February 23, 2008

President Bush’s Safari to Find Friendly Faces

... by Walter Brasch

President Bush is in Africa this week, sulking because he didn’t get his way.

In one of the rare times the past seven years, the House of Representatives, now under Democrat control for the first time in 12 years, defended the Constitution and refused to allow the President to bully it with a program of fear mongering. He really tried, though.

In a Feb. 15 speech, the President, mad at yet another delay in voting on the Protect America Act, harrumphed, “[B]y blocking this piece of legislation our country is more in danger of an attack. … [T]he House leaders must understand that the decision they made to block good legislation has made it harder for us to protect you, the American people.” Not through with his saber-rattling, the President declared that not only would he veto an extension he would cancel a scheduled visit to five African nations and, maybe for all we know, hold his breath until the House acquiesced to his will.

In August, Congress had passed the Protect America Act, designed as a six-month temporary “fix” to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The modified Act would have further strangled Americans’ civil liberties by reducing judicial oversight and by removing the constitutional provision from FISA that for federal law enforcement to obtain a court warrant for surveillance, it needed to show probable cause that the target is a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power.”

However, the most controversial part of the Protect America Act was that it gave immunity to several national telecommunications companies, which had willingly acceded to government requests to illegally and secretly monitor the phone conversations of millions of American citizens. If the 40 lawsuits currently on file were to proceed, significant information about the government’s illegal and unconstitutional actions the past six years would be revealed.

With several provisions still under discussion, the House leadership agreed to a 15-day extension, and then proposed another 21 day extension. That’s when George W. Bush got really mad, and played the only card he had in his hand, the fear card. It worked innumerable times before; he’d just trump those other silly useless cards, like the civil liberties card. This time, the President’s threats didn’t work. The House was firm that because of a refusal by the Administration to budge on any part of the Protect America Act, more time was needed to try to reach compromises that would still protect Americans, yet not continue to tear at the Constitution. George W. Bush put what was left of his tail between his legs, didn’t veto anything and did go to Africa.

Even if the House didn’t fall over, as it had so many times before, Americans had nothing to worry about any loss of protection against terrorism. In August, Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said that even if the law expired in February, “intelligence officials would still be able to continue eavesdropping on already approved targets” for six more months.

President Bush, who several times had threatened Congress to rush the Protect America Act into law, “is attempting to rattle Congress into hastily expanding his own executive powers at the expense of civil liberties and constitutional protections,” Richard Clark wrote in an OpEd column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Clarke had been assistant secretary of state for intelligence for Ronald Reagan, special intelligence and security advisor to George H.W. Bush, and chief counter-terrorism advisor to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

During the past seven years, the Bush–Cheney Administration has shoved fear into Americans’ hearts as a replacement for the Constitution. This Administration rushed a willing Congress into passing the USA PATRIOT Act, which cuts into several Constitutional protections, and then led Congress to vote to extend or delete most of the provisions of the sunset clause, which would have terminated 16 of the most odious, and unconstitutional, parts of the Act. The Bush–Cheney Administration has gotten a fawning and mentally-limp Congress to pass the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allows the federal government to hold “any person,” foreign as well as citizen, who does not show “an allegiance or duty to the United States,” or who speaks out against the government’s policies, to be tried by military tribunal. The Act further provides for the suspension of the right of habeas corpus, thus condemning individuals to years of imprisonment without knowing the charges and without seeing any evidence. The law permits secret trials for both citizens and aliens. According to the Act’s provisions, “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever” regarding anyone the Administration brought under its own jurisdiction, thus nullifying most of the Bill of Rights. The Military Commissions Act also disregards Geneva Conventions and international law for the humane treatment of prisoners, permits hearsay evidence in trials, and the right of the government to impose the death sentence on prisoners based upon the testimony of others who may have been tortured.

Apparently, President Bush hopes that the people of Benin, Ghana, Liberia, Rwanda, and Tanzania will give him the standing ovations so few Americans extend to him.

He isn’t visiting Darfur.

[Dr. Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a former newspaper reporter and editor, and author of 17 books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through most major on-line stores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu through www.walterbrasch.com.]

Posted by Walter Brasch at February 23, 2008 12:32 PM | Guest Writings | Technorati links |
Comments

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Posted by: ccoaler at February 23, 2008 04:52 PM

(Bush): "[B]y blocking this piece of legislation our country is more in danger of an attack. … [T]he House leaders must understand that the decision they made to block good legislation has made it harder for us to protect you, the American people.”

Hmmmm, I wonder if we're "more in danger of an attack" this year than we were during the first eight months of Bush's first term in office?

You remember that period of time, don't you?

Bush and Cheney enter the White House in late January 2001, bringing in with them a crack crew of neo-con Republicans.

These "strong on national defense" neo-con Republicans immediately demoted the counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, forbidding him from attending cabinet-level principals meetings, as he'd done under President Bill Clinton.

John Ashcroft, the new Attorney General, downgraded the priority level of the right-wing religious fundamentalist terrorist threat at the Justice Department, diverting FBI agents to go after prostitutes, pornographers and drug dealers instead.

Condi Rice held only ONE cabinet-level counter-terrorism principals meeting ONE WEEK before the 9/11 attacks...compared to three cabinet-level counter-terrorism principals meetings held each week during the Clinton administration, often with Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism expert in attendance. (He was not invited to the ONE and only meeting Condi Rice called ONE WEEK before the 9/11 attacks).

On August 6, 2001, Bush, while on vacation at his Crawford TX scrubland retreat, has a CIA agent read to him his presidential daily briefing (PDB) entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the U.S.." Bush probably responded, "Bin Laden who??" and then proceeded to stay on vacation for another three weeks.

FBI field agents in the Midwest were informed by flight-school instructors in early August 2001 about the suspicious behavior of a Muslim student, who only wanted to learn how to fly 747s, not how to takeoff or land them. In the three to four weeks before the 9/11 attacks, these concerned FBI field agents made numerous and frequent urgent requests to Ashcroft's Justice Department asking for search warrants to go through this guy's personal effects. Someone in Ashcrofts' Justice Department, at FBI headquarters blew off these urgent requests, leading the FBI field agents to try and extradite this guy to England (along with his personal effects) where he could be vigorously "patted down." (FISA, and the provision that a search can occur without a warrant, but then the searcher has to go to the FISA court within 72 hours to defend their action, was trashed, bypassed, never employed).

And we've all heard the stories about how expert intelligence counter-terrorism officials, like CIA chief George Tenet, were running around Washington D.C. with their "hair on fire," during the pre-9/11 summer of 2001, trying desperately, like the Midwest FBI field agents, to get anyone in Bush's and Cheney's "inner circle" of crack neo-con Republicans to take the al Qaeda religious fundamentalist terrorist threat seriously.

So, my question is simple: are we in as grave a danger today as we were in the first eight months of Bush's first term in office, when the criminal incompetence of the Bush administration's neo-con Republicans and their utter disregard for the al Qaeda terrorist threat contributed mightily to the 9/11 hijackers plot succeeding?

Are the crazed neo-con Republicans implying through Bush's fear statements, the GOP's fear advertisements and the fear-pushing by right-wing MSM pundits that the Bush administration is going to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the al Qaeda terrorist threat, like they obviously did in 2001 before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, if they don't get retroactive immunity for the telecom companies?

Are the crazed neo-con Republicans saying that if a suspicious individual shows up on our counter-terrorism radar, like the flight-school student did in August 2001, they will not get a legal, constitutional FISA warrant to conduct a legal, constitutional search?

Because by my reckoning, the danger our country faces from crazed right-wing religious fundamentalists today is no different than the danger we faced during the first eight months of the worst and most corrupt administration in American history back in 2001. The Bush administration back then blew their sacred charge to protect U.S. citizens, which makes me wonder (based on their fear rhetoric) how they're going to blow their sacred charge during the last months of the most foul administration in American history? Because it is quite obvious to me that if any of the top neo-con Republican officials in the incoming Bush administration back in 2001 had given a damn about the al Qaeda terrorist threat, then the 9/11 attacks either wouldn't have happened or fewer planes would have been hijacked.

Bush bears sole responsibility for the 9/11 hijackers plot succeeding, just as he will bear sole responsibility for any other attack succeeding between now and when he and Cheney leave office. And no amount of lies or neo-con Republican obfuscation will change this fact.

Posted by: The Oracle at February 23, 2008 05:37 PM