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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 14th, 2007 - 01:49:33

FBI lawlessness: �If you build it, they will come�
By Bernard Weiner
Online Journal Guest Writer

Mar 14, 2007, 01:45

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Why all the shocked surprise that the FBI was found to have grossly violated Americans� civil liberties under the revised so-called �PATRIOT� Act, and lied to Congress about how often its agents broke the law in doing so?

History has shown us that if you grant more police and surveillance powers to those in charge of law and order -- and if there is no effective oversight mechanism in place -- those powers will be abused. This is as true under the Bush administration as it was in ancient Rome and in Hitler�s Germany.

In other words, if you build an authoritarian structure, they will come.

If ignorant and/or insecure bullies are appointed as administrators, or as prison guards, or as surveillance experts, you should not be shocked when they exceed their authority and run roughshod over the rights, civil liberties and privacy of citizens under their control.

That�s what authoritarian types do -- and, as key experiments have shown, even non-authoritarian types on occasion when they are put into similar positions of untrammeled power. (�Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.� --Lord Acton)

Breaking power up into pieces

The fact that CheneyBush have nearly a full two years to go until the next president is inaugurated (unless they�re impeached and removed before that) is creating political frustration and tension in the body politic: If truth be known, a great majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, would be happy if Bush and Cheney and Rove just resigned now, disappeared, left, vamoosed into the night.

But that is not likely to happen. In the period until they are gone, they can carry out further depredations on the Constitution and launch more military wars abroad, and seem determined to do both. And in their back pocket is their statutory authorization to declare martial law whenever they see fit. Shame on those who voted to give the administration such police state powers!

Some reasons for hope

But the news is not all bad. Current events offer some encouragement and issues to use in helping turn this ship around:

1. The Opposition. The Democrats, after more than six years divorced from the reins of power, are slowly, fitfully, almost reluctantly at times, moving toward becoming an actual �opposition party.� But they seem unsure how far and fast to proceed in righting the balance among the three branches of government, both in terms of ending the Iraq War (and prohibiting a likely attack on Iran) and, domestically, in restoring many of the protections guaranteed under the Constitution and Bill of Rights -- such as habeas corpus-- that have been ignored or decimated by the Bush administration.

True, the Dem leadership is moving in fits and starts in such directions -- almost as if they aren�t willing to admit to themselves how desperate the situation really is in this country -- and can�t seem to shake their timidity-addiction, but they face enormous obstacles within their own ranks, and from an Executive that doesn�t mind fighting back and fighting dirty.

Still, despite their slow-as-molasses progress, the Dems are beginning to move in the right direction on some issues and should be thanked and encouraged to do more. Corollary: The Dems should be slammed upside the head on other issues where they become enablers of CheneyBush�s reckless, dangerous policies, especially with regard to Iraq and Iran.

The U.S. attorneys scandal

2. The Fired U.S. Attorneys. When the Democrats do manage to unite on key issues, and bring enough moderate Republican allies along with them, the Bush administration has shown that it will back down. Case in point: They�ve backtracked on aspects of the fired U.S. attorneys scandal. After one of the most embarrassingly contorted spin campaigns ever about why the U.S. attorneys were fired, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally said the Bush administration will alter its way of appointing new U.S. attorneys, and will accept limitations on its ability to appoint interim ones.

It did the heart good to see Gonzales get roughed up by both Democratic and Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and for him to eat some humble pie in public, admitting to gross mistakes. Doesn�t happen often with this crew, which makes the rare times when they do own up to their bad policies all the more delicious.

However, despite Gonzales being yelled at, I don�t believe he will be forced to resign or that any of the recent firings and replacements will be reversed (unless unrelenting pressure forces them to), not even that of Tim Griffiths, the newly-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in Arkansas. The former aide to Karl Rove may have engaged in illegal activities, in a scheme to wipe out the voting rights of 70,000 citizens, many of them African-American, prior to the 2004 election. Under a little-noticed Patriot Act provision slipped into the bill, he and the other new U.S. Attorneys can be appointed to fill out terms of the those fired and Senate confirmation is not required.

Speaking of Rove, it�s quite possible that a more thorough investigation, supported by Dems and Repubs, will reveal the details of his and the White House�s dirty hands on many of the politically-motivated firings, especially in getting U.S. Attorney David Iglesias canned in New Mexico. (Rove reportedly leaned on GOP heavies in that state to get Iglesias removed because he wasn�t indicting more Democrats. Senator Pete Domenici, who put partisan pressure on Iglesias to indict some Dems before the 2006 election, has lawyered up, and Rep. Heather Wilson, also of New Mexico, may choose to do so shortly.)

�Signing statements� aid law-breaking

3. FBI Lawlessness. In yet another violation of provisions of the revised �PATRIOT� Act, the Justice Department�s inspector general revealed that the FBI for years has been breaking the law in surveilling citizens, and in not reporting accurately to the Congress, as required, the number of times this has happened.

The Democrats seem eager to continue digging into this scandal, joined by a number of appalled GOP moderates, to see how high this law-breaking goes, up to and including Bush himself.

Bush signed the revised �PATRIOT� Act in a public ceremony last year, but after everyone had left the premises, he issued a complementary �signing statement.� Glenn Greenwald reminds us that in that signing statement, Bush indicated �that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law�s requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would �impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive�s constitutional duties.�� These exceptions parallel the violations the FBI is shown to have committed.

Still, though FBI Director Mueller has accepted responsibility for his agency�s illegal behavior, he�s still in his job, and nobody else has paid any penalty for this rape of the Constitution and violation of laws passed by Congress.

The Libby fallout

4. Fitzmas in March. Cheney�s chief-of-staff for five years, I. Lewis �Scooter� Libby, was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Plame spy-outing case. Libby is the fall guy, the patsy, the loyal aide who falls on his sword to protect his bosses, Cheney and Bush. But just the fact that Libby may be heading for the federal slammer is satisfaction enough right now and whets one�s appetite for seeing his superiors dragged into the investigatory spotlight.

And if and when Bush pardons Libby, that act will be yet another nail in the coffin of the GOP�s chances for 2008. (But it�s rumored that Rove may have Bush wait until after the 2008 voting, to remove it as an issue in the campaign.)

Bulldog Congressman Henry Waxman has already invited Valerie Plame Wilson and Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to testify on the Libby case, the verdict, and perhaps the extent of known or reasonably surmised White House involvement in the affair. This should be good, especially if Fitzgerald chooses to reveal even a smidgen of what he has on Cheney.

5. Faux News Boycott. Candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, led by John Edwards, were able to force a cancellation of the Nevada debate among Dem presidential competitors, which was scheduled to be aired on the worst possible news-source network, Fox. The Democrats finally wised up to the fact that consorting with the ideological Neanderthals and unabashed bigots that inhabit the Fox Network sent exactly the wrong message.

Once again, as in all these stories, the liberal blogosphere was partially instrumental in keeping this issue alive and helping to give Democrats some informational ammunition to get the policy changed.

6. Treatment of Wounded Soldiers. The term �Walter Reed Hospital� is this year�s �Katrina,� further evidence of cold-heartedness, incompetent bureaucracy, meanness of spirit, and botched cover-ups in the Bush administration. Yet another nail in the GOP coffin for 2008.

It turns out that the disgraceful treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed is just the tip of the iceberg of how the Bush administration chants the �support-our-troops� mantra for political-propaganda reasons, but in no way actually supports them when they come back gravely wounded and in great need of TLC and adequate medical care. Instead, they are shunted aside, ignored, forgotten, or buried under bureaucratic paperwork.

The wartime need for warm bodies has gotten so desperate, and the troops are stretched so thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the Bush administration is sending badly damaged soldiers (physically and mentally) back to Iraq before they are adequately healed up. After all, cannon fodder is cannon fodder and must be utilized to the full extent of wartime requirements. But, don�t forget, everyone, to �support our troops.�

Local impeachment moves

7. More states and cities have either passed or are debating impeachment resolutions against Cheney and Bush. The momentum builds. This is not an academic exercise, as one of the ways impeachment can begin in the U.S. Congress is by way of state demand.

The states debating the issue in their legislatures include California, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington. Latest news: 38 separate towns in Vermont have passed resolutions urging the state legislature to approve the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, thus joining other cities across the country.

It is inexplicable to me why the Democratic leaders in Washington (read: Pelosi and Reid) are trying to squelch these state and local moves for impeachment. Don�t they read the polls? More than half of the American people are in favor of beginning impeachment hearings in reference to the lies and deceptions that took the U.S. into war in Iraq -- and most of the other congressional probes involving CheneyBush scandals haven�t even had public sessions yet.

8. Iraq Escalation. Even CheneyBush�s handpicked new leader for the Iraq campaign, Gen. David Petreaus, admits that the military escalation in Iraq is senseless unless it�s accompanied by serious political negotiations among the affected Iraqi groups.

�There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq. Military action is necessary to help improve security. . . . But it is not sufficient. There needs to be a political aspect,� said Petraus in his first press conference in Iraq since Bush�s escalation began. Read between the lines: Bush�s �surge� is destined to fail, but it being pushed for domestic political reasons; the Pentagon has begun planning for a fallback position when the U.S. has to abandon the �surge� plan.

Not incidentally, and as could have been predicted, Bush has asked Congress for several more billion dollars to pay for 8,000 more troops for the escalation, in addition to the 21,000 already in-country or in the pipeline. One can hope that Congress will refuse to enable more deaths and turn down the supplemental request.

Keep the momentum building

True, the positive news seems to move at a glacial pace, while the negative seems to be growing exponentially each day. But think about it: The past six years have been dominated mainly by bad news for the Constitution and for those weak countries we�ve invaded.

Now at least there are positive developments, encouraging rays of hope in the air as the CheneyBush administration continues to unravel and collapse in on itself.

That�s why it�s so vital that we keep up and even increase the momentum of progressive developments in our effort to restore Constitutional government, and to end the wars in the Greater Middle East. And as we do, we must not allow the Busheviks to catch their breath and regain their balance and control of the political agenda.

Copyright � 2007 Bernard Weiner

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international relations at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. To comment, write

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