This Wednesday will be the tenth anniversary of the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. Opened by Bush and, despite all his campaign promises, kept open by Barack Obama, this camp represents the warped state the rule of law has been put into in the US by both these presidents.
The New York Times has an impressive op-ed by Lakhdar Boumediene, one of the most well-known former Guántanamo prisoners, who was held innocent and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques for seven years before he was released by court order.
Boumediene was head of the Red Crescent’s humanitarian aid for children department in Bosnia-Herzegovina before he was captured off the streets on October 19, 2001 by the US Army, deported to Gitmo, and held incommunicado without recourse to a lawyer, the court system, or Geneva protections. While he was subjected to stress techniques, his two daughters had to grow up for seven years without him. Only when the Supreme Court intervened to stop the Bush administration’s lawless practices, Boumediene was granted access to court, found innocent, and released.
His case represents the entire argument against Guantánamo. No government on Earth should be allowed to indefinitely detain people and treat them like they want without any check by an independent judiciary. That is what we have human rights for. Barack Obama, moreover, is the president who has turned this once controversial policy into bipartisan consensus. Under this president, indefinite detention has even been signed into law.
So to remind everyone of this poignant fact, here’s the op-ed by Boumediene. There’s another one too, by the way, from yet another Guantánamo survivor, Murat Kurnaz.
ON Wednesday, America’s detention camp at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 10 years. For seven of them, I was held there without explanation or charge. During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. Most of their letters were returned as “undeliverable,” and the few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that their messages of love and support were lost.
Some American politicians say that people at Guantánamo are terrorists, but I have never been a terrorist. Had I been brought before a court when I was seized, my children’s lives would not have been torn apart, and my family would not have been thrown into poverty. It was only after the United States Supreme Court ordered the government to defend its actions before a federal judge that I was finally able to clear my name and be with them again.
I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.
When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.
The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.
I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.
Unbeknownst to many people, Barack Obama’s ascendency to the presidency has, despite his 2008 campaign promises, done almost nothing to reverse one of the most heinous policies of the Bush-Cheney era: the practice of indefinitely detaining people whom the US state deems “enemy combatants”, or terrorism suspects. Without charges and without recourse to a judge. The mere charge of being a terror suspect can still lead to uncontrollable, unaccountable detention by the American government; this is viewed by both Bush-Cheney and Obama as an inherent, presidential prerogative. No one who is not out of his right mind would not view this as in straightforward contradiction to the rule of law.
But President Obama’s record has just gotten even worse. After months of threatening to veto a bill put forward by the partly Republican-controlled Congress allowing the U.S. military to indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including in the U.S., without charges, he has now said that he will sign it into law.
Thereby Obama, the 2008 darling of liberals and progressives, has become the president who has made extrajudicial indefinite detention at the charge of being an “enemy combatant” official law and policy, rather than an exception. Obama is even worse than Bush-Cheney! This should be clear to anyone who is still an Obama fanboy.
When in the 1950s, the McCarthy era, Congress presented Harry Truman with a similar bill allowing the indefinite detention of Communists and other ‘subversive elements’ without charges, Truman vetoed it. But Obama is not such a person. The right not to be detained forever by the state without a fair trial is a fundamental human right, part of the Western juridical tradition, that has just been violated possibly forever by this president.
This becoming law will also mean two things. First, that the U.S. military can now be involved in domestic policing activities (!). Second, that the battleground of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ has now been extended to American soil too. Can you believe that?
At this point, I would officially hope that Obama gets defeated at the polls next year. If Ron Paul’s ideas on economic policy weren’t so nutty, I would support him – a Republican - if he was the nominee.
In one of the least surprising developments imaginable, President Obama – after spending months threatening to veto the Levin/McCain detention bill – yesterday announced that he would instead sign it into law (this is the same individual, of course, who unequivocally vowed when seeking the Democratic nomination to support a filibuster of “any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom[s],” only to turn around – once he had the nomination secure — and not only vote against such a filibuster, but to vote in favor of the underlying bill itself, so this is perfectly consistent with his past conduct). As a result, the final version of the Levin/McCain bill will be enshrined as law this week as part of the the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I wrote about the primary provisions and implications of this bill last week, and won’t repeat those points here.
The ACLU said last night that the bill contains “harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world” and added: “if President Obama signs this bill, it will damage his legacy.” Human Rights Watch said that Obama’s decision “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad” and that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”
Both groups pointed out that this is the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the 1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention). President Obama, needless to say, is not Harry Truman. He’s not even the Candidate Obama of 2008 who repeatedly insisted that due process and security were not mutually exclusive and who condemned indefinite detention as “black hole” injustice.
Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.
Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of “a war that appears to have no end”.
The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the “war on terror” to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention.
The legislation’s supporters in Congress say it simply codifies existing practice, such as the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. But the law’s critics describe it as a draconian piece of legislation that extends the reach of detention without trial to include US citizens arrested in their own country.
Senator Lindsey Graham said the extraordinary measures were necessary because terrorism suspects were wholly different to regular criminals.
“We’re facing an enemy, not a common criminal organisation, who will do anything and everything possible to destroy our way of life,” he said. “When you join al-Qaida you haven’t joined the mafia, you haven’t joined a gang. You’ve joined people who are bent on our destruction and who are a military threat.”
Graham added that it was right that Americans should be subject to the detention law as well as foreigners. “It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next,” he said. “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.’”
Other senators supported the new powers on the grounds that al-Qaida was fighting a war inside the US and that its followers should be treated as combatants, not civilians with constitutional protections.
“We’re talking about American citizens who can be taken from the United States and sent to a camp at Guantánamo Bay and held indefinitely. It puts every single citizen American at risk,” he said. “Really, what security does this indefinite detention of Americans give us? The first and flawed premise, both here and in the badly named Patriot Act, is that our pre-9/11 police powers were insufficient to stop terrorism. This is simply not borne out by the facts.”
Paul was backed by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Congress is essentially authorising the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens, without charge,” she said. “We are not a nation that locks up its citizens without charge.”
So let it be noted that Obama here has followed the line of the most conservative Republicans.
Afgelopen vrijdag was Maarten van Rossem weer eens als vanouds aan het shinen bij Knevel en Van De Brink. Met een paar extreem relativerende en sarcastische opmerkingen kreeg hij de lachers op de hand en maande hij iedereen aan tafel tot kalmte. Het ging over 9/11, voor Van Rossem nog steeds één van z’n finest moments maar toch ook een klein trauma. De relativering die Van Rossem destijds plaatste direct na de aanslagen, tijdens de marathonuitzending bij de NOS, werd door weinig mensen gewaardeerd. Presentatoren, deskundigen en kijkers vielen over hem heen omdat hij maar niet in kon zien dat de wereld inderdaad op die dag inderdaad veranderd was en dat “alles nooit meer hetzelfde zou zijn”. Hij kreeg zelfs stapels hatemail en was geruime tijd niet meer welkom als Amerika-deskundige in Hilversum.
Nu, 10 jaar later, is het tijd voor Van Rossem om zijn gram te halen. Zijn voorspelling van 10 jaar terug zou uitgekomen zijn, de gevolgen van 9/11 zijn zeer beperkt gebleven. Hij meent dat achteraf gezien de economische crisis eigenlijk veel meer impact heeft gehad dan 9/11. Wel geeft hij toe dat hij op de dag zelf niet had kunnen bedenken hoe groot de stupiditeit van George W. Bush was en hoe gevaarlijk de mensen om hem heen waren. In een interview met de NOS:
Ook tien jaar later is hij het relativeren nog niet verleerd. 9/11 het begin van een nieuw tijdperk? “Ik zou zeggen; helemaal niet. Totaal niet. Wat is er nu veranderd in ons dagelijks leven, behalve dat we op de luchthaven onze riem en schoenen uit moeten doen?”
“Het moslimterrorisme heeft juist in moslimlanden gruwelijke toestanden aangericht. Maar dat is niet in Nederland, België of de VS, dat is in Irak, Pakistan en Jemen. Wij hebben twee aanslagen gehad, in Londen en Madrid. Ook erg op zichzelf, maar geen bedreiging voor het voortbestaan van ons type samenleving.”
“Als we terugkijken op 10 jaar 9/11, dan zijn al die rampen die ons zijn voorspeld door die zogenaamde deskundigen helemaal niet gebeurd. Jumbo’s op kerncentrales, ze zouden ons drinkwater vergiftigen. Niets van dat alles is ooit werkelijkheid geworden.”
En de veranderende verhoudingen in Nederland dan? “Het heeft ongetwijfeld de achterdocht ten aanzien van moslims wel bevorderd, maar als je denkt dat Nederland door een minuscule minderheid van 5 procent moslims wordt geïslamiseerd, dan ben je gek en heb ik verder geen commentaar dan dat. Ik vind dat een beetje meelijwekkend.”
“Onze ergste vijanden waren niet die terroristen van Bin Laden”, stelt Van Rossem, “maar onze eigen financieel-economische sector. De kredietcrisis is een veel en veel ernstigere zaak dat dat hele 9/11. Dat heeft ons aller dagelijks leven ingrijpend beïnvloed en zal dat de komende jaren blijven doen.”
“De grote paradox van allemaal is dat Amerika geprobeerd heeft een beleid te voeren dat hun veiligheid zou vergroten en het eindresultaat is dat de veiligheid van de VS veel minder groot is geworden. Dat komt vooral door die achterlijke oorlogen die duizenden miljarden dollars hebben gekost, waardoor het land nu in penibele omstandigheden verkeert.”
“Ik heb het al eerder gezegd: de grootste vijand van de Amerikanen zijn de Amerikanen zelf.”
Het beeld dat Van Rossem in dit interview en bij KvdB schetst klopt niet helemaal. 9/11 is wel degelijk het begin geweest van een nieuw tijdperk. Niet de aanslagen zelf, maar de reactie van de Amerikanen hierop heeft hier voor gezorgd. We zijn misschien niet ten onder gegaan aan “256 boeings die zich op nucleaire reactors zouden storten, vliegtuigen vol anthrax die ons de landbouw onmogelijk zouden maken en Wereld Oorlog III”, maar we leven wel in een wereld waarin de VS op meerdere fronten oorlog voeren met een kostenplaatje van 3.000 tot 4.000 miljard dollar, waarin Iran opeens een regionale macht is geworden, waarin “terroristen” nog steeds op Guantanamo worden onderworpen aan “enhanced interrogation” vastzitten op Guantanamo, waarin honderduizenden doden zijn gevallen in Irak en Afghanistan, waarin je inderdaad op elk internationaal vliegveld je schoenen uit moet doen voordat je mag boarden, en zo kun je nog wel even doorgaan. En de economische crisis duurt zolang voort, mede omdat de Amerikanen zich suf hebben geleend om deze oorlogen te betalen, waardoor ze nu geen middelen meer hebben om de gevolgen van de kredietcrisis op te vangen.
Een kanttekening die je kunt maken is dat 9/11 vooral voor een verandering in de Westerse wereld heeft geleid, maar dat als je de Atlantische oogkleppen afzet blijkt dat in grote delen van Afrika, Azië en andere delen van de wereld de invloed van 9/11 misschien een stuk kleiner is. Ook kun je nog beargumenteren dat 9/11 slechts een soort katalysator is geweest voor ontwikkelingen die al langer gaande waren, zoals de overal ter wereld opborrelende Amerika-haat, de afbrokkelende macht van de VS, de rol van non-conventionele oorlogsvoering, etc. Toch kun je moeilijk stellen dat de directe gevolgen van 9/11 niet hebben gezorgd voor grote veranderingen in de wereld. In een wereld waarin iedereen zo nuchter is als Maarten van Rossem zouden deze aanslagen inderdaad niet tot een cesuur in de moderne geschiedenis hebben geleid. Helaas is dat niet het geval.
De uitzending van KvdB, heel vermakelijk:
Van Rossem in de uitzending op 11 september 2001 met Maartje van Weegen:
In yet another confirmation that the Obama administration’s handling of counterterrorism policy is nothing but a continuation and, in fact, reinforcement of Bush-era policies, the US Department of Justice decided on Thursday that all cases against (former) low-level CIA and military employees suspected of having employed torture, sometimes leading to murder, are to be dropped, except two.
So there’s not gonna be any accountability for the breaches of human rights and the Geneva Conventions conducted under the last administration in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.
Back in August 2009, the Obama White House already decided that there would be no torture investigations regarding former administration officials (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) and government lawyers (John Yoo, Jay Bybee) who invented and implemented the ‘legal’ architecture for things like indefinite detention, military commissions and ‘enhanced interrogation methods’ (torture), which eventually spread from Guantánamo Bay and the secret ‘black sites’ to Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan. Neither would there be investigations regarding CIA and military employees who stayed ‘within the lines’ of the new torture regime (even though a lot of people, including JAG lawyers, protested at that time).
The only exception to this immunity granted by Obama would be for those employees who went beyond even what was permitted by the Bush administration in terms of torture. And of those 101 cases, all are now dropped except two.
Those two cases are the most gruesome imaginable: one is of a detainee who froze to death in an American secret prison in 2002 after being stripped and chained to the floor, and the other is of the Abu Ghraib detainee who was photographed in 2003 with a guard holding her thumbs up. All other horrors perpetrated under the Bush administration will now be fully, legally protected.
Change we can believe in. And what’s more: except for one executive order ordering a halt to ’enhanced interrogation methods’, there’s nothing that can prevent a future president from starting to employ torture again…
Consider what’s being permanently shielded from legal accountability. The Bush torture regime extended to numerous prisons around the world, in which tens of thousands of mostly Muslim men were indefinitely imprisoned without a whiff of due process, and included a network of secret prisons – ”black sites” — purposely placed beyond the monitoring reach of even international human rights groups, such as the International Red Cross.
Over 100 detainees died during U.S. interrogations, dozens due directly to interrogation abuse. Gen. Barry McCaffrey said: ”We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who oversaw the official investigation into detainee abuse, wrote: ”there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”
Thanks to the Obama DOJ, that is no longer in question. The answer is resoundingly clear: American war criminals, responsible for some of the most shameful and inexcusable crimes in the nation’s history — the systematic, deliberate legalization of a worldwide torture regime — will be fully immunized for those crimes. And, of course, the Obama administration has spent years just as aggressively shielding those war criminals from all other forms of accountability beyond the criminal realm: invoking secrecy and immunity doctrines to prevent their victims from imposing civil liability, exploiting their party’s control of Congress to suppress formal inquiries, and pressuring and coercing other nations not to investigate their own citizens’ torture at American hands.
All of those efforts, culminating in yesterday’s entirely unsurprising announcement, means that the U.S. Government has effectively shielded itself from even minimal accountability for its vast torture crimes of the last decade. Without a doubt, that will be one of the most significant, enduring and consequential legacies of the Obama presidency.
As Glenn Greenwald notes, the Obama administration has blocked all attempts by detainees to sue torture facilitators with its generous use of the state secrets doctrine.
What that means is that the only thing preventing a future Republican president from using torture techniques is a flimsy, reversible executive order from the president himself, because no court has ever made a determination that the interrogation techniques themselves were illegal. Both the new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the new CIA chief David Petraeus, both once among the most prominent opponents of torture, have now expressed support for the idea of using coercive interrogations in “limited” circumstances. Torture became an issue of partisan dispute because Republicans rallied to the defense of their former president. What happens if the same thing happens with Obama supporters, and they feel the need to minimize the magnitude of what happened under Bush in order to defend the lack of accountability sought by their president?
The fact that so few people, if any, will face professional, civil or criminal sanction for torture bothers me far less than the possibility of torture itself becoming American policy again. Between the absence of strong legal barriers to torture and the deterrent factor of criminal or civil accountability, that outcome seems quite possible.
To be honest, I pretty much have my fill about the whole Bin Laden affair. This includes the revolting jingoism displayed by American politicians and establishment media such as the New York Times, as well as the ‘funny’ comics and internet memes. I wish we could turn to something else now.
Nevertheless, criticism must continue to be voiced, so here’s an op-ed by no one less than Noam Chomsky.
It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”
Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.
There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.
We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.
There’s more to say about [Cuban airline bomber Orlando] Bosch, who just died peacefully in Florida, including reference to the “Bush doctrine” that societies that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and should be treated accordingly. No one seemed to notice that Bush was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and murder of its criminal president.
Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”
There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.
Wonderbaarlijk genoeg leidt de dood van Osama bin Laden er ineens toe dat in Nederland, in kranten en op televisie, de buitenlegale maatregelen van opeenvolgende Amerikaanse regeringen onderwerp van debat zijn. Onbemande vliegtuigjes, Guantánamo Bay, marteling, onbeperkte opsluiting; zaken waar we op deze blog alanderhalfjaaraandachtvoorproberentevragen (weliswaar in het Engels) worden ineens besproken op nationale tv.
Blijkbaar wordt, zodra het zo concreet wordt als de buitenrechtelijke executie van Osama bin Laden, het de Nederlanders opeens te gortig.
Mooi, natuurlijk, maar waar waren alle Nederlandse mainstream media, zoals de Volkskrant en het NRC, het afgelopen decennium? De afgelopen drie jaar in ieder geval vooral druk met het kritiekloos bewonderen van Obama, zonder erop te wijzen dat deze met amper enige wijziging het buitenlegale antiterreurbeleid van Bush en Cheney heeft voortgezet.
Mede debet aan deze nationale hausse van aandacht voor Amerikaanse buitenlegale praktijken is advocaat en internationaal strafrechtgeleerde Geert-Jan Knoops. Afgelopen maandag, toen het nieuws van Bin Laden’s verscheiden nog vers was en gans het Westen (nou ja, de VS) in juichstemming verkeerde, was Knoops de eerste die wees op het illegale karakter van deze actie. Aanvankelijk nog in een zijkolom, maar allengs uitgroeiend tot een van de belangrijkste stemmen in het debat.
Knoops mogen we dan ook wel kwalificeren als een koning. Zo was hij betrokken bij de verdediging van Salid Hamdan, de op Guantánamo Bay opgesloten ’chauffeur van Bin Laden’, wiens rechtszaak een van de belangrijkste werd in de strijd tussen de regering-Bush en het Hooggerechtshof over de rechten van gedetineerden. Knoops was ook de advocaat van Marco Kroon, en volgens de site van KRO’s Oog in oog ‘adviseerde hij zowel Saddam Hoessein als Barack Obama’ (wat dat inhoudt weet ik niet). Daarnaast bepleitte hij allerlei zaken voor de Joegoslavië- Rwanda- en Sierra Leone-tribunalen.
O ja, Knoops is ook bergbeklimmer en diepzeeduiker. En marinier.
In other words, een interessant Mensch om eens een uurtje naar te luisteren, zeker wanneer hij gehakt maakt van het Amerikaanse contraterreurbeleid van het afgelopen decennium, en het buitenlegale karakter daarvan. De Nederlandse Glenn Greenwald:
Yesterday, I expressed the hope that with the demise of Osama bin Laden, America could return to being the constitutional democracy with the rule of law that it was before 9/11.
Luckily (and of course), I’m not the only one who sees this as possibly the most important aspect of yesterday’s operation. Here’s probably the best commentary that I’ve read so far in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, by Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast. Beinart argues that now the figurehead of the 9/11 attacks is gone, it’s time to call an end to the so-called ‘war’ on terror. This doesn’t mean that counterterrorism policies should come to a halt! On the contrary, in the coming time period they should probably be increased to prevent retaliation. But it does mean that the ‘war’ on terrorism should cease to be the primary paradigm through which US (and Western) foreign policy operates.
Because let’s face it: the threat of radical islamist terrorism is not the biggest policy problem the West faces. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t after 9/11. If I’d to point at anything, I’d had to choose between the rise of China or the long-term budgetary and financial problems the US and the West are facing. But certainly not the threat of a bunch of medieval rag tag terrorists who, admittedly, can do short-term symbolic (and personal) damage, but do not pose any fundamental threat to the existence of our society in this form.
The terrorist incidents of 9/11 and those after that can, however, present long-term problems when executive powers choose to overreact, and thereby aim to fundamentally transform the structures of constitutional democracy and the rule of law. This is what happened in America under Bush-Cheney, where an emergency became the pretext for a global, unending, infinite ‘war’ on terror in which anything was allowed. That’s when you got ‘enemy combatants’, indefinite detention, torture and a Gulag archipel of ’black sites’ and Guantánamo Bay. By and large, this ‘legal architecture’ for combating terrorism – with the exception of torture – has been retained by Obama, who added drone attacks and the targeting of American citizens abroad of his own.
When a state of emergency ceases to be the exception and starts to be the norm, then you have a problem. Either it expands (and turns on citizens), or it becomes the baseline on which to build yet other ‘emergency’ measures. So let’s say the state of emergency started on 9/11 (I don’t agree, but let’s say it did); can we then now say that with the demise of Osama bin Laden, who apparently was so important that streets are filled with chanting people, the state of emergency has ended? Can we please do away with renditions, indefinite detention, Guantánamo Bay, illegal wiretapping, and so forth?
[We] have more to be grateful for than this one villain’s demise. We must give thanks for something broader: The war on terror is over. I don’t mean that there is no threat of further jihadist attack. In the short term, the threat may even rise. I don’t mean that we should abandon all efforts at tracking terrorist cells. Of course not. But the war on terror was a way of seeing the world, explicitly modeled on World War II and the Cold War. It suggested that the struggle against “radical Islam” or “Islamofascism” or “Islamic terrorism” should be the overarching goal of American foreign policy, the prism through which we see the world.
I remember how seductive that vision was in the aftermath of 9/11. It imposed order on the world and gave purpose to American power. But it was a mistake from the start. Even the Cold War was a dangerously overblown vision, which blinded American policymakers to the fact that much of what happened in, say, Vietnam or Angola, had little to do with Moscow or communism. But the war on terror was worse. It made East Asia an afterthought during a critical period in China’s rise; it allowed all manner of dictators to sell their repression in Washington, just as they had during the Cold War; it facilitated America’s descent into torture; it wildly exaggerated the ideological appeal of a jihadist-Salafist movement whose vision of society most Muslims find revolting.
Even before the U.S. killed bin Laden, the Arab Spring had already rendered him irrelevant. President Obama now has his best chance since taking office to acknowledge some simple, long-overdue truths. Terrorism does not represent the greatest threat to American security; debt does, and our anti-terror efforts are exacerbating the problem. We do not face, as we did in the 1930s, a totalitarian foe with global ideological appeal. We face competitors who, in varying ways, have imported aspects of our democratic capitalist ideology, and are beating us at our own game.
So now what? Legally speaking, there are two broad lessons to derive from the Obama administration’s latest salvo in the war on terror. One is that it shows the need to continue operating outside legal norms indefinitely. The other is that it allows us to declare a symbolic victory over terrorism and return once more to the pre-9/11 regime in which the rule of law is inviolate.
About all we can say with certainty is this: We tortured. We live in a world in which we must contend with information obtained by torture. We now need to decide whether we want to continue to live that way. Writers from ideological backgrounds as diverse as Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat argue that it is time to return to the paradigm abandoned after 9/11. Let’s put the 9/11 attacks and the existential threat it created behind us. With Bin Laden’s death, let’s simply agree that the objectives of the Bush administration’s massive anti-terror campaign have finally been achieved, and that the time for extra-legal, extra-judicial government programs—from torture, to illegal surveillance, to indefinite detention, to secret trials, to nontrials, to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay—has now passed. There will be no better marker for the end of this era. There will be no better time to inform the world that our flirtation with a system of shadow-laws was merely situational and that the situation now is over.
But for those who would argue for a continuation of the lawlessness of the post-9/11 legal era, the question is now this: When does it end? If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t signal the end of the 9/11 legal regime, what does? Do we continue to avail ourselves of these illegal methods until every last enemy of America is dead? If torture produced information about the men hiding Bin Laden, does that give America license to torture anyone, anywhere? If the prison camp at Guantanamo is the only reason we were able to obtain intelligence about Bin Laden’s protectors, shouldn’t Guantanamo be expanded and kept open forever? Shouldn’t we start shipping Americans there?
The “war on terror” language was always metaphorical, I realize, but it unloosed a very real Pandora’s box of injustice on a nation that prides itself on its notions of fairness. That makes the highly symbolic death of Bin Laden an apt time—perhaps the last apt time—to ask whether this state of affairs is to be temporary or permanent. If President Obama truly believes, as he said last night, that justice has finally been done, he should use this opportunity to restore the central role of the rule of law in achieving justice in the future.
In the gargantuan media frenzy surrounding an event like this, there’s only so much a tiny blog can add.
First off, I must say I’m against the death panelty and against this kind of ‘rogue justice’. Like the Dutch Minister of Defence said, I’d been better if Bin Laden had been captured and tried in a fair trial. So, I can’t really engage in the kind of gung-ho victoriousness that I’m seeing now in the news and on my Facebook feed. But congratulations, I guess, to all those who lost friends and family on 9/11; and of course Bin Laden had it coming.
Having said that, I wonder what the impact of this event is, and to what extent it changes anything. It might have some impact on Obama’s 2012 re-election chances, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the current glow dissipates pretty soon, and politics goes back to business as usual. Whether the death of Bin Laden has any effect on global terrorism as a phenomenon, other than a symbolic one, I very much doubt.
What I would hope is that now America as a constitutional democracy with the rule of law could return to its pre-9/11 state of being. As Joan Walsh on Salon.com says:
I also wish this achievement could mean we get our country back, the one before the Patriot Act, before FISA, before rendition and torture and Guantanamo; before we began giving up the freedom and belief in due process that makes us Americans, out of our fear of totalitarians like bin Laden. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m going to choose to think this could be a first step.
Because that would be the real victory in the struggle against terrorism: closing Guantánamo Bay!
- Edit: This observation from the NYT, by the way, is also very true. The political uprisings of the Arab Spring had already delegitimized Al Qaeda, and this is a (symbolic) double blow.
Analysts said Bin Laden’s death amounted to a double blow for Al Qaeda, after its sermons of anti-Western violence seemed to be rendered irrelevant by the wave of political upheaval rolling through the Arab world.
“It comes at a time when Al Qaeda’s narrative is already very much in doubt in the Arab world,” said Martin S. Indyk, vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “Its narrative was that violence was the way to redeem Arab honor and dignity. But Osama bin Laden and his violence didn’t succeed in unseating anybody.
Obama’s remarks, though, were very decent and modest. Read them in full here. I’m very happy that he didn’t talk about “war” too much other than in the contexts of Iraq and Afghanistan (imagine how Bush or a fool like John McCain would’ve been standing there), and this I thought was very good:
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
Despite all the rightful criticism against Obama concerning the rule of law, I think we can be very happy that this guy is the president of the United States.
I also kinda like, as a political thing, that Obama already announced in 2008 that he would re-direct American efforts from full-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to taking out Osama bin Laden - like in this presidential debate with John McCain, who actually protested that notion. And that’s what he did. Of course, the US is still in both countries and in a third one, but still.
Well that’s pretty much it. Check the NYT here, and the 7-page obituary of Bin Laden here. HuffPost here. Andrew Sullivan here (although you may not want to read him if you’re not into dramatic wallowing). Here’s some cool stuff:
One revelation of the WikiLeaks leaked files was the level and sophistication of American diplomatic personnel abroad: pretty high. The same cannot be said, however, of the level in the ranks of the former Bush-Cheney administration…
Check out this memo from the archives of Rumsfeld.com (pretty admirable of him, by the way, to build such an archive). Even though Donald Rumsfeld was supposed to be one of the intellectually better equipped guys of the bunch, he produced stuff like this:
“We need to solve the Pakistan problem”. Frigging cowboys. It’s almost like you hear George W. Bush talking through the mouth of Rumsfeld.
WikiLeaks is a gift that keeps on giving. Just by accident – I was looking for a document that revealed that the Netherlands, together with Germany and Italy, proposed to remove American nuclear weapons from its soil – I stumbled on this report of a meeting between John Bellinger (above), legal advisor of then-State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, and a couple of important European counterterrorism figures, back in 2006. These include John Cooper, Director-General for Common Foreign and Security Policy at the EU Council Secretariat, and Gijs de Vries, EU Coordinator for the Fight against Terrorism.
The report reveals nothing new, but it does provide a great summary of the legal (or quasi-legal) architecture of the Bush-Cheney War on Terror. On the meeting, Bellinger tries to explain this legal architecture – why suspected terrorists can be held indefinitely at Guantánamo, how extraordinary renditions can be justified, why the Geneva Conventions don’t apply – and tries to convince his European counterparts of their appropriateness. I was very relieved when reading the reactions of the Europeans at the table: very critical, and not very convinced at all.
So if you’re interested in how the Bush administration, rather candidly I must say, defended its treatment of terrorism suspects abroad, and how well it fared in this case in Europe, read on.
Secstate Legal Adviser John Bellinger met with a comprehensive array of EU interlocutors in Brussels on February 7-8 to discuss U.S. views on the legal framework for the war on terrorism. He stressed that U.S. decisions on how to deal with an unprecedented global terrorist threat had been made after serious consideration of all legal and political options, and that European officials must publicly underline U.S. EU solidarity in the fight against terror. On Guantanamo detainees and Al Qaeda, Bellinger argued that the U.S. was and is acting in the context of a new form of international armed conflict, and that therefore, while the Geneva Conventions do not fit this new situation well, the rules of war provide a more appropriate framework than domestic criminal law. He discussed European concerns about the treatment of detainees. Bellinger also argued that rendition is a vital tool against terror. Finally, he urged the EU not to support a Cuban resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission on Guantanamo. The EU response to the visit was for the most part extremely positive, with the Legal Adviser of the Austrian EU presidency underlining that ”the fight against terror is our (shared) struggle.” Europeans, however, remain concerned about protection issues.
Note how the Bush-Cheney administration reasoned in terms of a “new paradigm”: the idea that the War on Terror is not a metaphorical construct, but an actual war, an international armed conflict, to which the rules of war apply. Yet, the rules of war according to Bush-Cheney only apply selectively, to the extent that the U.S. President deems fit. The Geneva Conventions and the Torture Convention, after all, to them do not apply to terror suspects.
Here we see more of this:
Bellinger stressed that the situation in which the U.S. and its allies find themselves is unprecedented –faced with thousands of Al Qaeda and associated terrorists around the globe whose goal is to inflict mass casualties on innocent civilians by any means possible. The legal frameworks that are readily available, the Geneva Conventions or domestic criminal law, do not fit this unprecedented situation well.
The U.S. believes that the continuing struggle against Al Qaeda remains a legal state of international armed conflict.
Al Qaeda is not the same as domestic European terrorist groups like the IRA or RAF because it is global and operates outside the U.S. and across borders. It is in effect a new manifestation on the battlefield, that of “armies of terrorists.” Conceptually, this is a military conflict, not a police action to round up criminals.
Yet even though this is apparently an international armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions to the U.S. do not apply. Al Qaeda is not a ‘High Contracting Party’ to the Conventions, they are not soldiers wearing uniforms, and neither are they ‘protected persons’ (civilians caught up in a conflict). So what are they then?
If not covered as POWs or protected persons, what, then, is the status of Al Qaeda and Taliban combatants? (…) [They] are best defined as unlawful combatants who do not have a right to any protections under the Geneva Conventions.
And this, then, is a new category of people that can be held indefinitely, have no right to a hearing in court, and can be tortured and extradited at will. Of course the Bush-Cheney administration and Mr. Bellinger ignored completely that large parts of the Geneva Conventions, and the Torture Convention, are simply common law – they apply regardless of the state of conflict or the participants in it. Each person in the world is free from being detained indefinitely without recourse to a legal court, and free from torture.
Yet the Americans apply international law only selectively, to the extent to which “military necessity” allows it. And what military necessity is, is of course to the unreviewable discretion of the U.S. President. This is the war paradigm reasoning again.
Accordingly, to clarify U.S. policy towards detainees President Bush issued a public directive on February 7, 2002, titled “Humane Treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” This directive orders that all detainees under the control of the Armed Forces be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, consistent with the Geneva Conventions. In addition, the U.S. remains bound by, and committed to, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This includes Article 4, which prohibits torture, and Article 3, which prohibits transfers of persons to countries where there is substantial likelihood that they will be tortured. Article 3 is applied on a case-by-case basis.
Bellinger however does address the obvious question: if detainees can be held for the duration of the “war”, and if the War on Terror is only over when America declares it over (which willl, probably, never occur), does that mean that people can be held forever? Why, yes, they can:
Can detainees be held indefinitely? What if some are innocent? The U.S. recognizes that these are troubling questions, but does not believe such questions could justify a decision not to detain people who represent a danger to American citizens. To deal with this problem at Guantanamo, the U.S. has created an annual Administrative Review Board process to determine, for each individual detainee, whether that detainee should still be considered as in a state of war with the U.S.
The question has also been raised as to the possible innocence of Guantanamo detainees. As the Geneva Conventions dictate, if there is any doubt about whether or not an individual is a POW, there must be an Article 5 tribunal. Since Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters clearly did not meet the conditions necessary to be granted POW status, the President decided that Article 5 tribunals were not necessary.
So, in a twisted rendering of the language of international law, individuals can be determined to be “in a state of war” with the U.S., whereas status determination tribunals for terror suspects need not be established, as there is no doubt as to their status: they are terrorists.
Bellinger than goes on to the address the European concern that people have been snatched from the street by the CIA, and transported to Guantánamo, or secret “black sites” that we don’t even know about. Although it has by now been confirmed that people (and sometimes innocent people) have been abducted by the CIA, back in 2006 it could still be denied. He also chooses not to go into CIA flights:
Bellinger sought to dispel allegations that hundreds of people had been kidnapped from European streets. He pointed out that there is no evidence for such allegations, and that the United States respects the sovereignty of European governments. On renditions, CIA flights, and other intelligence operations, the U.S. will not confirm or deny specific allegations, in order not to compromise the confidentiality of intelligence operations as such.
After that, Bellinger tries to bully the Europeans into not supporting a motion by Cuba against American actions at Guantánamo in the U.N. Human Rights Commission:
Some EU interlocutors expressed concern that some EU member states would support a Cuban resolution against U.S. actions in Guantanamo at the upcoming UN Human Rights Commission, that might be modeled after a European Parliament resolution on the subject. Bellinger warned that European support for a Guanatanamo resolution would be a serious setback to U.S.-EU cooperation against terrorism, and give the unacceptable impression that the EU was aligned with Cuba against the U.S.
Soo… Having come at the end of his expose, how did the Europeans at the table react?
Although Bellinger tries to cover it up in diplomatic language, and calls the paragraph “European Reactions Positive for U.S.”, I’d say it’s pretty clear that they were critical and not convinced. Which, by the way, creates the question why Bellinger would report that European reactions were positive. Maybe to make himself look good back home?
By and large, Bellinger’s European interlocutors responded very positively to his visit. Their questions were many and varied, and all of the meetings were marked by vigorous but constructive discussion. It is clear that many Europeans continue to believe that Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions can be applied to enemy combatants, and still afford the United States the flexibility it seeks. It is also apparent that lingering concerns (fed by negative public perceptions) remain about the treatment of detainees, and protection against wrongful detentions. Some governments remain focused on renditions, and the possibility that there will be negative revelations that impact on them directly.
That said, the visit was very helpful in beginning to dispel European misunderstandings and misgivings about our pursuit of the war on terror. Continued engagement on these issues is critical in the coming months to persuade EU governments to stand more firmly and publicly in the face of their public’s concerns and suspicion regarding Guantanamo, renditions, and the legality of U.S. actions against Al Qaeda. The Austrian Chair of the COJUR meeting, Ferdinand Trauttmansdorf, concluded the meeting with the following message: “We leave this discussion with the notion that America is carefully considering these difficult questions in good faith.” He said also that the fight against terror was a burden shared by the EU, and that the U.S. has as much of a right to ask questions of the EU, as the EU does of the U.S. On the upcoming Human Rights Commission, urgent consultations with the EU will be necessary to avert the possibility of EU support for a Cuban Guantanamo resolution.
Note the quasi-objective and kinda manipulative tone that seems to be common to confidential diplomatic memos (we saw it earlier in the secret CIA document on the manipulation of European public opinion on the war in Afghanistan). Lingering concerns are “fed by negative public perceptions”. The meeting was helpful in beginning to “dispel” European “misunderstandings” and “misgivings” about the war on terror. “Continued engagement” by the U.S. is necessary to push European governments in line vis-a-vis their publics critical of Guantánamo Bay and illegal CIA flights.
Finally, I found it very interesting that the U.S. administration was so worried that the EU would support a Cuban resolution in the U.N. on Guantánamo Bay. Does anyone know how that played out?
In conclusion, what do we learn from scrutiny of this document? Well, as I said, nothing really new. It only confirms again the extent to which the Bush-Cheney administration reasoned from a “war paradigm”: the idea that the fight against Al Qaeda is a new kind of actual international armed conflict, to which the rules of war however only apply limitedly. This reasoning allows them to treat terror suspects in utter disregard of international law. Moreover, since an end to the ”War” on Terror is not in sight, since it is not limited to boundaries, and since it is ultimately to the President’s unreviewable discretion whether military necessity exists, this makes the U.S. kind of a universal imperial policeman, with nothing that can be put in its way. Is that clear-cut authoritarianism? I’d say it is. Happily, at least also behind the scenes, some people stood up.
Boris Johnson, my favourite television comedian (and Mayor of London), has a scathing column in The Telegraph, already a week old but still relevant, on the legacy of George W. Bush. And note: this is a prominent politician of the Conservative Party in Great Britain.
Johnson, with his flamboyant Oxford demeanour, is, I believe, not always taken seriously, but with this piece he decidedly redeems himself, in my view.
It is not yet clear whether George W Bush is planning to cross the Atlantic to flog us his memoirs, but if I were his PR people I would urge caution. As book tours go, this one would be an absolute corker. It is not just that every European capital would be brought to a standstill, as book-signings turned into anti-war riots. The real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again.
One moment he might be holding forth to a great perspiring tent at Hay-on-Wye. The next moment, click, some embarrassed member of the Welsh constabulary could walk on stage, place some handcuffs on the former leader of the Free World, and take him away to be charged. Of course, we are told this scenario is unlikely. Dubya is the former leader of a friendly power, with whom this country is determined to have good relations. But that is what torture-authorising Augusto Pinochet thought. And unlike Pinochet, Mr Bush is making no bones about what he has done.
Unless the 43rd president of the United States has been grievously misrepresented, he has admitted to authorising and sponsoring the use of torture. Asked whether he approved of “waterboarding” in three specific cases, he told his interviewer that “damn right” he did, and that this practice had saved lives in America and Britain. It is hard to overstate the enormity of this admission.
“Waterboarding” is a disgusting practice by which the victim is deliberately made to think that he is drowning. It is not some cunning new psych-ops technique conceived by the CIA. It has been used in the dungeons of dictators for centuries. It is not compatible either with the US constitution or the UN convention against torture. It is deemed to be torture in this country, and above all there is no evidence whatever that it has ever succeeded in doing what Mr Bush claimed. It does not work.
It does not produce much valuable information — and therefore it does not save lives. Of course we are all tempted, from time to time, by the utilitarian argument. We might become reluctant supporters of “extreme interrogation techniques” if we could really persuade ourselves that half an hour of waterboarding could really save a hundred lives — or indeed a single life. In reality, no such calculus is possible. When people are tortured, they will generally say anything to bring the agony to an end — which is why any such evidence is inadmissible in court.
All the policy has achieved is to degrade America in the eyes of the world, and to allow America’s enemies to utter great whoops of vindication.
[If] your end is the spread of freedom and the rule of law, you cannot hope to achieve that end by means that are patently vile and illegal.
How could America complain to the Burmese generals about the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, when a president authorised torture? How can we talk about human rights in Beijing, when our number one ally and friend seems to be defending this kind of behaviour? I can’t think of any other American president, in my lifetime, who would have spoken in this way. Mr Bush should have remembered the words of the great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who said in 1863 that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty”. Damn right.
Well this should make at least some of yesterday’s commentators happy! Kanye has responded. And, with some empathy and humility. Not traditional ‘Ye qualities. Well not complete humility. Nevertheless they still share their sense of being victimized! And their humanitarian-ness! Group hug everyone…
“Well I definitely can understand the way he feels– to be accused of being a racist in any way. Because the same thing happened to me, you know, where I got accused of being racist. And with both situations, it was basically a lack of compassion that America saw in that situation. With him it was a lack of compassion, with him not rushing– you know, him taking the time time to rush down to New Orleans. With me, it was a lack of compassion of cutting someone off in their moment. But nonetheless I think we’re all quick to pull the race card in America. And now, I’m more open. And the poetic justice that I feel, to have went through the same thing that he went, and now I really more connect with him on a humanitarian level… because the next morning, when he felt that, I felt the same thing.”
In other Kanye news, as MTV reports, he’ll perform at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which should be a hoot.
Anyone else think that it is a problem that the President of the United States cares what a more or less crazy rap guy thinks?
In an excerpt from an interview that will air on Monday, November 8, 2010 on “Matt Lauer Reports”, Bush identifies Kayne’s dumb, but poignant, outburst was “the worst moment” of his presidency.
BUSH ON KANYE WEST:
About a week after the storm hit NBC aired a telethon asking for help for the victims of Katrina. We had celebrities coming in to ask for money. And I remember it vividly because I hosted it. And at one part of the evening I introduced Kanye West. Were you watching?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
MATT LAUER: You remember what he said?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I do. He called me a racist.
MATT LAUER: Well, what he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: That’s — “he’s a racist.” And I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.” It’s another thing to say, “This man’s a racist.” I resent it, it’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my Presidency.
MATT LAUER: This from the book. “Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust.” You go on. “I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt ‘em when I heard ‘em, felt ‘em when I wrote ‘em and I felt ‘em when I’m listening to ‘em.
MATT LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And– it was a disgusting moment.
I wonder if some people are going to read that, now that you’ve written it, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this–
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Don’t care.
MATT LAUER: Well, here’s the reason. You’re not saying that the worst moment in you’re Presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No — that– and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple.
A good overview of the ways in which the GOP is trying to achieve electoral gain from the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy and how current popular forces in the party have a completely different view on Islam than former President Bush and his aides, on Politico:
The harsh Republican response to President Barack Obama’s defense of a mosque near ground zero marks a dramatic shift in the party’s posture toward Islam — from a once active courtship of Muslim voters to a very public tolerance after Sept. 11 to an openly aired sense of mistrust.
Republican leaders have largely abandoned former President George W. Bush’s post-Sept. 11 rhetorical embrace of American Muslims and his insistence — always controversial inside the party — that Islam is a religion of peace. This weekend, former Bush aides were among the very few Republicans siding with Obama, as many of the party’s leaders have moved toward more vocal denunciations of Islam’s role in violence abroad and suspicion of its place at home.
But the attacks on what is now nationally known as the “Ground Zero mosque” — it is a few blocks north of the site — also stand in for a broader turn in the cultural politics of the right, in which some of the social issues that served as the emotional core of candidates’ appeals have lost their power. A recent CNN poll showing that 68 percent of Americans oppose the construction of the mosque also found that about half think there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. No political genius is required to decide which issue to run on.
The pre-Sept. 11 Republican Party actively courted Muslim voters in key states like Michigan. An energetic effort to lead the socially conservative, relatively affluent community into the GOP was led by power broker Grover Norquist — who didn’t respond to a request to talk about Republicans and Muslims. But it failed, and the present-day Republican Party has more or less given them up for those lost and alienated by American policies in the Middle East and — as Republicans see it — misled by their own leaders into ambiguous public positions.
On September 17, 2001, Bush visited Washington’s Islamic Center with a simple message: “Islam is peace.”
Those words didn’t sit well with key segments of the Republican base, including some Christian leaders. In June 2002, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention suggested that the God of Muslims would “turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”
Other former Bush aides backed President Obama’s defense of the mosque. Former Bush consultant Mark McKinnon called Obama’s Friday remarks an example of “bold and decisive leadership.”
“An enormously complex and emotional issue — but ultimately the right thing to do. A president is president for every citizen, including every Muslim citizen,” said former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. “Obama is correct that the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans. It is radicals who imagine an American war on Islam. But our conflict is with the radicals alone.”
Among the first conservative groups gunning for the ground zero mosque was the National Republican Trust PAC, whose television ad two broadcast networks refused to air on the grounds that it seemed to tie the organizers of the community center, without evidence, to the planners of the terror attacks.
But it became a hit on YouTube, and combined with the complaints of New York politicians and some conservative bloggers, the project became a national issue.
“Once we brought this issue to the American people, the politicians were falling all over each other to get out in front of it,” said Scott Wheeler, the group’s executive director.
George W. Bush has a good sense of humor, that’s a fact. Obama, however, is in a different league. You only have to watch the first joke he makes at the White House Correspondents dinner, the presidential stand-up comedy show that’s performed each year, to see why:
However, don’t watch the whole thing, because after a while the Obama humor gets stale.
- Edit: Slate has an interesting article on how these speeches are written.
In her new memoir Laura Bush recounts a trip to France in 2007, on which she and her husband were poisoned, so she thinks:
Laura Bush is suggesting she, her husband and several aides were poisoned during a 2007 visit to Germany for the G8 summit, one of several new details in the former first lady’s forthcoming memoir, “Spoken From the Heart.”Due to hit bookshelves May 4 but purchased by CNN at a Washington-area bookstore, Mrs. Bush says she and former President George W. Bush became mysteriously sick on the Germany trip to such a degree that the president became bedridden.
According to Mrs. Bush, doctors and the Secret Service investigated the possibility a poisoning had occurred but were unable to make a definitive conclusion.
“Nearly a dozen members of our delegation were stricken, even George, who started to feel sick during an early morning staff briefing,” Mrs. Bush writes. “[O]ne of our military aides had difficulty walking and a White House staffer lost all hearing in one ear. Exceedingly alarmed, the Secret Service went on full alert, combing the resort for potential poisons.”
“George felt so ill that he met with [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and did not even stand up to greet him,” she continues, adding later, “We never learned if any other delegations became ill, or if ours, mysteriously, was the only one.”