Swans Commentary » swans.com October 9, 2006  



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The Ever-Tightening Noose around US Democracy's Neck


by Gilles d'Aymery





"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
—Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)


(Swans - October 9, 2006)  It went through the news cycle for a few days. We heard of a rebellion in Mr. Bush's own party, but it passed both the House and the Senate without much of a whisper. It's going to be signed by the president, and the "Military Commissions Act of 2006" will become the law of the land. This Act guts the Geneva Convention; it institutionalizes torture; it eviscerates the judicial rights of millions of millions of people in this country (including mine) and around the world; it makes coerced and secret evidence permissible; it prevents judicial review and allows indefinite detention without appeal at the stroke of a pen; by and large, it gives unprecedented, quasi-dictatorial powers to one single individual, the president of the United States, and his future successors. Yet, the country in its overwhelming majority could care less, and did not react to what the New York Times editorial of September 28, 2006 called "a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation's version of the Alien and Sedition Acts."

For the past 24 years, since I landed on this side of the Atlantic, I've observed the ever more repressive legislations enacted in typically bipartisan voting patterns. With the events of September 11, 2001, and the vengeful glee in which the country basked on the way to Afghanistan, these repressive legislations have been more pronounced, mushrooming with a faster tempo, ever enlarging the net of targeted people, from political dissenters to antiwar activists and opponents of a bicephalous system of government; a system that repetitively squelches any potential alternatives and offers nothing but wars with no ends, the destruction of all social services, the slow immiseration of the many and the enrichment of the very few, all of which contribute to the promotion of corporate interests.

Five years ago, in December 2001, I expressed my strong emotions on the loss of civil liberties, the violence unleashed by the Bush administration, and my fears, in an article, "Un-American, Fly-Shit Melody," that elicited quite a few comments from readers. It was a raw, emotionally-charged reaction. Five years later, I don't know how to react.

Perhaps my senses have become duller. They may have lost their edge, blunted by so many actions, inactions, and exactions. We've had -- to cite a few -- Afghanistan; the USA Patriot Act, largely concocted under the Clinton administration; Iraq; Guantánamo; Abu Ghraib; extraordinary renditions; the protesters' cages during the 2004 National Conventions and the ever-growing repression against activists; the witch hunt in Academia; the militarization of culture and its resulting violence (e.g., every 15 seconds a woman is physically assaulted in the U.S., or witness the occurrences of school shootings...); the racism and xenophobia (remember the "Freedom Fries" and immigrant bashing?); Katrina; the religious extremism; the USA Patriot Act II; the US-supported Israeli devastating asphyxiation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; the US-enabled Israeli rampage in Lebanon; the inability of always-divided activists to coalesce under a common tent (or cage); the deeper commodification of raw materials, goods, and even people, in a more insecure economy (as though willful policies are put in place to further destabilize the economic fabric of the world); the environmental depravations; the false science and high-priced PR disseminated disinformation and obfuscation; and, of course, the train wreck of ever-expanding consumerism. These are only some of the issues we have relentlessly covered on Swans for the past five years. And to which effect, if I may ask?

In addition, in May 2004, just about the time of the Abu Ghraib torture revelations, I was busted by the Santa Rosa, California, Highway Patrol, on allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol, which I definitely was not. One night in jail, my dog impounded as a stray animal, and 15 months, over six Assistant District Attorneys, and several thousands dollars later, I was cleared of the charge. It taught me the lesson that the system can do whatever it wants, easily bankrupt an individual or a family, and get away with it without any restitution or apologies. Just imagine what the president of the USA can do...

Like the proverbial toad in the pot of hot water, one can feel the noose of the hanging rope tightening ever so slightly around one's neck, and visualize the gallows. Lassitude sets in, however. What can one do? We did move away from the Bay Area, as I was pleading Jan to help me make it happen. I am in a rural environment now, in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley, slightly farther away from the rough and tumbles of urban areas, but I am fast becoming a recluse, frightened to travel to San Francisco and risk another encounter with the violence I experienced at the hands of the constables. I have consistently refused to travel by plane anywhere in the past five years, adamantly opposed to the humiliating body searches one is subjected to at the whim of faceless bureaucrats and fearful of the infamous watch lists and of being snatched by the so-called authorities. At this point in time, I'm not even sure I should keep on writing for, and publishing Swans with other contributors' opinions and advocacies. The work has not made a dent in the current state of affairs. I may be arrested and disappeared for either expressing my opinions or publishing those of contributors (guilt by association). Is self-censorship worth my limited freedom at the loss of all the principles I hold dear?

Some, I would expect, will object to my reactions, both then and now, as far too emotional and paranoid. I can imagine yet another officer of the US armed forces or a cadet in a military academy asserting that they are fighting in the name of my freedom, so that I can argue whatever I wish to, even the belittlement of their profession (and that of the "peace-keeping" police forces that pullulate the land). Xenophobes will declare with no uncertain terms that I should go back to wherever I come from (where to?). Yet others, in the comfort of their belief system, their frame of reference (this is the best country in the world, bar none -- I think of Chomsky here with attending irony) will suggest that I cool down and not worry too much. "Nothing's going to happen to you," they'll aver from their pedestals. "Just relax."

I wonder whether anyone in that crowd has taken the time to read in full, carefully, the "Military Commissions Act of 2006." I'd recommend they take the time to read the whole 96 pages of this democracy-busting, authoritarian-instituting bill -- the whole thing (PDF file).

On page 77 and 78 they will read:

Page 77

11        TERRORISM.—
12         "(A) OFFENSE. —Any person subject to
13        this chapter who provides material support or
14        resources, knowing or intending that they are to
15        be used in preparation for, or in carrying out,
16        an act of terrorism (as set forth in paragraph
17        (24)), or who intentionally provides material
18        support or resources to an international ter-
19        rorist organization engaged in hostilities against
20        the United States, knowing that such organiza-
21        tion has engaged or engages in terrorism (as so
22        set forth), shall be punished as a military com-
23        mission under this chapter may direct.
25        DEFINED. —In this paragraph, the term 'mate-

Page 78

1        rial support or resources' has the meaning
2        given that term in section 2339A(b) of title 18.
4        person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an
5        allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly
6        and intentionally aids an enemy of the United
7        States, or one of the co-belligerents of the enemy,
8        shall be punished as a military commission under
9        this chapter may direct.

How does one translate this into human behavior? Who defines that "an organization has engaged or engages in terrorism"? The government, of course. So, what happens if one does not think, and argues that, for instance, Hamas or Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization? Who defines who is "an enemy of the United States"? The government, of course. So, if I send a $10 check to a charity that happens to help the social services provided by, say Hamas, even without my knowledge, am I guilty of "knowingly and intentionally [aiding] an enemy of the United States"...even though I do not consider Hamas an "enemy"?

Defenders of the bill will retort that I can have my day in court and make my case. Yes, how? Allow me to refer them to page 96 of the bill:

12        "(e)(1)No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdic-
13        tion to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas
14        corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the
15        United States who has been determined by the United
16        States to have been properly detained as an enemy com-
17        batant or is awaiting such determination.

"Or is awaiting such determination..." How many human beings have been awaiting "such determination" in Guantánamo and in Afghan, Iraqi, and secret prisons around the world, and in US detention centers? How long have they been awaiting? In other words, where is the judicial protection? Mine? Yours?

Again, read the text of the full bill.

Let Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, definitely not a radical or a commie or one abetting terrorism, expand (Democracy Now! September 29, 2006):

First off, as you probably gathered from what I was saying on the floor, it's a terrible bill. It removes as many checks and balances as possible so that any president can basically set the law, determine what laws they'll follow and what laws they'll break and not have anybody be able to question them on it.

In this case, the particular section I was speaking about at that point was the so-called habeas protection. Now, habeas corpus was first brought in the Magna Carta in the 1200s. It's been a tenet of our rights as Americans. And what they're saying is that if you're an alien, even if you're in the United States legally, a legal alien, may have been here ten years, fifteen years, twenty years legally, if a determination is made by anybody in the executive that you may be a threat, they can hold you indefinitely, they could put you in Guantánamo, not bring any charges, not allow you to have a lawyer, not allow you to ever question what they've done, even in cases, as they now acknowledge, where they have large numbers of people in Guantánamo who are there by mistake, that they put you -- say you're a college professor who has written on Islam or for whatever reason, and they lock you up. You're not even allowed to question it. You're not allowed to have a lawyer, not allowed to say, "Wait a minute, you've got the wrong person. Or you've got -- the one you're looking for, their name is spelled similar to mine, but it's not me." It makes no difference. You have no recourse whatsoever.

Thank you America.

Think I somehow overdo it, exaggerate the gravity of the situation? Think the Senator from Vermont is off mark?

Ask Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was snatched by US authorities in New York, dispatched to Syria where he was tortured, before being sent back to Canada, a basket case.

Ask Professor Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University about his efforts to go teach at the University of Notre Dame, Ohio, as the US government continues to refuse granting him a visa. The motive? Professor Ramadan once sent a donation to a French charity that the U.S. at a later date deemed pro-Hamas. The argument? Ramadan "should have known" that the legal charity in France was supporting Hamas' social services (event though at the time the donations were made the US government had not made the determination.)

Ask Steve Howards who, on June 16, 2006, was arrested by the Secret Service and charged with assaulting the vice president, was handcuffed in front of his eight-year-old son, booked and eventually released on a $500 bond. The reason? Mr. Howards dared tell Dick Cheney, "Your policies in Iraq are reprehensible."


(Mr. Howards's story reminded me of my own in Santa Rosa. As he was being arrested, Howards told the agent, "I can't abandon my eight-year-old son in a public mall." The agent answered, "We'll call Social Services." I remember pleading with the officers who were arresting me: "Please, please, allow me to drive to the police station. I cannot abandon my dog." "We'll take care of him," was their answer. For them, caring meant to impound my companion as a stray dog and not even have the decency to let me know where he had been impounded.)

Let me not get emotional again. In December 2001, I concluded my piece thus: "This is not the America I wanted. This is not my America. This is NOT America, period."

Today, I am forced to realize that this is America. So, I'll let you go with those parting thoughts:

My name is not Martin Niemöller. I am just a fly on the window pane, but I'll use his immensurable, powerful saying, slightly altered, for a conclusion:

When the American government came for the terrorists I remained silent; I was not a terrorist.

When they locked up the Muslims and the Arabs, I remained silent; I was not a Muslim or an Arab.

When they came for the darker skins, I did not speak out; I was white and not a mesh of civilizations and pigmentations.

When they came for the so-called non-American aliens, I did not speak out; I was not an alien.

When they came for me, good white American, there was no one left to speak out.


· · · · · ·

Note to the 65 senators who voted in favor of this tyrannical Act, all 65 of them (53 Republicans and 12 Democrats) -- Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Burr, Carper, Chambliss, Coburn, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeMint, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Frist, Graham, Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Isakson, Johnson, Kyl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Lott, Lugar, Martinez, McCain, McConnell, Menendez, Murkowski, Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Pryor, Roberts, Rockefeller, Salazar, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Specter, Stabenow, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Thune, Vitter, Voinovich, and Warner: Thank you Senators. You have officially declared that the once-United States of America has now become a banana republic. May your names go down in infamy.


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Internal Resources

Greens in the USA

US Elections & Democracy


About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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This Edition's Internal Links

The Global War On Negative Sentiment - Jan Baughman

Achh, Arghh And What? - Milo Clark

On the Suspension of Habeas Corpus - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

State Of Nature, II - Martin Murie

Noam Chomsky's Failed States - Book Review by Charles Marowitz

A Phone Call - Short Play by Michael Doliner

Total Refusal - Peter Byrne

Blips #42 - From the Martian desk - Gilles d'Aymery

Letters to the Editor

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URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/ga217.html
Published October 9, 2006