I was rereading some of my old mail in order to clean out my inbox when I came across this. Seeing what has transpired in the Middle East (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, etc.) over the past few weeks brings these concerns to the forefront once again.
It was written in 2008 before the last presidential election, but the issues are still with us today – just change the names and places, the rest stays the same.
We still have not rolled back GWB’s intrusion to our constitutional protections with his imperial presidency. As I said in other pieces, once the territory is expanded, it seldom is given back. Obama has not acted to change any of these excesses, and he is now considering the use of presidential signing statements like GWB, which basically says, “I am the president. I don’t agree with this law, even though everyone else is supposed to abide by it, I don’t intend to do so and will consider myself above the law in this instance.”
When I was arguing this case during the GWB administration, my Republican friends didn’t agree with me because their guy was in office. Well, your guy isn’t in office anymore, so how do you like it now?
Supporters of GWB in 2008 (like Limbaugh and Beck, et al.) dismissed these concerns then, and now that Obama’s been in office (not their guy), all of a sudden there is great hand-wringing and declarations of doom and despair about how what is happening in Egypt, et al., will happen here.
I’m all for the declarations of doom and despair regarding the expansion of the imperial presidency and the erosion of our constitutional protections – regardless of whose guy is in office – because the issue is the erosion of constitutional protections, not whose faces or which names or places, that is important.
Talk by Naomi Wolf, author of “The End of America”, October 14, 2007
Blueprint for shutting down a democracy:
- Leader manufactures or hypes a terrifying internal or external threat that doesn’t exist (WMD in Iraq).
- Create a secret prison system where torture takes place and often establish military tribunals (Gitmo, FEMA concentration camps). Start with a segment of the population that most of the population does not identify with, then branch out – Niemõller’s poem.
- Create a paramilitary force (Blackwater). President can also nationalize National Guard in Alabama to perform martial law duties in another state.
- Create a surveillance apparatus spying on ordinary citizens (FISA). Security industrial complex was military industrial complex, shifted after Cold War. The watch list ensures that the security industrial complex will always have someone to surveil. This administration has put its enemies on the watch list – journalists, Code Pink, animal activists, etc.
- Arbitrarily detain and release citizens.
- Target key individuals (Dan Rather, Bill Maher, Dixie Chicks).
- Infiltrate citizens groups.
- Restrict the press. Bill Keller, NYT, Swift-Bacon – calls for him to be charged with treason. 1917 Espionage Act – last used to round up anti-war activists, etc., without warrants. Since these charges end in the death penalty, raises fear among dissenters. U.S. journalists seized and held without warrant for writing stories unfavorable to the administration.
- Expand the definition of terrorist, traitor, spy. Last fall, definition of “terrorist” was expanded to animal rights activists.
- Subvert the rule of law. Declare martial law.
When the U.S. Attorney’s scandal broke, I said at the time that I bet those attorneys are in swing states (they were). E-mails the White House isn’t turning over document the plan to fire all the attorneys – not used.
A closed society doesn’t look like Hitler’s Germany. A closed society still looks like an open society – still elections, just corrupted, like 2000 – remember Florida and the Republicans harassing the recount? There’s still a judiciary, but not free to adjudicate freely against the administration.
We must stand up for our democracy. That is our sacred duty as American citizens. We must do it now.
That concluded the summary of her speech (which was much more in depth and well worth the time to view — see first link).
So, what do we do now?
First, we must put enormous pressure on Congress to roll back the changes that have taken place during these last 10+ years:
- Pursue criminal charges against Bush, Cheney and others involved in the falsification of documents, fraudulent intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq, the outing of Valerie Plame, the abuse of executive privilege, etc. [Libby was their designated “fall guy.”]
- Revise FISA law to require the administration to (a) submit a list of names of who the administration is investigating (“watch” list) to a select group of intelligence committee members in both houses of Congress with a list of the probable causes leading to granting the warrant and the results of the investigation; (b) submit the complete watch list to the same committees, providing probable cause and investigation results for why each name is on the list; (c) require social security number (if an American citizen) or other identifying number (passport ID, etc.) to be a part of the list so that innocent people with similar or the same names can be cross-checked with the list to prevent them from undue hardship or punishment; (d) require the watch list to be reviewed at regular periods and coordinated between various intelligence and enforcement branches; and (e) restore writ of habeas corpus completely.
- Prohibit the administration from placing any legitimate journalist on the Watch List unless there is absolute proof that said journalist is guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy resulting in the direct deaths of Americans, American soldiers or allied soldiers in any military conflict.
- Prevent the administration from denying admission into any military theatre of legitimate journalists and prohibit the administration or the Pentagon from editing any journalist publication unless absolute proof can be provided that printing such information would directly and immediately compromise military operations or expose the troops to immediate and irreparable harm. This includes end-round investigations of such watchdog organizations as Wikileaks and Code Pink (and I am not necessarily supporting the wholesale release of leaked classified documents by Wikileaks, because I do believe Julian Assange is behaving in a vengeful manner with reckless disregard for the consequences of some of the information leaked it is possible to strike a reasonable balance between the need to expose government officials and agencies acting in an illegal manner and the need to protect private correspondence and national security).
- Prohibit the administration or the Pentagon from preventing journalists or news media from covering the arrival of coffins of dead soldiers from a war or military theatre. Prevent the administration or the Pentagon from preventing journalists or news media from covering the funerals of fallen soldiers unless so requested by the soldier’s family. This does not apply to antiwar demonstrations at funerals. Families of dead servicemen or women deserve not only our respect for their sacrifice and the full sacrifice of their deceased loved one, but also the right to grieve without being harassed. I find exploiting a funeral of a dead service man or woman for the purposes of an antiwar demonstration disgusting and shameful, at best. I thought the mistakes we made during the Viet Nam era (taking out our frustration at the war against our returning soldiers) were lessons learned. Apparently these lessons need to be taught to each new generation.
- Remove from the president the power to unilaterally declare a national state of emergency (that could kick into action the Continuity of Government or martial law) without approval from Congress. Require that any national state of emergency must have an automatic expiration date of 30 days from the date of the declaration. Any extension must be approved by Congress every 30 days or a date sooner, if so designated by Congress.
- In the event of a tragedy that causes COG to be activated, the majority of Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court to be killed, any extension of the national state of emergency resulting in COG being activated must be approved by the majorities in each State legislature until such time as new senators and representatives can be replaced. Should the state legislature not be able to convene, an emergency group for that state consisting of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and majority and minority leaders in both state legislative bodies of that state can approve such actions or appointments as needed, according to their state constitutional provisions, should such provisions exist.
- Under no circumstances and in no event is the U.S. Congress to be disbanded for more than 30 days in the event a national state of emergency is declared and approved by Congress. No new law or “emergency law” may be passed, executed or implemented during the time Congress is disbanded without the majority of state legislatures (or state “emergency group”) approving such “emergency” law. Such laws will expire immediately upon the reconstitution of Congress.
- Under no circumstances and in no event is the U.S. Supreme Court to be disbanded in the event a national state of emergency is declared and approved by Congress unless the number of deaths of justices prevents them from reaching a quorum. No cases shall be brought, decided or appealed by any other body during its absence. No federal inmates shall be convicted or executed by any other body during its absence. No state shall execute capital punishment of any prisoner during the absence of the U.S. Supreme Court. No military tribunals or other extra-judiciary bodies shall exist in the absence of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal court system.
- Remove from the president the power to declare anyone a non-enemy combatant.
- Disband existing military tribunals (since they are unconstitutional) and require all detainees to be tried in Federal Court. Any detainees that are determined to be held without probable cause will be immediately released, returned to their country of origin and compensated for time served. Any detainees that are found innocent of all charges brought will be immediately released and returned to his or her country of origin.
- Outlaw rendition and torture and make it a capital crime to commit same by any U.S. government elected or appointed official, employee, private government contractor or other person acting under the advice and consent of the administration or any government agency or entity – at home or abroad.
- Make it a crime for accessory before, during or after the fact for any government elected or appointed official, employee, private government contractor or other person acting under the advice and consent of the administration to withhold evidence or knowledge that such criminal rendition and torture has been committed.
- Remove from the power of the president the ability to seize persons or property without a warrant and probable cause, detain them without arraignment within a 72-hour period, questions them without the presence of their attorney unless they have been advised of and waive their Miranda rights, require any detainee to sign a confession as a condition of providing a defense attorney or allowing access to their defense attorney. And/or hold them indefinitely in some secret prison without due process or possibility of release.
- Require the administration to provide information to families of the whereabouts and course of action (arraignment dates, trial dates, etc.) of any person arrested and detained by this government. Allow human rights organizations such as the international Red Cross and/or Amnesty International the ability to meet with detainees and conduct medical examinations of detainees to determine that they have been treated humanely.
- Pass the Feingold-Whitehouse Executive Order Integrity Act, which limits the White House and its use of Executive Orders to create law or orders that have the full force and effect of law, not just administrate based on law.
- Create a list of criteria that governs the use of military or intelligence forces or private military contractors (mercenary forces like Blackwater) without the prior approval by Congress (limit the size and scope of such companies to include any subsidiary companies and/or disallow members of their executive boards to sit on more than one company of this type (to avoid “under the table” coordinated business activities). Any joint ventures must be registered with Congress and must count toward the total applied to such limitations. Require that such paramilitary organizations provide Congress with a list of all restricted weapons in use or in storage owned by the private company or its subsidiaries. Enact a law stating that sale of such restricted weapons to any other company or government or U.S. federal, state or municipal agency require prior approval by Congress (in order to prevent end-round weapons trafficking).
- Limit the president’s power to negotiate treaties to commit military or intelligence forces or private military contractors (mercenary forces like Blackwater) to any foreign country without the prior approval of Congress.
- Limit the use and scope of activity of private intelligence firms in the intelligence activities of this government to an “advisory” capacity. Disallow companies that operate in foreign countries to operate as a private intelligence or military contractor in the U.S.
- Limit the use of private military contractors (mercenary forces) so that they cannot duplicate services that our government military forces already provide. If such forces are used, they cannot be paid more money than their government military equivalent.
- Prohibit the exemption of legal (criminal or civil) accountability or liability of any private military or intelligence or other contractor who violates American law, International law or the law of the country in which it operates.
- Prohibit the administration from distributing government funds to individuals without a written record, including receipts for any expenses or invoice for services or goods sold (i.e., no more distributing cash among the “civilian” populations of a foreign country (i.e., Iraq) with no accountability for the funds).
- Limit the use and scope of classifying documents as “Confidential,” “Secret” or “Top Secret” or other such classifications. No policy shall be allowed that automatically classifies every document generated by the administration as inaccessible by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1966 (amended 2002). The 2002 amendments must be reviewed by Congress to make sure that all documents not reasonably deemed a national security risk are reasonably made available to the public, and any redactions must be unique to the document requestor and documented as to the reason for the redaction.
- Outlaw “executive privilege.” No such privilege exists in the Constitution, and it cannot be used to delay or refuse to testify before Congress or provide documents requested by Congress in its duties of oversight and accountability. Any such refusal will result in immediate and automatic arrest and detention by Congress, where such individuals will be held pending any appeals in Federal court.
- Outlaw “presidential signing statements” with the only exception being that the president will provide written rationale for vetoing a bill, as provided in the Constitution. No presidential signing statement or finding of law by the Attorney General shall relieve the president or his administration from accountability for obeying laws passed by Congress and signed by the president. The president and his administration is NEVER above the law.
- Require the administration to provide a list of all the FEMA camps throughout the U.S. its territories, whether currently in service, populated or available for use, or under construction and whether each and every member of the population of each camp is allowed to travel freely in and/or out of the camp without penalty or threat of imprisonment; the reason and justification for their existence and maintenance; their capacity; any use or how many prisoners of what types that have been detained in them; and release this information to the public.
- Require the administration to release its Continuity of Government policy to the Congress for its approval and then, in turn, to the public. No Continuity of Government (COG) plan may exist and be executed without first being reviewed, revised and approved by Congress. Any individuals serving in advisory capacities from time to time is subject to the same review and approval process as any executive serving in the government. No individual may serve in a capacity of authority without the approval of each Congress.
- No company that employed any elected or appointed executive branch official from a current administration or Congress may participate in no-bid contracts for the duration of that official’s tenure.
These are some of my suggestions to improve government accountability. My previous piece On re-establishing our Constitution rights, provided further reflections on this important issue.