Monday, December 26, 2005

Day After Holiday Season 


Nuclear Monitoring of Muslims Done Without Search Warrants


Fear destroys what bin Laden could not


One wonders if Osama bin Laden didn't win after all. He ruined the America that existed on 9/11. But he had help.

If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution -- and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it -- I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.

Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat -- and expect America to be pleased by this -- I would have thought our nation's sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.

If I had been informed that our nation's leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas -- and call such procedures necessary for the nation's security -- I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.

If someone had predicted the president's staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy -- and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy -- I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.

That's no America I know, I would have argued. We're too strong, and we've been through too much, to be led down such a twisted path.

What is there to say now?

All of these things have happened. And yet a large portion of this country appears more concerned that saying ''Happy Holidays'' could be a disguised attack on Christianity.

I evidently have a lot poorer insight regarding America's character than I once believed, because I would have expected such actions to provoke -- speaking metaphorically now -- mobs with pitchforks and torches at the White House gate. I would have expected proud defiance of anyone who would suggest that a mere terrorist threat could send this country into spasms of despair and fright so profound that we'd follow a leader who considers the law a nuisance and perfidy a privilege.

Never would I have expected this nation -- which emerged stronger from a civil war and a civil rights movement, won two world wars, endured the Depression, recovered from a disastrous campaign in Southeast Asia and still managed to lead the world in the principles of liberty -- would cower behind anyone just for promising to ``protect us.''

President Bush recently confirmed that he has authorized wiretaps against U.S. citizens on at least 30 occasions and said he'll continue doing it. His justification? He, as president -- or is that king? -- has a right to disregard any law, constitutional tenet or congressional mandate to protect the American people.

Is that America's highest goal -- preventing another terrorist attack? Are there no principles of law and liberty more important than this? Who would have remembered Patrick Henry had he written, ``What's wrong with giving up a little liberty if it protects me from death?''

Bush would have us excuse his administration's excesses in deference to the ''war on terror'' -- a war, it should be pointed out, that can never end. Terrorism is a tactic, an eventuality, not an opposition army or rogue nation. If we caught every person guilty of a terrorist act, we still wouldn't know where tomorrow's first-time terrorist will strike. Fighting terrorism is a bit like fighting infection -- even when it's beaten, you must continue the fight or it will strike again.

Are we agreeing, then, to give the king unfettered privilege to defy the law forever? It's time for every member of Congress to weigh in: Do they believe the president is above the law, or bound by it?

Bush stokes our fears, implying that the only alternative to doing things his extralegal way is to sit by fitfully waiting for terrorists to harm us. We are neither weak nor helpless. A proud, confident republic can hunt down its enemies without trampling legitimate human and constitutional rights.

Ultimately, our best defense against attack -- any attack, of any sort -- is holding fast and fearlessly to the ideals upon which this nation was built. Bush clearly doesn't understand or respect that. Do we?


The Curious Section 126 of the Patriot Act


What is it that the National Security Agency began doing after 9/11 that necessitated Presidential authorization for warantless surveillance?

We have all learned in the past week that the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act of 1978 contains provisions that allow the government to conduct quick reaction surveillance of an individual and go to the court afterwards for a warrant.

So what would the NSA need to do that isn't covered by the provisions of FISA?

My guess is the government decided after 9/11 to monitor everyone.


No one to protect us

Now Bush is saying that the job will be done when Iraqis enjoy the democratic freedoms guaranteed Americans. We should say, They do! Bought news stories, secret surveillance of phone calls, emails and faxes, arrest without warrant, disappearances, torture You've brought our democracies into sync. Call it a day, bring the troops home, and then we can start impeaching you.

But who would do the impeaching? The Democrats have lost as much credibility as the President and the Republicans. Ever since the New York Times loitered a year late into print with its disclosure about the NSA spying program (only the latest in a sequence of unconstitutional infamies by that Agency stretching back for decades, mostly against domestic political protesters) I've seen it argued that if the Times had gone with the story last year, Kerry might be president.

But if the Democrats had cared about the Constitution they could have broken the story themselves last year. Democratic congressional leaders knew, because the whistleblowers from the NSA desperately tried to alert them, only to get the cold shoulder. Kerry's prime advisers Richard Clark and Rand Beers on such matters knew, because they'd previously been Bush's top functionaries in the war on terror.


We’re killing them for their own good

RAMADI, Iraq -- U.S. Marine airstrikes targeting insurgents sheltering in Iraqi residential neighborhoods are killing civilians as well as guerrillas along the Euphrates River in far western Iraq, according to Iraqi townspeople and officials and the U.S. military.

US is getting out

Before flying home on Christmas Eve, Rumsfeld was briefed on what the military calls a "tips line" that is heavily advertised to encourage citizens in the Mosul area to call Iraqi security forces with tips on insurgents.

"You can remain anonymous but please don't remain silent," says a public flyer that also mentions that tips which lead to a conviction "may allow you to be eligible for financial rewards."

Rumsfeld was told the number of tips have roughly doubled in recent months, one of numerous examples of what he and U.S. commanders say are signs that the tide may be turning against the insurgency.

On the other hand, some of these "tips" are really no more than attempts by one ethnic or religious or tribal faction to retaliate or seek revenge against a rival by anonymously pointing the finger.

It's also true that the Americans clearly are not yet fully convinced that the worst is over.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters on Friday that instead of sending home an Army brigade that he does not now need in Iraq, he is keeping it nearby in Kuwait as a "hedge against the uncertainty of the next few months" when Iraqis will be forming a new government.

Casey said he hopes to be able to recommend further troop reductions next spring, assuming the Iraqis put their new government in place in a reasonably short period of time — perhaps a few months. If things turn sour, Casey said, he is willing to reverse direction and ask President Bush to approve an increase in U.S. troop levels until the political process gets back on track.

Among the small signs from Rumsfeld's visit that point to his increased confidence in security in Iraq: he spent two nights in the country. On previous trips since the insurgency took hold in midsummer 2003 he never spent the night. In a move that some might consider even bolder, Rumsfeld took a ride on the main road leading out of the city to Baghdad International Airport. Until recent months it was notorious as the most dangerous stretch of pavement in the country, with roadside bombings taking a heavy toll.

After dining Friday night with a group of Iraqi politicians, Rumsfeld told Casey, who was returning with him to Camp Victory near the airport, that he wanted to take the airport road. More commonly — and more safely, many would argue — they would have flown the short distance by helicopter.

The road is not the safest, but it got safer when Iraqi forces took a bigger role in securing it.

In other words, the U.S. military is getting out.

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