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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sullivan on "elected tyranny"

Permanent, universal and secret powers to detain and torture people using the full force of state power strike me as inimical to the Western experiment in human history, or indeed to any society that prizes freedom. The fact that arguably the leading conservative intellectual in Washington, Charles Krauthammer, has openly supported the power of the president to torture solely on his own discretion and minimally if it could save one single life reveals how much contempt the current right has for individual liberty. This argument, mind you, is not even made retroactively; it is being made proactively - and the Bradbury memo outlines an ongoing permanent torture apparatus at a president's disposal.

There comes a point, in other words, when the executive's legitimate power to act in an emergency to save lives morphs into a de facto re-making of the constitution to grant the presidency the powers of a pre-modern monarch - subject solely to the voters' four year "moment of accountability."

To my mind, this is an elected tyranny. And the first Americans would gladly have lost a few cities - and countless lives - to resist it.
Sullivan also posts this picture of John Walker Lindh, and quotes from a reader's email:

The first American to get Abu-Ghraibed, long before Americans knew they were capable of such an exotic verb. The first to inspire Donald Rumsfeld to issue the order "Take the gloves off," and the first to be on the order's receiving end. The first to be denied medical treatment, the first photographed naked and bound, the first taunted while blindfolded, the first--certainly the first--to have SHITHEAD scrawled on his blindfold, the first whose digital photos made their way round the world as souvenirs, the first denied access to the Red Cross, the first to be ushered into a legal limbo created ex nihilo by the administration's notions of executive power...

John Walker Lindh was blindfolded and duct-taped naked to a stretcher in Afghanistan. He was being held in a shipping container, and he had a bullet in his thigh, and by the time an FBI agent interrogated him, the bullet had been in his thigh for nearly two weeks and the wound was starting to stink. "Of course, there are no lawyers here," the agent told him, and two days after he gave his statement, he was moved to a ship in the Arabian Sea and the bullet was finally extracted.
The point here is not whether Lindh, or anyone else held by American forces, did something deserving of prosecution and punishment; it's up to the courts to decide that by means of a fair and open trial. Rather, the point is all about barbaric punishments and torture, which are both illegal under our own laws as well as revolting to a civilized mind; AND the unlimited, unrestrained power of the government to apply any or all of the above to you or me - in secret, without limit - at any time, for any reason, on the mere whim of the President.

Violence in wartime or peacetime must be met with force, and lethal force if necessary; and evildoers must be punished. But, as every schoolchild on a playground knows, there is a sadistic streak always lurking in the shadows of human nature, ready to lash out if absolute power gives it an opening. That is why we have a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, and a long tradition of the rule of law, not of men, and not of kings who answer to no one and recognize no limit on their powers.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all that criminal crew unleashed that beast, in the name of us all; if we do not utterly repudiate and exorcise that shameful thing from the halls of the Republic, a new Dark Age will surely come, and a worse one than has ever been known, "made more dark and more sinister by the lights of a perverted science" - to use Churchill's famous phrase.

Don't think it can't happen here. Don't think it can't happen to you. It very easily can, as a little reading of history will show. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" - a phrase of Jefferson's often quoted by military minded folks, has a particular relevance to our own day, after Bush and his cronies have proved what depths of moral degredation people of their ilk are capable of reaching when they attain the heights of power.

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