FM: John Whitbeck
Transmitted below is a commentary by Molly Ivins on the damage done by
the U.S. Congress this week before leaving Washington to try to convince
the American people that they should be permitted to do further damage
in the years to come.
After the passage of legislation which, among other horrors, has
legalized torture and perpetual imprisonment without charges,
retroactively legalized war crimes already committed during the past
five years and abolished the universal right of habeas corpus (the
bedrock of the rule of law in Western civilization since 1215, whose
absence used to define tyranny), I believe that the United States has
definitively ceased to be a democracy and has now completed its
transformation into an imperial plutocracy with strong totalitarian and
fascist tendencies and characteristics.
In many ways, the United States was a noble experiment in human affairs.
For many years, it was a genuine inspiration to people around the world.
I certainly felt that way when, almost 40 years ago, I served in the
U.S. Peace Corps in Ethiopia and then waved a small American flag as I
hitchhiked around Africa. Today, the United States serves as only as a
negative example of what to avoid in countries where people still
possess decent values (such as those I thought were "American" in my
youth) and as an excuse for the world's nastiest and most oppressive
regimes to do their worst to those whose whose lives they control.
It is a shame that America didn't work out -- and not just for those who
still live there.
*Habeas Corpus, R.I.P. (1215 - 2006)*
By Molly Ivins
Wednesday 27 September 2006
*/With a smug stroke of his pen, President Bush is set to wipe out a
safeguard against illegal imprisonment that has endured as a
cornerstone of legal justice since the Magna Carta./*
Austin, Texas - Oh dear. I'm sure he didn't mean it. In Illinois'
Sixth Congressional District, long represented by Henry Hyde, Republican
candidate Peter Roskam accused his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth,
of planning to "cut and run" on Iraq.
Duckworth is a former Army major and chopper pilot who lost both
legs in Iraq after her helicopter got hit by an RPG. "I just could not
believe he would say that to me," said Duckworth, who walks on
artificial legs and uses a cane. Every election cycle produces some
wincers, but how do you apologize for that one?
The legislative equivalent of that remark is the detainee bill now
being passed by Congress. Beloveds, this is so much worse than even that
pathetic deal reached last Thursday between the White House and
Republican Sens. John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The White
House has since reinserted a number of "technical fixes" that were the
point of the putative "compromise." It leaves the president with the
power to decide who is an enemy combatant.
This bill is not a national security issue-this is about torturing
helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies. Perhaps
this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the
power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700
prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with
anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the
innocent that has already taken place.
Death by torture by Americans was first reported in 2003 in a New
York Times article by Carlotta Gall. The military had announced the
prisoner died of a heart attack, but when Gall saw the death
certificate, written in English and issued by the military, it said the
cause of death was homicide. The "heart attack" came after he had been
beaten so often on this legs that they had "basically been pulpified,"
according to the coroner.
The story of why and how it took the Times so long to print this
information is in the current edition of the Columbia Journalism Review.
The press in general has been late and slow in reporting torture, so
very few Americans have any idea how far it has spread. As is often true
in hierarchical, top-down institutions, the orders get passed on in what
I call the downward communications exaggeration spiral.
For example, on a newspaper, a top editor may remark casually,
"Let's give the new mayor a chance to see what he can do before we start
This gets passed on as "Don't touch the mayor unless he really
And it ultimately arrives at the reporter level as "We can't say
anything negative about the mayor."
The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes
much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse
than the administration's first proposal. In one change, the original
compromise language said a suspect had the right to "examine and respond
to" all evidence used against him. The three senators said the clause
was necessary to avoid secret trials. The bill has now dropped the word
"examine" and left only "respond to."
In another change, a clause said that evidence obtained outside the
United States could be admitted in court even if it had been gathered
without a search warrant. But the bill now drops the words "outside the
United States," which means prosecutors can ignore American legal
standards on warrants.
The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant
to cover anyone who has "has purposefully and materially supported
hostilities against the United States." Quick, define "purposefully and
materially." One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists
because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.
The bill simply removes a suspect's right to challenge his detention
in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in
1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.
As Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet dissident, wrote, an intelligence
service free to torture soon "degenerates into a playground for
sadists." But not unbridled sadism-you will be relieved that the
compromise took out the words permitting interrogation involving "severe
pain" and substituted "serious pain," which is defined as "bodily injury
that involves extreme physical pain."
In July 2003, George Bush said in a speech: "The United States is
committed to worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading this
fight by example. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right.
Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes,
whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit."
Fellow citizens, this bill throws out legal and moral restraints as
the president deems it necessary. These are fundamental principles of
basic decency, as well as law.
I'd like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction:
Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this
legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins
comparing us to the Nazis.