Sometime last night, or this morning, or next Tuesday (why canâ€™t the Chinese operate on American time, like everybody else?), George Bush gave what he probably fancies as his â€œtear down this wallâ€ speech. He excoriated Chinaâ€™s government for its human rights violations and encouraged that nationâ€™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 â€¦ Bangkok, Thailand.
Bush previously had said he wouldnâ€™t speak out against Chinaâ€™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 â€œrespect for the Chinese people.â€ Never mind that had he spoken such words anywhere in Beijing, Wal-Martâ€™s supply chain might have disappeared completely and Chinaâ€™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 â€¦ 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 nationâ€™s human rights shame spiral, the â€œWar on Terror.â€ (These juxtapositions have become de rigueur as Bushâ€™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 Pentagonâ€™s kangaroo court — excuse me, â€œmilitary commissionâ€ — 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.
Letâ€™s ignore those two items for a moment — after all, Congress has been ignoring such events for years — and focus on Bushâ€™s speech. â€œWe 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,â€ he said. â€œAnd we press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.â€ Itâ€™s enough to bring tears to the eyes, isnâ€™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 letâ€™s take those words out of their lofty rhetorical context and ground them briefly in the Bush administrationâ€™s real-world activities:
â€œA free press.â€ From its scheme to bomb Al-Jazeeraâ€™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 Iâ€™ll just note that the entire Valerie Plame episode began as an attempt to discredit a newspaper op-ed.
â€œFreedom of Assembly.â€ 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 â€œfree-speech zonesâ€ 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 â€œcrimesâ€ such as using video cameras or wearing sunglasses or scarves that might protect them from tear gas. (Read the National Lawyersâ€™ Guild report here.)
â€œLabor rights.â€ 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 Progressâ€™ full report here.) And letâ€™s not forget that Bush refused to sign legislation creating the Homeland Security Department unless it eliminated labor rights for the departmentâ€™s employees — protections that were already in place throughout the federal bureaucracy.
As for Bushâ€™s invocation of the word â€œjusticeâ€: From John Yooâ€™s torture memos to Alberto Gonzalesâ€™ U.S.-attorney firings to Robert Mukaseyâ€™s current stonewalling on a variety of documents requested by Congress — not to mention Monica Goodlingâ€™s adventures in political hiring — itâ€™s crystal clear that the Bush administration has no frickinâ€™ clue what the word â€œjusticeâ€ even means.
Which brings us to the sorry status of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Ladenâ€™s former driver who was put in the dock for the first test of Bushâ€™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 â€œthe worst of the worst,â€ as theyâ€™ve frequently labeled Gitmoâ€™s detainees.
Using evidence not shared with Hamdanâ€™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 â€œsupportedâ€ (in other words, knew about) Al Qaedaâ€™s 9/11 plans, but qualified as a â€œconspiratorâ€ as well. The jury rejected the conspiracy charge, but the â€œsupportingâ€ 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 didnâ€™t turn Osama in. However, according to the two-centuries-old standards of the American criminal-justice system, we still donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s true. Judge (and Navy Captain) Keith J. Allred had declared at this trialâ€™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 Allredâ€™s decision to throw out evidence against Hamdan that had been obtained through torture — excuse me again, â€œhighly coercive measures.â€ 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, thereâ€™s one last fact that remains the true measure of Gitmoâ€™s long-term impact. Before the â€œtrialâ€ 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 â€œenemy combatant.â€ A chauffeur who had refused to carry a gun for Osama, locked up with no chance of release for being an enemy combatant.
Itâ€™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 guyâ€™s words at the 5:55 mark â€¦
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As for Suskindâ€™s explosive new book, I have little to say that you canâ€™t hear elsewhere, so Iâ€™ll just quote Marty Kaplanâ€™s commentary from the Huffington Post: â€œWhen this came up on MSNBC, moderator Chuck Todd asked Politicoâ€™s Mike Allen whether this would lead â€˜the anti-war crowdâ€™ in Congress to call for impeachment. Allen replied that it would â€˜give the lefty blogosphere something to grab onto.â€™
â€œAnd so, in less time than it takes to say â€˜Dick Cheney,â€™ 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 â€¦ 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?â€
Suskindâ€™s charges may or may not be accurate, but that really doesnâ€™t matter, does it? Like just about every other accusation made against the Bush administration, they are likely to pass into history uninvestigated. Thatâ€™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 McCainâ€™s new round of desperate attacks against Obama, a frequent commenter (who shall remain nameless) questioned â€œthe character of a guy who goes to Germany â€¦ and apologizes for our conduct in the world.â€ 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 nationâ€™s shame is their shame too.