Monday, July 05, 2004

Where Were the Liberals? All Over It, Bill


William Safire's bizarre column in today's Times argues that when the Bush Administration began cracking down on civil liberties, liberals stayed silent. They are only "piling on" now in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandals, because "It's safe; civil liberty is suddenly in vogue."

What planet is he on?

Liberals and a good number of brave libertarians were perhaps the only people speaking out against what the Administration was doing. Everyone else was running for cover, and conservative pundits were denouncing anyone who suggested that the Administration was going too far as soft on terror and hating America. Give me a break, Bill. I'm glad that you also were against the madness. But the idea that liberals weren't in the forefront of the opposition is not only self-serving, it's simply insane. In the legal academy alone, liberals like David Cole, Neal Katyal, Larry Tribe, George Fletcher, Bruce Ackerman, Harold Koh, and myself-- and others too numerous to mention, so please forgive me for not mentioning them -- were denouncing the Administration's high handed tactics early on.

And I'd go further. Don't think that because the Supreme Court has given the shaft to the Bush Administration's Caesarist ambitions, civil liberties are now safe in this country. As I've noted in a previous post, the most recent cases from the Supreme Court are only the beginning of the process, and it is quite possible that they will not offer detainees very much in the way of substantive protection.

In any case, for those of you who were wondering what liberals were actually saying in the days when civil liberties weren't quite so cool, here's an op-ed by a liberal-- yours truly-- written on November 29th, 2001-- two months after 9/11, and published in the Los Angeles Times. It is entitled, "Using Our Fears to Justify A Power Grab:"

Moments of crisis do not merely create emergencies. They also create temptations.

Many see the central issue before us as how to balance civil liberties and national interests. This is wrong. The danger we face today is not that government officials will make hasty decisions out of fear or that they will strike the wrong balance between liberty and security. It is that they will use a national crisis as an opportunity to make themselves more powerful and less accountable for what they do--not because they are corrupt and venal but because they are so utterly convinced of their uprightness.

In times of fear, authoritarian impulses are less constrained and people feel less able to complain about them. After all, no one wants to be thought unpatriotic when the country is in such grave danger. And when there is no check on government officials certain of their own rectitude, the temptation for them to act unilaterally and arbitrarily becomes irresistible. Such is the problem we face today, with a president and an attorney general who have dedicated themselves to stamping out all evildoers both outside the country and within it.

An increasingly authoritarian tone is pervading the Bush administration. We have seen it in the so-called USA Patriot legislation hastily pushed through Congress. We have seen it in the presidential order authorizing military tribunals without traditional due process protections and without a right of appeal to anyone but the president himself. We have seen it in new federal policies that permit eavesdropping of confidential communications between attorneys and their clients. And we have seen it in new regulations that allow the attorney general to imprison noncitizens indefinitely, even if an immigration judge has ruled that there is no evidence to justify holding them against their will.

Little by little, the basic elements of procedural fairness that keep democratic governments from acting arbitrarily are being chipped away. No apology is offered for these actions. Those who seize power always feel perfectly entitled to it. Instead, they blame their critics for failing to recognize the seriousness of the situation or for being soft on terrorism, as in the past other critics were blamed for being soft on communism.

The authoritarian impulse is justified, as it always is, through paranoia. The more fearful Americans are, the more they are willing to give their officials a free hand. It is no accident that the same attorney general who has withheld information about who is being detained and why has also repeatedly warned in ominous tones that more terrorist attacks are just around the corner. Secrecy lends credibility to paranoia, which in turn justifies increased secrecy and increased power.

Officials who want greater authority always prefer to work in secret so that they cannot easily be called to account. And when complaints are raised, lack of available information makes it all the more difficult to prove that violations have occurred.

Thus, it is entirely predictable that the current administration has made a fetish of secrecy, for secrecy increases power, not only overseas but in our own country.

Authoritarianism never attacks the institutions of freedom at their strongest point; it always attacks them at their weakest. Even before Sept. 11, the country's immigration laws were often arbitrary and highhanded. Therefore it is no surprise that the administration's latest grabs for executive authority have targeted noncitizens, who have no right to representation and no natural constituency to defend them. The present conflict may not be a war on Islam. But it is increasingly turning out to be a war on noncitizens.

The members of this administration do not want to be dictators. They simply do not want anyone getting in their way. They do not want to be autocrats. They simply do not want to be second-guessed when they know that they are right. They do not want to be antidemocratic. They simply want to be able to act unilaterally in the interests of righteousness. If we would merely allow them to go about their business in secret, and with as much authority as they feel they need, they will take care of things for us.

In times like these, it is a tempting offer, but we should refuse it. For what profit has a country if it shall control the whole world and lose its democratic soul?

Many people thought this was over the top in November 2001, but I have to say they weren't mostly liberals. They were conservatives. In Richard Posner's book, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy written around this time and published in 2003, he points to this op-ed as an example of the sort of reasoning that should make a pragmatist like himself gag. I wonder if he still feels that way.


William Safire's comments are akin to David Brooks crying about how terrible it is the opponents of the administration are so harsh -- they deserve the thinly disguided contempt Balkin offers.

10:14pm Feb 19, 2002 Findlaw Post
Building a Model on Political Takeovers That We Can Use Today

I have come up with two articles that possible can be used I believe to model where this administrations activities may be leading to.

There is the "Technique of the National Socialist Seizure of Power," by Karl Dietrich Bracher in The Path To Dictatorship, a set of essays on the Nazi takeover. From a "legal revolution," through a second ruse of "national revolution" and Hitlers use of the "dualism" between state and party in his reach for power. On January 29th, 1933 Hitler is appointed Vice Chancellor by President Hindenburg, whereas in the present situation the selection for a president has been made by the Judiciary. The effect is the same. To suspend the separation of powers. And then the Constitution. Merely picking up were President Nixon and Rehnquist left off the last time with "in terrorem, in terrorem." (see THE GERMAN DICTATORSHIP, THE ORIGINS, STRUCTURE, AND EFFECTS OF NATIONAL SOCIALISM for a full account.)

A second prizm is the nationalism of Italian Enico Corradini which can be found in his speech "The Cult of the Warrior Morality." Not that he is neccessary "singing the praises of war like some medieval soldier of fortune," but that "war like peace, is both a necessary and salutary fact of life." Well, let me salute Senator Byrd in that case, for pointing out just in the nick of time that the Department of Defense's own auditors admitted that they cannot account for over $2.3 trillion in transactions. I guess this is what you get from a congressional-military-industrial complex. President Eisenhower hinted as much in his first draft. So the money allowed the Cross to eat up the Crescent Moon??????????? (from Italian fascisms from Pareto to Gentile / edited and introduced by Adrian Lyttelton; translated from the Italian, unless otherwise indicated, by Douglas Parmée)

A third possibility for comparisons is Alexis de Toqueville's "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear," from Democracy In America. Here the Constitution is republican only in its head, while ultra-monarchical in "all" other parts. Usually, after periods of equality, this is a short lived, though "dreaded" monster.

Who, should we turn too? Major General Smedley Butler (see also The Plot to Seize the White House by Jules Archer) or Walt Whitman? Jefferson flatly stated that we should "marry the British fleet and nation," in order to insure Napolean's fall. Rather, de Toqueville, points out that as the Diety does in the universe, that "We the People Reign in the American political world. They are the cause and the aim of all things; everything comes from them, and everything is absorbed in them." The "linchpin" of the constitution, Congresses ability to allow individual up and down votes every two years on military spending by our representatives, sounds like a good provision for civilian control over the military that could be utilized before we lose the linchpin and all.

And just for added measure I sent the following months before in response to Dershowitz's first argument for torture warrants (minus the Rumsfeld addendum) and to the Comander of Camp X-ray and various news outlets, including the La Times, and this was never printed even with my permission given. Maybe that is why it seems there is a Johnny come lately to liberal responses to torture. Not a "vogue" response.

The Minds Limit Today

In Jean Amery's, The Minds Limit, his capture and descent into torture by German Nazi’s, starts by pointing out that his torturers showed no “banality of evil” in their faces. First there is the "laugh" and then the "first blow". The prisoner then realizes that they are "helpless". Lost is the “trust in the world.” Certainly there is no “mutual aid in nature.” No. It is time for the “business room.” But before describing his own torture the author makes “good on a promise I gave.” Not that they where not specialists in torture, but more so his conviction that “torture was the essence of Nationalist Socialism – more accurately stated, why it was precisely in torture that the Third Reich materialized in all the density of its being.” I ask you dear citizens should we also "codify" that the detainees at Camp Xray can also be children as recently reported in the news? Not only does that sound slightly like the rule of antiman but I do believe antichild included. And if that is so then the rule practiced as such has “expressly established it as a princple.” So just what else in "essence" does go on at Camp Xray – "tricks"? Plead mercy, pray tell? Refuse Himmlers offer for a Certificate of Maturity in History I would suggest. Nay, to forsake the Constitution and be depraved of our humanity would be more painful in the end Mr Rumsfeld. Slavery to torture is all you will get. Go tell that to the Marines Mr. Rumsfeld after you have tendered your resignation.

I am Citizen Michael John Keenan

The President was forced to respond in public in regard to the "soul or being" part of my argument. While he denies it I still do not believe him AT ALL.

Your November 2001 post was brilliant. History shows that republics fall because the people panic and approve the granting of poorly thought out, far reaching powers to government. This is how Germany fell from republic to the Nazis and how Rome fell from republic to the Caesars.

To speak frankly, for a while I did feel abandoned by liberals when the Patriot Act came down and the War in Iraq was declared. Thomas Friedman, for one, is running to cover his ass after discovering -- to his horror -- that the war in Iraq was nothing but a partisan move. To which I say "Duh".

However, plenty of us stood up -- against members of our own Democratic Party establishment -- and turned it around. Safire as a counterweight on the Republican side has been a dismal failure.

What does it mean to be the best? It means you have to be better than the number two guy. But what gratification is there in that? He's a loser—that’s why he's number two.
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