On Tuesday, Republican senators and the White House reached an agreement regarding the Bush administration’s domestic spying program. It takes the form of bills that will “impose new oversight but allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days,” as The New York Times reported. Republican senators Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), the two Senate Intelligence Committee members most critical of the administration’s actions, signed onto the agreement, which means there will now be no full investigation of the wiretapping program. Many feel the program was – and is – illegal, but this agreement takes us one step closer to having no one held accountable for that possibility.
The Times also ran an editorial this week about Guantanamo Bay. Thanks to a lawsuit by the Associated Press, records from some of the hearings held there have been made public, which serves to reveal the identities of some of the detainees (a long-held administration secret). It seems as though many of the people we are holding indefinitely and denying due process have little or nothing to do with al Qaida or the Taliban; one Pakistani claimed to have been a chicken farmer when he was scooped up by U.S. forces in 2002. Our government continues to refuse to give prisoners like Abdur Sayed Rahman access to the resources they would need to properly defend themselves against allegations of terrorism – prisoner rights guaranteed by both U.S. and international law.
How did we get to this point? The key to understanding just where our government is headed dates back, as is so often the case, to Sept. 11. President Bush made it clear that the attacks changed everything; they marked not an isolated attack, but rather a massive paradigm shift with monumental implications for U.S. foreign policy and preparedness. This, more than anything, has been the central claim and motif of Bush’s post-9/11 presidency, and we as citizens have completely failed to critically evaluate it.
Thanks to our inability, even several years after the fact, to view Sept. 11 with any degree of perspective or depth, Bush, his administration and his party have been able to shamelessly exploit the attacks – from every imaginable angle, from scheduling the Republican National Convention to coincide with the anniversary of the attacks to, as Peter Beinart reported in The New Republic, having top officials like former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge make apparently false claims about possible attacks, even raising the terror level.
And then, of course, there’s the wiretapping, the torture and the illegal imprisonment, all of which the administration has guarded with the utmost secrecy. And the war in Iraq, started by an administration filled with individuals (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz) who had been pushing for action against Iraq since long before Sept. 11, turned out to have less to do with the fight against al Qaida than a Pakistani chicken farmer.
President Bush is claiming Sept. 11 meant that it was time to completely overhaul our foreign policy, long-held standards of due process for prisoners, long-held standards regarding torture and several sorts of basic civil liberties. He is dead wrong. What Sept. 11 meant was that we needed to try to defeat al Qaida, improve our ability to defend against and respond to terror attacks at home and seek to understand the ideologies that gave rise to those who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans. (Not, as Karl Rove so despicably put it, to give them “therapy,” but rather to understand the forces that motivated them and prevent it from happening again.) Other than our dispersal of al Qaida, we have failed on every count. It’s hard to make any argument involving Sept. 11 and overreaction – obviously, it was a singularly horrific event in American history – but by failing to understand its true implications, and by letting Bush and his administration tell us what the day meant, we have endlessly multiplied the body count and failed to salvage anything from the rubble.
Singal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.