- "There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny
may not enter upon this country - if the people lose their confidence in
themselves - and lose their roughness and spirit of defiance." -
- It was a dark hour indeed on
Thursday when the United States Senate voted to end the Constitutional
Republic and transform the country into a "Leader-State," giving
the president and his agents the power to capture, torture and imprison
forever anyone - American citizens included - whom they arbitrarily decide
is an "enemy combatant." This also includes those who merely
give "terrorism" some kind of "support," defined so
vaguely that many experts say it could encompass legal advice, innocent
gifts to charities or even political opposition to US government policy
within its draconian strictures.
- All of this is bad enough - a
sickening and cowardly surrender of liberty not seen in a major Western
democracy since the Enabling Act passed by the German Reichstag in March
1933. But it is by no means the full extent of our degradation. In reality,
the darkness is deeper, and more foul, than most people imagine. For in
addition to the dictatorial powers of seizure and torment given by Congress
on Thursday to George W. Bush - powers he had already seized and exercised
for five years anyway, even without this fig leaf of sham legality - there
is a far more sinister imperial right that Bush has claimed - and used
- openly, without any demur or debate from Congress at all: ordering the
"extrajudicial killing" of anyone on earth that he and his deputies
decide - arbitrarily, without charges, court hearing, formal evidence,
or appeal - is an "enemy combatant."
- That's right; from the earliest
days of the Terror War - September 17, 2001, to be exact - Bush has claimed
the peremptory power of life and death over the entire world. If he says
you're an enemy of America, you are. If he wants to imprison you and torture
you, he can. And if he decides you should die, he'll kill you. This is
not hyperbole, liberal paranoia, or "conspiracy theory": it's
simply a fact, reported by the mainstream media, attested by senior administration
figures, recorded in official government documents - and boasted about
by the president himself, in front of Congress and a national television
- And although the Republic snuffing
act just passed by Congress does not directly address Bush's royal prerogative
of murder, it nonetheless strengthens it and enshrines it in law. For the
measure sets forth clearly that the designation of an "enemy combatant"
is left solely to the executive branch; neither Congress nor the courts
have any say in the matter. When this new law is coupled with the existing
"Executive Orders" authorizing "lethal force" against
arbitrarily designated "enemy combatants," it becomes, quite
literally, a license to kill - with the seal of Congressional approval.
- How arbitrary is this process
by which all our lives and liberties are now governed? Dave Niewert at
Orcinus has unearthed a remarkable admission of its totally capricious
nature. In an December 2002 story in the Washington Post, then-Solicitor
General Ted Olson described the anarchy at the heart of the process with
- "[There is no] requirement
that the executive branch spell out its criteria for determining who qualifies
as an enemy combatant," Olson argues.
- "'There won't be 10 rules
that trigger this or 10 rules that end this,' Olson said in the interview.
'There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations
that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different
from day to day, depending on the circumstances.'"
- In other words, what is safe
to do or say today might imperil your freedom or your life tomorrow. You
can never know if you are on the right side of the law, because the "law"
is merely the whim of the Leader and his minions: their "instincts"
determine your guilt or innocence, and these flutterings in the gut can
change from day to day. This radical uncertainty is the very essence of
despotism - and it is now, formally and officially, the guiding principle
of the United States government.
- And underlying this edifice of
tyranny is the prerogative of presidential murder. Perhaps the enormity
of this monstrous perversion of law and morality has kept it from being
fully comprehended. It sounds unbelievable to most people: a president
ordering hits like a Mafia don? But that is our reality, and has been for
five years. To overcome what seems to be a widespread cognitive dissonance
over this concept, we need only examine the record - a record, by the way,
taken entirely from publicly available sources in the mass media. There's
nothing secret or contentious about it, nothing that any ordinary citizen
could not know - if they choose to know it.
- Six days after the 9/11 attacks,
George W. Bush signed a "presidential finding" authorizing the
CIA to kill those individuals whom he had marked for death as terrorists.
This in itself was not an entirely radical innovation; Bill Clinton's White
House legal team had drawn up memos asserting the president's right to
issue "an order to kill an individual enemy of the United States in
self-defense," despite the legal prohibitions against assassination,
the Washington Post reported in October 2001. The Clinton team based this
ruling on the "inherent powers" of the "Commander in Chief"
- that mythical, ever-elastic construct that Bush has evoked over and over
to defend his own unconstitutional usurpations.
- The practice of "targeted
killing" was apparently never used by Clinton, however; despite the
pro-assassination memos, Clinton followed the traditional presidential
practice of bombing the hell out of a bunch of civilians whenever he wanted
to lash out at some recalcitrant leader or international outlaw - as in
his bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, or the two
massive strikes he launched against Iraq in 1993 and 1998, or indeed the
death and ruin that was deliberately inflicted on civilian infrastructure
in Serbia during that nation's collective punishment for the crimes of
Slobodan Milosevic. Here, Clinton was following the example set by George
H.W. Bush, who killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Panamanian civilians
in his illegal arrest of Manuel Noriega in 1988, and Ronald Reagan, who
killed Moamar Gadafy's adopted 2-year-old daughter and 100 other civilians
in a punitive strike on Libya in 1986.
- Junior Bush, of course, was about
to outdo all those blunderbuss strokes with his massive air attacks on
Afghanistan, which killed thousands of civilians, and the later orgy of
death and destruction in Iraq. But he also wanted the power to kill individuals
at will. At first, the assassination program was restricted to direct orders
from the president aimed at specific targets, as suggested by the Clinton
memos. But soon the arbitrary power of life and death was delegated to
agents in the field, after Bush signed orders allowing CIA assassins to
kill targets without seeking presidential approval for each attack, the
Washington Post reported in December 2002. Nor was it necessary any longer
for the president to approve each new name added to the target list; the
"security organs" could designate "enemy combatants"
and kill them as they saw fit. However, Bush was always keen to get the
details about the agency's wetwork, administration officials assured the
- The first officially confirmed
use of this power was the killing of an American citizen, along with several
foreign nationals, by a CIA drone missile in Yemen on November 3, 2002.
A similar strike occurred on December 4, 2005, when a CIA missile destroyed
a house and purportedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia, a suspected al-Qaeda figure.
But the only bodies found at the site were those of two children, the houseowner's
son and nephew, Reuters reports. The grieving father denied any connection
to terrorism. An earlier CIA strike on another house missed Rabia but killed
his wife and children, Pakistani officials reported.
- However, there is simply no way
of knowing at this point how many people have been killed by American agents
operating outside all judicial process. Most of the assassinations are
carried out in secret: quietly, professionally. As a Pentagon document
uncovered by the New Yorker in December 2002 revealed, the death squads
must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely,
using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to ...
enter countries surreptitiously."
- What's more, there are strong
indications that the Bush administration has outsourced some of the contracts
to outside operators. In the original Post story about the assassinations
- in those first heady weeks after 9/11, when administration officials
were much more open about "going to the dark side," as Cheney
boasted on national television - Bush insiders told the paper that "it
is also possible that the instrument of targeted killings will be foreign
agents, the CIA's term for nonemployees who act on its behalf.
- Here we find a deadly echo of
the "rendition" program that has sent so many captives to torture
pits in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere - including many whose innocence has
been officially established, such as the Canadian businessman Maher Arar,
German national Khalid El-Masri, UK native Mozzam Begg and many others.
They had been subjected to imprisonment and torture despite their innocence,
because of intelligence "mistakes." How many have fallen victim
to Bush's hit squads on similar shaky grounds?
- So here we are. Congress has
just entrenched the principle of Bush's "unitary executive" dictatorship
into law; and it is this principle that undergirds the assassination program.
As I wrote in December, it's hard to believe that any genuine democracy
would accept a claim by its leader that he could have anyone killed simply
by labeling them an "enemy." It's hard to believe that any adult
with even the slightest knowledge of history or human nature could countenance
such unlimited, arbitrary power, knowing the evil it is bound to produce.
Yet this is exactly what the great and good in America have done.
- But this should come as no surprise.
They have known about it all along, and have not only countenanced Bush's
death squad, but even celebrated it. I'll end with one more passage from
that December article, which sadly is even more apt for our degraded reality
today. It was a depiction of the one of the most revolting scenes in recent
American history: Bush's state of the Union address in January 2003, delivered
live to the nation during the final warmongering frenzy before the rape
- Trumpeting his successes in the
Terror War, Bush claimed that "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists"
had been arrested worldwide - "and many others have met a different
fate." His face then took on the characteristic leer, the strange,
sickly half-smile it acquires whenever he speaks of killing people: "Let's
put it this way. They are no longer a problem."
- In other words, the suspects
- and even Bush acknowledged they were only suspects - had been murdered.
Lynched. Killed by agents operating unsupervised in that shadow world where
intelligence, terrorism, politics, finance and organized crime meld together
in one amorphous, impenetrable mass. Killed on the word of a dubious informer,
perhaps: a tortured captive willing to say anything to end his torment,
a business rival, a personal foe, a bureaucrat looking to impress his superiors,
a paid snitch in need of cash, a zealous crank pursuing ethnic, tribal
or religious hatreds - or any other purveyor of the garbage data that is
coin of the realm in the shadow world.
- Bush proudly held up this hideous
system as an example of what he called "the meaning of American justice."
And the assembled legislators ... applauded. Oh, how they applauded! They
roared with glee at the leering little man's bloodthirsty, B-movie machismo.
They shared his sneering contempt for law - our only shield, however imperfect,
against the blind, brute, ignorant, ape-like force of raw power. Not a
single voice among them was raised in protest against this tyrannical machtpolitik:
not that night, not the next day, not ever.
- And now, in September 2006, we
know they will never raise that protest. Oh, a few Democrats stood up at
the last minute on Thursday to posture nobly about the dangers of the detainee
bill - but only when they knew the it was certain to pass, when they had
already given up their one weapon against it, the filibuster, in exchange
for permission from their Republican masters to offer amendments that they
also knew would fail. Had they been offering such speeches since October
2001, when the lineaments of Bush's presidential tyranny were already clear
- or at any other point during the systematic dismantling of America's
liberties over the past five years - these fine words might have had some
- Now the killing will go on. The
tyranny that has entered upon the country will grow stronger, more brazen;
the darkness will deepen. Whitman, thou should'st be living at this hour;
America has need of thee.
- Chris Floyd is an American journalist.
His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world,
including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian
Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many others. He is
the author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush
Imperium, and is co-founder and editor of the "Empire Burlesque"
political blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.