetly notes only that defendants will face "restrictions on their ability to ... exclude evidence gained through witness coercion."

The lead of the Post article declares that the new law will "set the rules for the trials of key al-Qaeda members." A typical subway strap hanger reader might shrug at this point and shift to the Sports section to read the latest autopsy on the Washington Redskins. The Post neglects to mention that the bill codifies the president’s power to label anyone on Earth an "enemy combatant" -- based on secret evidence which the government need not disclose.

The Post mentions new "restrictions" on detainees’ ability "to challenge their incarceration." The article neglects to add "until hell freezes over." Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) characterized the bill’s suspension of habeas corpus as akin to turning "back the clock 800 years." But, according to the Post, this reform is simply another provision in just another bill - and, anyhow, so many bills get signed this time of year.

The Post says nothing about how the new law makes the president legislator, prosecutor, judge, and bailiff. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin notes, "The President has created a new regime in which he is a law unto himself on issues of prisoner interrogations. He decides whether he has violated the laws, and he decides whether to prosecute the people he in turn urges to break the law.:

The tone of the Post article is akin to a bored broadcaster’s reading from the Teleprompter: "In other news today, the government announced that the price of gasoline would be reduced by seven cents a gallon and also suspended the Bill of Rights."

The Military Commissions Act is a stark power grab - but one would never know it from the Post’s account.
We proceed steadily down the road to hell, and all the mechanisms for a full dictatorship are now in place -- and our media act as if nothing has changed. Oh, there's some dispute about what it all means, but that's just the normal difference of opinion. And a few people appear to be deeply worried, but they're just those "extremists" and "leftist loons" who come around to annoy us well-balanced "centrists" every now and then.

And I still continue to hear some especially dull-witted defenders of the administration use the long-discredited argument: "But do you know anyone who's been 'disappeared,' who's been taken away in the middle of the night and never heard from again? Do you know anyone else who knows someone like that? Of course not! See, we're still a free country! You're just a nut!" I dealt with that one here. These people wouldn't know a principle if it announced itself in one-syllable words and then stabbed them in the gut -- which, by the way, it has now done.

Don't look for the meaning of national and world events in our major media. You'll never find it, because it isn't there. But our leading "reporters" and "journalists" will still have their phone calls answered by the powerful who use the media to trumpet their personalized propaganda, and they'll still be invited to the "right" parties. Everybody's happy.

Except for all the rest of us.