Monday, February 20, 2006

U.S. church alliance denounces Iraq war



PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- A coalition of American churches sharply denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq on Saturday, accusing Washington of "raining down terror" and apologizing to other nations for "the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown."

The statement, issued at the largest gathering of Christian churches in nearly a decade, also warned the United States was pushing the world toward environmental catastrophe with a "culture of consumption" and its refusal to back international accords seeking to battle global warming.

"We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights," said the statement from representatives of the 34 U.S. members of World Council of Churches. "We mourn all who have died or been injured in this war. We acknowledge with shame abuses carried out in our name."

The World Council of Churches includes more than 350 mainstream Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches; the Roman Catholic Church is not a member. The U.S. groups in the WCC include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, several Orthodox churches and Baptist denominations, among others.

The statement is part of widening religious pressure on the Bush administration, which still counts on the support of evangelical churches and other conservative denominations but is widely unpopular with liberal-minded Protestant congregations.

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, the moderator for the U.S. group of WCC members, said the letter was backed by the leaders of the churches but was not cleared by lower-level bodies. He predicted friction within congregations about the tone of the message.

"There is much internal anguish and there is division," said Kishkovsky, ecumenical officer of the Orthodox Church of America. "I believe church leaders and communities are wrestling with the moral questions that this letter is addressing."

On Friday, the U.S. National Council of Churches - which includes many WCC members - released a letter appealing to Washington to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and saying reports of alleged torture violated "the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person."

The two-page statement from the WCC group came at the midpoint of a 10-day meeting of more than 4,000 religious leaders, scholars and activists discussing trends and goals for major Christian denominations for the coming decades. The WCC's last global assembly was in 1998 in Zimbabwe - just four months after al-Qaida staged twin bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

"Our country responded (to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks) by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbors ... entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of national interests," said the statement. "Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous."

The Rev. Sharon Watkins, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), worried that some may interpret the statement as undermining U.S. troops in Iraq.

"We honor their courage and sense of duty, but ... we, as people of faith, have to say to our brothers and sisters, `We are so profoundly sorry,'" Watkins said.

The message also accused U.S. officials of ignoring warnings about climate change and treating the world's "finite resources as if they are private possessions." It went on to criticize U.S. domestic policies for refusing to confront racism and poverty.

"Hurricane Katrina revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract," said the statement.

The churches said they had "grown heavy with guilt" for not doing enough to speak out against the Iraq war and other issues. The statement asked forgiveness for a world that's "grown weary from the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Whittington apologizes for being shot

The lawyer shot by Vice President Dick Cheney left a Texas hospital Friday, saying "accidents do and will happen" and adding that he was "deeply sorry" for allowing his face to get in the way of Cheney's gun.
"I clearly obstructed a very good shot by the vice president, one which might easily have bagged several pen-raised quail if my upper torso and head hadn't absorbed most of the blast," Whittington explained. "I only hope he can find it in his heart to forgive me for not getting out of the way faster when he whirled and fired without warning."
Whittington added that that he has offered to reimburse the vice president for the full cost of the hunting trip, including the wasted birdshot.
A spokesman for Mr. Cheney declined to comment, saying the vice president first wants to see what kind of money Whittington is willing to put on the table.

No Checks, Many Imbalances

The next time a president asks Congress to pass something akin to what Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001 - the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) - the resulting legislation might be longer than Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." Congress, remembering what is happening today, might stipulate all the statutes and constitutional understandings that it does not intend the act to repeal or supersede.

But, then, perhaps no future president will ask for such congressional involvement in the gravest decision government makes - going to war. Why would future presidents ask, if the present administration successfully asserts its current doctrine? It is that whenever the nation is at war, the other two branches of government have a radically diminished pertinence to governance, and the president determines what that pertinence shall be. This monarchical doctrine emerges from the administration's stance that warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency targeting American citizens on American soil is a legal exercise of the president's inherent powers as commander in chief, even though it violates the clear language of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was written to regulate wartime surveillance.

Administration supporters incoherently argue that the AUMF also authorized the NSA surveillance - and that if the administration had asked, Congress would have refused to authorize it. The first assertion is implausible: None of the 518 legislators who voted for the AUMF has said that he or she then thought it contained the permissiveness the administration discerns in it. Did the administration, until the program became known two months ago? Or was the AUMF then seized upon as a justification? Equally implausible is the idea that in the months after Sept. 11, Congress would have refused to revise the 1978 law in ways that would authorize, with some supervision, NSA surveillance that, even in today's more contentious climate, most serious people consider conducive to national security.

Anyway, the argument that the AUMF contained a completely unexpressed congressional intent to empower the president to disregard the FISA regime is risible coming from this administration. It famously opposes those who discover unstated meanings in the Constitution's text and do not strictly construe the language of statutes.

The administration's argument about the legality of the NSA program also has been discordant with its argument about the urgency of extending the USA Patriot Act. Many provisions of that act are superfluous if a president's wartime powers are as far-reaching as today's president says they are.

And if, as some administration supporters say, amending the 1978 act to meet today's exigencies would have given America's enemies dangerous information about our capabilities and intentions, surely FISA and the Patriot Act were both informative. Intelligence professionals reportedly say that the behavior of suspected terrorists has changed since Dec. 15, when the New York Times revealed the NSA surveillance. But surely America's enemies have assumed that our technologically sophisticated nation has been trying, in ways known and unknown, to eavesdrop on them.

Besides, terrorism is not the only new danger of this era. Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the "sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs." That non sequitur is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws "necessary and proper" for the execution of all presidential powers . Those powers do not include deciding that a law - FISA, for example - is somehow exempted from the presidential duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The administration, in which mere obduracy sometimes serves as political philosophy, pushes the limits of assertion while disdaining collaboration. This faux toughness is folly, given that the Supreme Court, when rejecting President Harry S Truman's claim that his inherent powers as commander in chief allowed him to seize steel mills during the Korean War, held that presidential authority is weakest when it clashes with Congress.

Immediately after Sept. 11, the president rightly did what he thought the emergency required, and rightly thought that the 1978 law was inadequate to new threats posed by a new kind of enemy using new technologies of communication. Arguably he should have begun surveillance of domestic-to-domestic calls - the kind the Sept. 11 terrorists made.

But 53 months later, Congress should make all necessary actions lawful by authorizing the president to take those actions, with suitable supervision. It should do so with language that does not stigmatize what he has been doing, but that implicitly refutes the doctrine that the authorization is superfluous."

Thursday, February 9, 2006

What It Means To Be A Republican

The vice president shoots you in the heart and in the face. Then you apologize for all the trouble it’s caused him. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

Despite almost hysterical warnings the president stays asleep at the wheel. He does nothing about terrorism and 9/11 happens. He responds by running away to Nebraska. Three days later he makes a supposedly impromptu speech with a bull horn on the rubble of the World Trade Center. He is universally cheered as a hero. That’s what it means to be a Republican. The president puts together false claims to go to war with the wrong country. His party universally supports him. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The administration mismanages the war in Iraq so that it creates chaos, a breeding ground for terrorists and political opportunities for Islamic fundamentalists. Along the way, the reasons for going to war are exposed as false. The president runs on national security as his main issue. He is re-elected. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The president cheerfully gives away the surplus to the richest people in the country. Then he runs up record debts, just to throw more money their way. He claims it has helped America’s economy. People act like they believe him. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The administration continues it’s magnificent tradition of going to sleep when it is warned of disaster. It does nothing when Katrina is coming. It continues its record of doing nothing when disaster arrives. As New Orleans was lost, just as when the World Trade Center was lost, the president got as far away as possible. But he can’t be blamed for what nature did. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The president orders wiretaps without warrants, a straightforward violation of the constitution. When the Attorney General is called to testify, the head of the Judiciary Committee insists that his testimony not be under oath. The head of the intelligence committee suggests that the law be changed, now, to make it legal after the fact. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

Alberto Gonzales helped come up with the program that rejected the Geneva Conventions, that permits torture, that says that the president is above the law and that “I was only following orders” should be a defense against a charge of war crimes. Ah, if only the Nazi war criminals who were hung at Nuremberg had Gonzales there to defend them. The president nominates Gonzales to be his new Attorney General. He is confirmed with little debate and no outrage. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

This needs to be understood.

What it implies is that Republicans can’t be dealt with as if reason and facts will sway them. Because it wont. It’s hard for reality based people, regular Democrats and Liberals to understand that.

What it let’s us know is that reality based people, Democrats, Liberals, real Conservatives, old-fashioned Republicans and non-profit Christians have to take more vigorous and rigorous stands. Or reality and real American values and the American landscape will disappear, not just temporarily, but forever.

Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin."

Sunday, February 5, 2006

The Story of How Bush Went Into Iraq . . .

The Independent confirms a report by the Guardian on a newly-revealed British memo. The memo claims that Bush made the decision to attack Iraq two months prior to the war. Furthermore, the memo states that Bush was thinking about baiting Iraq into a breach of UN resolutions by “flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colors.”

This most-recent memo is just the latest in a series of official British government documents that have revealed shocking information about how Bush misled the nation into Iraq (see the original Downing Street Memo and the British Briefing Papers revealed previously by ThinkProgress).

There are two things all these memos share in common: 1) none of the memos’ validity has been disputed, and 2) the U.S. media has been slow to cover every single one of them. In fact, while reputable British papers such as the Guardian, the Independent, and the Financial Times have already reported on the most recent memo, no American newspaper has.

If the American media decided to aggressively report on the evidence contained in these British memos, here’s the story they would find:

    “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
    “US is scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al [Qaida that] is so far frankly unconvincing.”

    “Even the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on [the] nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts.”

    “Indeed if the argument [for attacking Iraq] is to be won, the whole case against Iraq and in favour (if necessary) of military action, needs to be narrated with reference to the international rule of law.”

    “A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law Officers advice, none currently exists.”
“The NSC (National Security Council) had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.”
“The two leaders [Bush and Blair] were worried by the lack of hard evidence that Saddam Hussein had broken UN resolutions, though privately they were convinced that he had. According to the memorandum, Mr Bush said: ‘The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.’ 
  “On January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - … Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.”
    “[Bush] added that he had a date, 10 March, pencilled in for the start of military action. The war actually began on 20 March.”
    “What happens on the morning after?”    “There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”  
  “Bush said that he ‘thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.’”   
“We have to answer the big question – what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than anything.”

Saturday, December 31, 2005

"The Hidden State Steps Forward

When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act." As justification, he offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?
Bush's choice marks a watershed in the evolution of his Administration. Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.
But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation. Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.
The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of secrecy over these and other actions.
There is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war, deceives its citizens, violates their rights, abuses power and breaks the law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power without limit, tortures prisoners and acts in secret. It is dictatorship.
The Administration of George W. Bush is not a dictatorship, but it does manifest the characteristics of one in embryonic form. Until recently, these were developing and growing in the twilight world of secrecy. Even within the executive branch itself, Bush seemed to govern outside the normally constituted channels of the Cabinet and to rely on what Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff has called a "cabal." Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reported the same thing. Cabinet meetings were for show. Real decisions were made elsewhere, out of sight. Another White House official, John DiIulio, has commented that there was "a complete lack of a policy apparatus" in the White House. "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm." As in many Communist states, a highly centralized party, in this case the Republican Party, was beginning to forge a parallel apparatus at the heart of government, a semi-hidden state-within-a-state, by which the real decisions were made.
With Bush's defense of his wiretapping, the hidden state has stepped into the open. The deeper challenge Bush has thrown down, therefore, is whether the country wants to embrace the new form of government he is creating by executive fiat or to continue with the old constitutional form. He is now in effect saying, "Yes, I am above the law--I am the law, which is nothing more than what I and my hired lawyers say it is--and if you don't like it, I dare you to do something about it."
Members of Congress have no choice but to accept the challenge. They did so once before, when Richard Nixon, who said, "When the President does it, that means it's not illegal," posed a similar threat to the Constitution. The only possible answer is to inform Bush forthwith that if he continues in his defiance, he will be impeached.
If Congress accepts his usurpation of its legislative power, they will be no Congress and might as well stop meeting. Either the President must uphold the laws of the United States, which are Congress's laws, or he must leave office."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Can Congress Authorize Constitutional Violations?

Could Congress pass a resolution or a law authorizing the President of the US to violate the 4th Amendment rights of Americans via 'spying' by permitting warrantless searches or seizures of protected zones without having probable cause absent the well defined classes of cases that presently exist that permit such warrantless searches (none of which permit this outrageous conduct)?

Of course not.

So, what does it matter if - as Bush argues - the war resolution can be read (which it cannot) to implicitly or explicitly authorize these searches (an idiotic argument indeed)?

The entire dialogue is ludicrous. Entering into the debate as if the Congressional "war resolution" could - if it said so - authorize violations of the 4th Amendment is to accept a red herring and eat it too.

Again: The 4th Amendment OF THE US CONSTITUTION overrides the power of congress or the president, or the judiciary in this instance. End of argument. If the president does not have the inherent power to do these warrantless searches, congress could not give it to him.

A first month law student with crim const law under his/her belt knows this to be true.

That's that.