Saturday, September 30, 2006

More "News Analysis"

"Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President," proclaims the headline in today's Times. Shifts power, it says. We're just movin' power around, y'see. Just rearrangin' the power on the Titanic, is all.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — With the final passage through Congress of the detainee treatment bill, President Bush on Friday achieved a signal victory, shoring up with legislation his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism in the face of challenges from critics and the courts.
Mmm, "his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism." You'd almost think he hadn't made the problem worse by invading Iraq, or that he'd taken serious steps to safeguard ports and chemical plants and nuclear facilities, or that his administration wasn't parceling out anti-terrorism funds according to completely illogical criteria, or something. But then not invading Iraq, safeguarding ports and chemical plants and nuclear facilities, and parceling out anti-terror funds logically might actually make us safer—and then there'd be less justification for the litany of anti-democratic horrors concealed within the polite language below:
Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them — albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment — beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy. It does, however, grant detainees brought before military commissions limited protections initially opposed by the White House. The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.

And it broadens the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” to include not only those who fight the United States but also those who have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” The latter group could include those accused of providing financial or other indirect support to terrorists, human rights groups say. The designation can be made by any “competent tribunal” created by the president or secretary of defense.
In other words, it pretty much gives the president and/or his cronies the power to lock up anybody they please—as long as they claim that the detainees have some connection to terrorism. Of course, the Times waits a little bit to get to the nastier details:
Over all, the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president.

Bruce Ackerman, a critic of the administration and a professor of law and political science at Yale University, sharply criticized the bill but agreed that it strengthened the White House position. “The president walked away with a lot more than most people thought,” Mr. Ackerman said. He said the bill “further entrenches presidential power” and allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention.

“And it’s not only about these prisoners,” Mr. Ackerman said. “If Congress can strip courts of jurisdiction over cases because it fears their outcome, judicial independence is threatened.”

I guess that's what they mean by that polite "shifts power" in the headline: just forget that archaic balance of powers stuff we all learned about in school—after all, that was pre-9/11, and it's not like American democracy ever had to face anything as terrifying as 9/11 before (World War II and Mutual Assured Destruction pale in comparison, don't you know)—and shift all that power over to the executive branch. If the imbalance makes us fall, well, that'll make it even harder for the terrorists to hit us. It's a brilliant strategy! But wait—as so often before, the Times buries the best bit:
The debate over the limits of torture and the rules for military commission dominated discussion of the bill until this week. Only in the last few days has broad attention turned to its redefinition of “unlawful enemy combatant” and its ban on habeas corpus petitions, which suspects have traditionally used to challenge their incarceration.
Um, no—a fairer (but less Bush-friendly) characterization might say that a habeas corpus petition is "a legal proceeding in which an individual held in custody can challenge the propriety of that custody under the law"; in other words, habeas corpus petitions allow those who are WRONGLY IMPRISONED to demand that their imprisonment be lawfully justified. In other words, habeas corpus petitions are fundamental safeguards of the principle that since (a) governmental authorities sometimes make mistakes and (b)governmental authorities sometimes are evil and self-serving, governmental authorities should not be empowered to lock up anyone they please, whenever they please, for as long as they please. In other words, THIS is actually the most important—and the most disturbing—aspect of the soon-to-be-infamous Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, no doubt, is why the Times's "news analysis" obligingly buries it deep within the article. "Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President" is just so much politer than "Military Commissions Act Obliterates Ancient Cornerstone of Civil Liberties."

Suddenly I have a newfound appreciation for Tom Engelhardt's advice on how to read "the imperial press":

I've always claimed that, when you read articles in the imperial press, the best way -- and I'm only half-kidding -- is back to front. Your basic front-page stories, as on the TV news, usually don't differ that much from paper to paper. It's when you get toward the ends of pieces that they really get interesting. Maybe because reporters and editors sense that nobody's paying attention but the news junkies, so things get much looser. You find tidbits the reporter's slipped in that just fall outside the frame of the expectable. That's what I go looking for. Sometimes it's like glimpsing coming attractions.
Or coming abominations—take your pick.

For more perspective on just what our elected representatives have done in passing this atrocity, first, listen to or read yesterday's Democracy Now! segment featuring Senator Patrick Leahy and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights talking about the detainee bill; then, listen to or read the next segment, which features Rajiv Chandrasekaran talking about the utter mess the Bush Administration has made of its attempts to rebuild Iraq. Absorb the litany of cronyism, incompetence, and insanity that Chandrasekaran recites: the 24-year-old with no finance background (but plenty of pro-Bush sentiment) sent to restart Iraq's stock exchange; the Republican non-doctor sent to fix Iraq's health care system; the Bush apparatchik who placed loyalty to the Bush Administration above expertise and competence when selecting people to guide the rebuilding of a shattered country.

Then, contemplate how this is the administration to which so-called Democrats like Bill Nelson have just given unprecedented new powers‐and for which they have tossed aside one of the foundational principles of a free society. This administration, whose motto could well be "Incompetent At Best; Insane, At Least; Mendacious, Most Definitely." I mean, to do it all in the absence of a most serious national emergency (and please don't tell me that the "war on terror" qualifies as such) is shameful, but to do it for this administration—that's just incomprehensible.

It's Day Two in New America. Why don't I feel any safer?

Shifty little bunch of page pokers, ain't they?
Great post, nash. Now that you've done the heavy lifting, I'm going to write up a little blurb myself and link up to it over at my place.
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