Sometime last night, or this morning, or next Tuesday (why canÁ¢€™t the Chinese operate on American time, like everybody else?), George Bush gave what he probably fancies as his Á¢€Å“tear down this wallÁ¢€ speech. He excoriated ChinaÁ¢€™s government for its human rights violations and encouraged that nationÁ¢€™s people to seek greater freedoms, using what his spokespeople call (and who ever questions their veracity?) his strongest language to date. And he boldly made these pronouncements in a location from which every last one of the 1.2 billion Chinese would be sure to hear him Á¢€¦ Bangkok, Thailand.
Bush previously had said he wouldnÁ¢€™t speak out against ChinaÁ¢€™s crackdowns on dissidents, support for the Sudanese government, or other such issues while actually attending the Olympic opening ceremonies, because he has so much Á¢€Å“respect for the Chinese people.Á¢€ Never mind that had he spoken such words anywhere in Beijing, Wal-MartÁ¢€™s supply chain might have disappeared completely and ChinaÁ¢€™s bankers might have called in our considerable debts. Or maybe his reticence had something to do with his plans for a glorious 41-and-43 reunion with Poppy, who just happens to be the former U.S. ambassador to Á¢€¦ China.
Of course, these being the Bush years, details of the big China speech were forced to share space on the evening news with word of the latest glorious development in our own nationÁ¢€™s human rights shame spiral, the Á¢€Å“War on Terror.Á¢€ (These juxtapositions have become de rigueur as BushÁ¢€™s hypocrisy continues to swing violently along the rip-line between tragic and laughable.) Not only did the Bushies fail to win a full conviction in the first terrorist show trial staged by the PentagonÁ¢€™s kangaroo court — excuse me, Á¢€Å“military commissionÁ¢€ — but journalist Ron Suskind offered evidence in his new book that the entire basis for the Iraq War was not only a fraud, but a forgery as well.
LetÁ¢€™s ignore those two items for a moment — after all, Congress has been ignoring such events for years — and focus on BushÁ¢€™s speech. Á¢€Å“We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential,Á¢€ he said. Á¢€Å“And we press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.Á¢€ ItÁ¢€™s enough to bring tears to the eyes, isnÁ¢€™t it? God bless America! (Of course, if Barack Obama had said anything like this in Berlin, Republicans would be shouting to the rafters, accusing him of advocating socialism.)
But letÁ¢€™s take those words out of their lofty rhetorical context and ground them briefly in the Bush administrationÁ¢€™s real-world activities:
Á¢€Å“A free press.Á¢€ From its scheme to bomb Al-JazeeraÁ¢€™s Baghdad headquarters to the intense pressure brought to bear on the New York Times, Newsweek, and other publications over the years — and even attempting to use the Espionage Act for the first time in history against private citizens, over the leaking of spy data by a lobbyist to a journalist — the Bush administration has adopted a Nixonian (at best) stance toward the American news media. I could cite numerous examples of mistreatment and abuse of the press, but instead IÁ¢€™ll just note that the entire Valerie Plame episode began as an attempt to discredit a newspaper op-ed.
Á¢€Å“Freedom of Assembly.Á¢€ When was the last time Bush was confronted with a citizen who disagreed with his policies? Stories of protesters being removed from or arrested at Bush events — often before the events even begin — are legion. Meanwhile, demonstrators these days are caged in Á¢€Å“free-speech zonesÁ¢€ far from the sites of those events (or even the driving routes that might be taken by his motorcades). Beyond all that, in 2003 John Ashcroft changed the regulations for FBI domestic spying to encourage infiltration of antiwar groups and the expansion of police powers to arrest peaceful antiwar protesters for Á¢€Å“crimesÁ¢€ such as using video cameras or wearing sunglasses or scarves that might protect them from tear gas. (Read the National LawyersÁ¢€™ Guild report here.)
Á¢€Å“Labor rights.Á¢€ The one aspect of American life that Bush has remained committed to regulating is organized labor. While gutting hundreds of other regulatory agencies and practices, he has poured increased money into a crony-operated Labor Department office that has imposed draconian reporting requirements on unions and launched wild-goose-chase investigations against labor leaders, while trumping up all sorts of misinformation designed to discredit (if not destroy) the labor movement. (Read the Center for American ProgressÁ¢€™ full report here.) And letÁ¢€™s not forget that Bush refused to sign legislation creating the Homeland Security Department unless it eliminated labor rights for the departmentÁ¢€™s employees — protections that were already in place throughout the federal bureaucracy.
As for BushÁ¢€™s invocation of the word Á¢€Å“justiceÁ¢€: From John YooÁ¢€™s torture memos to Alberto GonzalesÁ¢€™ U.S.-attorney firings to Robert MukaseyÁ¢€™s current stonewalling on a variety of documents requested by Congress — not to mention Monica GoodlingÁ¢€™s adventures in political hiring — itÁ¢€™s crystal clear that the Bush administration has no frickinÁ¢€™ clue what the word Á¢€Å“justiceÁ¢€ even means.
Which brings us to the sorry status of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin LadenÁ¢€™s former driver who was put in the dock for the first test of BushÁ¢€™s vaunted (and Republican-Congress-approved) Military Commissions Act. After innumerable delays, Supreme Court reversals of Bush policies, cases that have fallen apart, and heaven only knows how much torture, the Pentagon finally got it in gear by prosecuting a guy with a fourth-grade education who emerged from an Al Qaeda training camp refusing to engage in violent activity. In other words, the Bushies obviously started things off with Á¢€Å“the worst of the worst,Á¢€ as theyÁ¢€™ve frequently labeled GitmoÁ¢€™s detainees.
Using evidence not shared with HamdanÁ¢€™s attorneys and statements obtained from him with no warning they might be used against him — bye bye, Miranda rights! — the prosecutors tried to talk a uniformed jury into believing that this chauffeur not only Á¢€Å“supportedÁ¢€ (in other words, knew about) Al QaedaÁ¢€™s 9/11 plans, but qualified as a Á¢€Å“conspiratorÁ¢€ as well. The jury rejected the conspiracy charge, but the Á¢€Å“supportingÁ¢€ conviction still carries a potential penalty of life in prison. (That penalty had not been meted out when this column went online.)
Hamdan most likely deserves a nice prison sentence, if in fact he knew about the 9/11 plans and didnÁ¢€™t turn Osama in. However, according to the two-centuries-old standards of the American criminal-justice system, we still donÁ¢€™t know if thatÁ¢€™s true. Judge (and Navy Captain) Keith J. Allred had declared at this trialÁ¢€™s outset that Hamdan was not entitled to basic Constitutional rights; from that moment onward, the legitimacy of his prosecution was toast.
The one bit of good news that came out of the trial, from a human-rights perspective, was AllredÁ¢€™s decision to throw out evidence against Hamdan that had been obtained through torture — excuse me again, Á¢€Å“highly coercive measures.Á¢€ That decision may have far-reaching effects on future efforts to prosecute alleged Al Qaeda higher-ups, but at least it restores at least a shred of honor and legality to what has become an utterly shameful process at Gitmo and other U.S. detainee operations.
Still, thereÁ¢€™s one last fact that remains the true measure of GitmoÁ¢€™s long-term impact. Before the Á¢€Å“trialÁ¢€ had even been completed, the Pentagon noted that, guilty or not of the charges against him, Hamdan would remain a prisoner at Gitmo indefinitely because of his status as an Á¢€Å“enemy combatant.Á¢€ A chauffeur who had refused to carry a gun for Osama, locked up with no chance of release for being an enemy combatant.
ItÁ¢€™s all reminiscent of a frequent guest on recent Daily Show episodes; enjoy the following montage before the Viacom police track us down, but pay close attention to the little red guyÁ¢€™s words at the 5:55 mark Á¢€¦
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/z3wvf4JzFCU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
As for SuskindÁ¢€™s explosive new book, I have little to say that you canÁ¢€™t hear elsewhere, so IÁ¢€™ll just quote Marty KaplanÁ¢€™s commentary from the Huffington Post: Á¢€Å“When this came up on MSNBC, moderator Chuck Todd asked PoliticoÁ¢€™s Mike Allen whether this would lead Á¢€Ëœthe anti-war crowdÁ¢€™ in Congress to call for impeachment. Allen replied that it would Á¢€Ëœgive the lefty blogosphere something to grab onto.Á¢€™
Á¢€Å“And so, in less time than it takes to say Á¢€ËœDick Cheney,Á¢€™ the subject is changed from what would be one of the most outrageous violations of the Constitution in the history of the Republic to a left/right issue Á¢€¦ If the White House asked the CIA to cook up this disinformation aimed at the American people, why shouldn’t the righty blogosphere, too, be up in arms? Why doesn’t every American, regardless of political party, have a stake in the truth and the rule of law?Á¢€
SuskindÁ¢€™s charges may or may not be accurate, but that really doesnÁ¢€™t matter, does it? Like just about every other accusation made against the Bush administration, they are likely to pass into history uninvestigated. ThatÁ¢€™s an indictment of politicians from both sides of the aisle, of course. But just the other day, in response to my column about John McCainÁ¢€™s new round of desperate attacks against Obama, a frequent commenter (who shall remain nameless) questioned Á¢€Å“the character of a guy who goes to Germany Á¢€¦ and apologizes for our conduct in the world.Á¢€ In light of recent (and not-so-recent) events, I can only question why Bush himself devoted no time in his China speech to apologizing for his conduct — and I can only wonder how much time will have to pass before Republicans recognize that our nationÁ¢€™s shame is their shame too.