05 July 2008

We hold these Truths to be self-evident

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These are pretty famous words, authored by Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and others over two hundred and thirty years ago, perhaps the most often quoted lines from the Declaration of Independence. Given the day that was in it I spent most of yesterday immersed in the Founding Fathers; spurred on by watching four hours of back-to-back 'John Adams' on Thursday, I spent most of the day reading the Declaration itself and other documents of the revolution.

The most interesting thing I found in the Declaration was that the majority of it is concerned with an extensive list of grievances that the colonists had against King George; all the actions taken by him that they believed illustrative of how he was unfit to be their ruler, why he was a Despot and Tyrant, and how this justified their use of force to overthrow him. All in all they list twenty-six separate illegal or immoral actions undertaken by the King, and as I read them I was struck with morbid fascination by the paralells between them and the actions of the Bush administration over the last seven years.

I've taken a few of the most interesting (highlighted in Bold) and added my own thoughts below. Its an abject lesson in Santayana's belief that "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it"

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

President Bush has a solid track record of vetoing legislation that does not conform to his ideological world view. He has vetoed two Stem Cell Research Bills (HR 810, S5), bills that set aside federal money for combating climate change (HR 1495), provided comprehensive child health care for low-income families (HR 976, HR 3963), that included timelines for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq (HR 1591) or barred the use of torture (HR 2082). While his use of the Veto thus far has actually been less than his predecessor (who vetoed 37 pieces of legislation), it is Bush's use of the so called 'Signing Statements' that is most worrying.

Technically a 'Singing Statement' is a note written by the President that accompanies the signing of a bill into law. However Bush uses these statements to apply his own interpretation on the bill, often with no legal precedent, and based on no authority. His statements attempt to change the meaning or intention of the bill, or act as a line-item veto, singling out specific parts of the bill that he objects to and does not consider legally binding. In the period up to the Bush presidency, less than 600 signing statements had been made since George Washington's inauguration; Bush made more than 800 in his first six years alone.

While line-item vetoes have been ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court during Bill Clinton's presidency, the current Supreme Court has not considered Bush's use of signing statements. The American Bar Association however declared that "Presidential signing statements that assert President Bush’s authority to disregard or decline to enforce laws adopted by Congress undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of power... if left unchecked, the president’s practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances, that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries. Immediate action is required to address this threat to the Constitution and to the rule of law in our country.”

He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

A reoccurring theme of the Bush Presidency has been the introduction of tougher border controls with Mexico, and a Guest Worker Program to tackle illegal immigration. Highlighted in his State of the Union addresses in 2006 and 2007, the Guest Worker Program would allow businesses to exploit migrant labour without the possibility for those workers to become citizens. According to the White House such legislation would "offer temporary worker status to undocumented men and women now employed in the United States and to those in foreign countries who have been offered employment in the United States. The proposal stipulates that guest workers would be obliged to return eventually to their countries of origin". This would allow agribusiness to continue to pay below-poverty wages to undocumented migrant workers, who would then be forcibly deported after a fixed period of time, and only upon their return home could they begin the process of applying for citizenship. The Southern Poverty Law Centre calls Guestworker programs "a modern-day system of indentured servitude", and a "system of "legalized slavery."

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices

On Oct 3rd, 2005 President Bush nominated his family lawyer, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. Although at the time she was White House Counsel, Meirs had never served as a judge at any level within the US legal system, and was widely seen as being nominated as a loyal "Bushie", a loyal support of President Bush whose ideology was more important than actual experience. Surprisingly much of the dissent over her appointment came from within the Republican Party, who felt that as she had never been a judge there was no official record of her stance on many conservative issues, and feared she wasn't conservative enough. Meirs' name was withdrawn three weeks later.

Bush subsequently nominated Samuel Alito, whose confirmation was approved despite a filibuster attempt by John Kerry. The ACLU opposed his nomination, stating, "At a time when our president has claimed unprecedented authority to spy on Americans and jail terrorism suspects indefinitely, America needs a Supreme Court justice who will uphold our precious civil liberties...unfortunately, Judge Alito's record shows a willingness to support government actions that abridge individual freedoms."

He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance

According to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, by 2005 the Bush Administration had directly appointed 2,786 people to federal positions (an increase of 12% over the previous administration), 1,640 without any confirmation or oversight by Congress (increase of 33% over the previous administration). Despite this increase in big government, the number of minorities appointed declined by 50% in the same period.

As with the judiciary the main qualification for appointment has been on the basis of ideology, rather than experience. Michael Brown, a former Commissioner of Judges and Stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association (where he was forced to resign over disciplinary irregularities), was elevated to Director of FEMA in 2003 with no experience in disaster management prior to his appointment to FEMA as General Counsel in 2001 by President Bush's former campaign manager. This lack of experience contributed directly to the administration's disastrous mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy.

In Dec 2006 a number of US Attorneys were sacked by the administration for not being ideologically in-line with the President, as outlined in an email from Kyle Sampson to then Attorney General John Ashcroft "we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current U.S. Attorneys -- the underperforming ones . . . The vast majority of U.S. Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc." In the wake of these revelations both the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, along with seven other senior Department of Justice officials had resigned, including Monica Goodling, the White House Department of Justice Liaison, who actively screened appointments based on political affiliation and whose own appointment by the Bush administration was on the basis of her attendance of Regent University Law School, a private bible college founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, whose Law School is ranked as a Tier 4, the lowest ranking in the US, by US News & World Report.

Also highlighted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was the appointment of 24 year old George Deutsch as a public affairs worker at NASA in 2005, where he subsequently instructed senior scientists and web designers to refer to the Big Bang as a "theory". He resigned after it was discovered that he lied about graduating from college on his CV. His only experience prior to his appointment was working on President Bush's re-election campaign.

Of course these examples are but the tip of the iceberg, and to see how political appointees can really destroy a country you need to look at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City".

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power... For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury. For transporting us beyond the Seas to be tried for pretended Offences

The creation of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison camps, the classification of prisoners (including US citizens like Jose Padilla) as Unlawful Enemy Combatants for whom the Geneva Conventions do not apply, the use of closed military courts to try these prisoners after extensive detention and torture, the use of extraordinary rendition to remove prisoners to other countries with a more relaxed attitude to torture, have all been a stain on the soul of America.

The recent Supreme Court ruling confirming the prisoners' rights under habeas corpus, declared as unconstitutional the Bush administrations policies of the last six years. Justice Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, stated "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times... Chief among these are freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers."

Of the over 700 people detained in Guantanamo over the last seven years, 420 have been released without charge. As of May this year approximately 270 prisoners remain, more than 20% of whom have already been cleared of any offence, but whose home country (like China in the case of over twenty Uyghurs who eventually settled in Albania) refuse to take them back.

It is clear that the vast majority of prisoners held at Guantanamo have been innocent of any offence, and yet they have been held illegally without charge or trial, tortured, brutalised and then released without any recompense to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives.

He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.
Last week it was reported that the US has finally agreed to overturn Paul Bremner's Order 17, issued during the closing days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and rendering all foreign mercenaries (or 'International Consultants') immune from Iraqi legal process indefinitely, effectively placing Blackwater and similar firms above the law in Iraq forever.

According to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report on Blackwater issued in October of last year, "Blackwater has been involved in at least 195 "escalation of force" incidents in Iraq since 2005 that involved the firing of shots by Blackwater forces. This is an average of 1.4 shooting incidents per week. Blackwater's contract to provide protective services to the State Department provides that Blackwater can engage in only defensive use of force. In over 80% of the shooting incidents, however, Blackwater reports that its forces fired the first shots.In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fires shots, Blackwater is firing from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in casualties. Even so, Blackwater's own incident reports document 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 incidents with property damage". In none of these incidents could any legal action be taken against Blackwater by the victims, or by the Iraqi government itself.

Of course the use of mercenaries by the US is not just limited to Iraq. Outsourcing to private defence contractors, often substantial donors to the Republican Party, has become standard operating procedure for the Bush administration. The recent release of hostages held by FARC in Columbia focused on Ingrid Betancourt, former Green candidate for the Columbian presidency. However also rescued were three US mercenaries, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansel, employed by US defence contractor Northrop Grumman as part of an outsourced surveillance team for the US Army and the US Embassy in Columbia targeting and observing Columbian drug operations. The integration into almost all US military plans of these "force multipliers" further blurs the lines separating the military and industrial complexes, making it impossible to see where the defence of national interests ends and the imposition of corporate priorities begins.

Jeremy Scahill, author of the definitive account of the rise of Blackwater, wrote recently in The Nation on the move by defence contractors into the field of Intelligence and espionage, both corporate and state-sponsored. The Bush administration is happy to outsource intelligence work to such groups because, as private entities, they are not bound by Freedom of Information requests, and other such legal niceties. As with Order 17, private intelligence contractors would be above most legislation designed to keep government open and transparent; individual citizens would have no way to know what information a Blackwater-type group would have pertaining to them, and what is being done with that data.

These were just some of the happy 4th of July thoughts that I had yesterday, but the last word on this of course goes to the Declaration itself:

A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

The Declaration of Independence


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