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Six Questions on the American 'Gulag' & Pardon Me, Please
September 24, 2006 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Does the tolerance for abuses committed during the “war on terrorism” have any implications for the health of democracy at home?

The President’s broad new powers in the signing statements that enable him to override Congress have corroded the American system of checks and balances. American law enforcement agencies can now wiretap American civilians and detain citizens and permanent residents without charges, and consequently without evidence. Last week the House passed legislation to build a 700-mile Israeli-style fence on the U.S.–Mexico border and to deploy there many of the surveillance technologies tested in Iraq. Perhaps the domestic installation of wartime technologies and military surveillance in civilian settings has become acceptable to us because we have become accustomed, as Soviet citizens did during the endless Stalinist purges, to open-ended wars—wars with no opening salvo and no concluding treaty. Whether or not one agrees that American detention centers and secret prisons are the “Gulag of our time,” the comparison deserves serious consideration. It might help us shine a torch into the dark corners of repression, where the totalitarian qualities of our own society lurk, before the scale of violence ascends to Gulag dimensions.
Six Questions on the American “Gulag” for Historian Kate Brown
See also Bush seeks immunity for violating War Crimes Act
posted by y2karl (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the second link:
Creating immunity retroactively for violating the law sets a terrible precedent. The president takes an oath of office to uphold the Constitution; that document requires him to obey the laws, not violate them. A president who knowingly and deliberately violates U.S. criminal laws should not be able to use stealth tactics to immunize himself from liability, and Congress should not go along.
posted by y2karl at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2006


of course it has implications--grave ones. Everything they're doing abroad will be done to us--it's only a matter of time.

By giving anyone permission to do these things, and by protecting them from prosecution, it gives them a free hand to do it all to us just as easily. They have to be removed and all this clearly and emphaticly stopped and forbidden (which it already is).
posted by amberglow at 12:40 PM on September 24, 2006


If the Democrats do not regain control of Congress this fall, and do not use those new powers of subpoena and inquiry to pursue a comprehensive and wide-ranging investigation into these matters, American democracy will be in greater peril than at any time in its history.
posted by docgonzo at 12:56 PM on September 24, 2006


Ummmm docgonzo, I hate to break it too you Lincoln's presidency was much more totalitarian; however, I will concede that the American democracy has big problems (really the democracy is doing some very undemocratic things, eating itself alive). Of course, Lincoln was in the midst of a Civil War, what will the country look like if the Bush Administration continue?
posted by j-urb at 1:02 PM on September 24, 2006


Some democrats are hoping to derail this torture bill this week, but they will apparently not do a filibuster. (Maybe Kerry will try like he did with Alito, we'll see). The thing is, congress is leaving the session on September 30th, so they only have to hold out for six days.

It's possible they might run out the clock on this, although doubtful if they can't manage a filibuster. We'll see.

The democrats are being idiots on this. All they have to do is hold out for six days and they'll get a huge boost from their base, instead they don't say or do anything and demoralize their base right before an election. It's idiotic.
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on September 24, 2006


Ummmm docgonzo, I hate to break it too you Lincoln's presidency was much more totalitarian;

Really? He could tap phones? Send opponents into secret rendition? Watch events across the world in real time?

Snarkiness aside -- and admitting that my knowledge of US history is not perfect -- but I would suggest that BushCo have a huge advantage over Lincoln in terms of the technology of surveillance, transportation and punishment.
posted by docgonzo at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2006


j-urb: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.

No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."
Article One, section 9 of the Constitution.

It's handy that those two are so close together.
posted by Freen at 1:40 PM on September 24, 2006


Ummmm docgonzo, I hate to break it too you Lincoln's presidency was much more totalitarian;

Screw Lincoln. Bush is living now, committing war crimes now, indangering us and the world now. He is a criminal unraveling the hard won gains of civilized people and nations. He should be tried for his crimes. If Congress, including the Dems, let him backpaddle on this then they deserve to be put out with the rest of the trash.
posted by chance at 1:44 PM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Really? He could tap phones? Send opponents into secret rendition? Watch events across the world in real time?

I'm sure he would have if he could. He didn't bother with rendition; he locked his political opponents up right here in the good ole U.S.A.

Simply speaking out against Lincoln during the war could and would get you arrested.
posted by delmoi at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2006


I'm sure he would have if he could. He didn't bother with rendition; he locked his political opponents up right here in the good ole U.S.A.

People were also property when he took office. A lot changes in 150-or-so years, thus why the whole "Well Lincoln did it!" line of apologism is pure bullshit.
posted by Cyrano at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2006


Democrats are hoping to derail this torture bill this week, but they will apparently not do a filibuster.

Lets make this perfectly clear. If this bill gets off the floor of the Senate, I will actively vote GOP, as that will be the fastest way to destroy the Democratic Party in hopes of a real opposition party forming.

It's a million to one shot, sure -- but that's ifinitely better than a party that silently agrees to this horror.

This is the line they must not cross. Harry Reid and his party have over 40 votes. THIS BILL MUST NOT PASS.

If it does, they are just as guilty of the harm Bush has caused, and are more evil because they pretended to be on my side, and they will never, ever get a single bit of support from me again. If my only hope of an opposition party is to destroy the Democratic Party, then I will gladly do so.

This has to end.
posted by eriko at 2:22 PM on September 24, 2006


Kate Brown sure does a great job of the whole, you know, forced labor without food in frigid cold, death of millions part. I do not deny that everything the US is doing with regards to its prisoner program is not something I find palatable, but comparing one of the worst programs of torture and ethnic cleansing to the US' prisoner program is a pathetic moral equivlency of the worst sort. There's no need to over-state the case, when the case is so bad on its own.
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
posted by fet at 2:37 PM on September 24, 2006


Whether or not one agrees that American detention centers and secret prisons are the “Gulag of our time,” the comparison deserves serious consideration. It might help us shine a torch into the dark corners of repression, where the totalitarian qualities of our own society lurk, before the scale of violence ascends to Gulag dimensions.
posted by y2karl at 2:40 PM on September 24, 2006


So, wait: these "powers" the President claims in signing statements — does he actually have these powers? Is there anyone outside the Executive branch (and the wingnut brigades) who acknowledges these made-up powers?
posted by hattifattener at 3:45 PM on September 24, 2006


There's an inherent contradiction in the idea that, even if they're not the "'Gulag of our time,' the comparison deserves serious consideration." It either is or it isn't, and if you're in the camp that thinks it's isn't, you don't think it merits serious consideration.

As fet said, Kate Brown is engaging in "a pathetic moral equivlency of the worst sort." And not even succeeding, for that matter. I'd have a lot more respect for her if she could even give a straight answer on this first question (which she doesn't).
posted by dhammond at 3:57 PM on September 24, 2006


Is there anyone outside the Executive branch

No.

(and the wingnut brigades)

Oh. Yeah.

Glenn Greenwald has been doing a fine job of documenting and explaining exactly what the President's LawyerSchtaffel have been doing to make these brand-new powers seem (to a biased eye) halfway plausible.
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:22 PM on September 24, 2006


He could tap phones?

It should be noted that the illegal ECHELON program was in effect all through the Clinton years, but at least he had little enough hubris to recognize that illegal programs can't be made legal and acceptable to all by royal decree.
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:28 PM on September 24, 2006


So, wait: these "powers" the President claims in signing statements — does he actually have these powers? Is there anyone outside the Executive branch (and the wingnut brigades) who acknowledges these made-up powers?

That's hard to say. Certainly, few experts agree that the Executive's powers extend as far as this administration has pushed. Opinions vary, though, on just what powers the Executive possesses in support of the Commander-in-Chief role, and what Congress can do to restrict those powers. The most important case to read in trying to understand the balance of powers here is probably Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, in which Justice Jackson wrote a concurrence that largely states the law in this area, to the extent there is any. Ed Lazarus discusses the case briefly in this article discussing the President's power--or lack thereof--to implement his domestic spying program.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2006


This is the line they must not cross. Harry Reid and his party have over 40 votes. THIS BILL MUST NOT PASS.

If it does, they are just as guilty of the harm Bush has caused, and are more evil because they pretended to be on my side, and they will never, ever get a single bit of support from me again. If my only hope of an opposition party is to destroy the Democratic Party, then I will gladly do so.

This has to end.
posted by eriko


While I doubt I could bring myself to vote for a Republican, I agree with your sentiments.
posted by taosbat at 5:00 PM on September 24, 2006


Creating immunity retroactively for violating the law sets a terrible precedent

Yeah, except that that's the exact definition of "immunity" in the legal sense.

"Immunity" isn't inherently bad, though I certainly wouldn't grant it in this case.
posted by dhammond at 5:06 PM on September 24, 2006


So, wait: these "powers" the President claims in signing statements — does he actually have these powers?

If he gets away with it, yes, he does. Our job is to see that he doesn't get away with it.
posted by languagehat at 5:54 PM on September 24, 2006


Really? He could tap phones?

It's worth mentioning that both the North and South tapped telegraph lines. (Hey, the CIA says so!)
posted by SPrintF at 6:11 PM on September 24, 2006


Signing statements = bullsh*t

The backwards immunity seems like a done deal - the Democrats remain the tools of Karl Rove.

Today, Bush likens the thousands upon thousands of deaths which have and are to occur in Iraq to a mere comma.
posted by caddis at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2006


...When people say "is this what my country's come to?" I want to say "were you asleep for the last five years?"

Didn't anyone notice US troops shooting into Iraqi crowds, beating the shit out of protestors, humiliation at Gitmo with menstrual blood. How could you not know, at least in your heart, people were being tortured. Who was going to stop it? They'd locked an American citizen in a dungeon for years, without a lawyer. Once Rumsfeld said the words "enemy combatant" the Geneva Convention would be observed in the breach. A class of POW outside Geneva? That was it right there. Secret prisons? Bush should have been impeached the day we heard of such things.

Now, we don't have the luxury to sulk or be disgusted. A great many crimes have been committed and they have neither made this country safe, defeated our enemies or delivered any measure of justice. We have to either find a way to bring the criminals to heel or live with worldwide scorn.

Frank Rich says in his new book, it isn't that Bush is stupid, but he thinks he's smarter than everyone else.

It might have been surprising Bush would cook up a law so convoluted that no court is going to endorse it, but we live in cynical times. They don't care if we debate torture, as long as we don't debate their failed war in Iraq.

This is not a debate about what this country has become. It is a debate about what this country is and how we change it.
About Torture
posted by y2karl at 9:48 PM on September 24, 2006 [2 favorites]


We've already got an atrocity gap here, people! Oh sure, we're doing alright with our cutting-edge waterboarding, hypothermia and "beat them to death" programs, but we'll never catch up in this fight if we don't get access to their top secret beheading technology!
posted by dinsdale at 11:28 PM on September 24, 2006


of course it has implications--grave ones. Everything they're doing abroad will be done to us--it's only a matter of time.

By giving anyone permission to do these things, and by protecting them from prosecution, it gives them a free hand to do it all to us just as easily.


I would like think that I know your stance well enough, Amberglow, that you are intentionally narrowing the scope of your arguments -- that you care just as much about it "being done to them" as you do it "being done to us". But I understand there are many to whom such arguments will make no difference.
posted by dreamsign at 12:33 AM on September 25, 2006


And of course I've just noticed that this entire post was framed in terms of domestic impact, so I withdraw my previous comment.
posted by dreamsign at 2:12 AM on September 25, 2006


They don't care if we debate torture, as long as we don't debate their failed war in Iraq.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

that's all there is to say, really.
it also makes the GOP, its media wing and the rest of "liberal" stenographers able to say, "the Democrats care about the terrorists, the Republicans care about Americans"
posted by matteo at 7:22 AM on September 25, 2006


dreamsign, i care deeply about anyone on Earth being subjected to this horrendous and evil shit--us or them. The majority of people hauled in by "us" --to a secret place or to Gitmo--are innocent.

I also think it's not generating the outrage at home it should be because of "them"--most people here think it can never happen (here, to "us") and that it's illegal to do it to "us"--things that this law would certainly send a green light for, if the rampant and illegal spying on "us" and attacks on all "our" dissent weren't enough of a warning. This law would certainly make it legal to do to "us", and with the current Supreme Court no one can be sure it'll be struck down or not.
posted by amberglow at 8:27 AM on September 25, 2006


there are many to whom such arguments will make no difference.

Those people are slime.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:49 AM on September 25, 2006


While I doubt I could bring myself to vote for a Republican, I agree with your sentiments.

I agree with your sentiments, but voting for someone just because he or she is a Democrat is just as bad as not voting for someone because he or she is a Republican. It's important to base one's vote (IMHO) on the person themself. Surely there are some Republicans who are better than the worst Democrats?
posted by hoborg at 9:53 AM on September 25, 2006


Surely there are some Republicans who are better than the worst Democrats?

Perhaps there are; but, they won't be on my ballot.
posted by taosbat at 11:01 AM on September 25, 2006


eriko: "Lets make this perfectly clear. If this bill gets off the floor of the Senate, I will actively vote GOP, as that will be the fastest way to destroy the Democratic Party in hopes of a real opposition party forming. This has to end."

I agree that this has to end but will not lower myself to vote Republican. Perhaps I'd write in a candidate like Cheeta the Chimp and vote for him. He is still alive and taken up painting since getting off the cigars and booze. He's more in grounded in reality than any of the extremo-rightie wack jobs.
posted by chance at 11:40 AM on September 25, 2006


A (non FPP worthy) funny article at something awful on Bill Frist as a torture test... similar to Gary Larson's Moods of an Irish Setter:
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us.
posted by anthill at 11:40 AM on September 25, 2006


American Gulag, stay away from me - hee.
American Gulag, mama let me be - hee
I don't need your war machines
I don't need your ghetto scenes
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now gulag, get away

Sorry, that whole retroactive immunity think makes me silly. It’s like a kids game. It’s only going to be useful if similar-minded people are in office (as a buffer - “well look, he’s got immunity, we can’t do nothin’”) If someone really wants to prosecute people they could, if they take that law seriously at all, simply repeal it.


“The detention of people who turn out to be innocent bystanders gives a new definition to the phrase ‘non-combatants.’”

I always wonder about that idea “well, ‘they’re’ doing it.” Indeed. Criminals often violate the law as well. Shouldn’t our police have the same latitude?
Or our troops?

The ‘tolerance for abuses’ translates into an acceptance of ad-hoc law. What’s truly damaging is (as has been noted above) no one thinks they’re going to be on the recieving end. Which is completely ridiculous. We’re all already on the recieving end. Manifestly.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2006


The other four-letter word.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2006


Fate of Some CIA Detainees Still Unknown--
Missing Boston woman among them, kin say

posted by amberglow at 8:41 PM on September 25, 2006


Keep the Great Writ alive
posted by homunculus at 9:27 PM on September 25, 2006


How The Military Commissions Act of 2006 Threatens Judicial Independence
posted by homunculus at 12:53 AM on September 26, 2006


As Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) holds a hearing today to examine proposals to limit Guantanamo detainees' access to habeas corpus review, other members of the Republican leadership are trying to strip away this right for U.S. citizens convicted of crimes. With only days left before Congress adjourns for mid-term elections, some members of Congress continue to skirt regular order in an attempt to attach widely-criticized habeas repeal measures to unrelated legislation. ...
posted by amberglow at 8:06 AM on September 26, 2006


I just got off the phone with one of my senator's aides in DC. He pointed out that the final language of the 'Military Comissions' bill hasn't yet been written. He also said that Senator Bingaman was quite concerned about the whole thing.

I asked him to relay my concerns to the senator and tell him that the Dems must fight this vigorously even if they lose. I hope they don't lose but even if they do, a strong resistence would help my morale in the run-up to the election. I think he'll do it.
posted by taosbat at 1:59 PM on September 26, 2006


... In America they torture people, including their own, in secret prisons. ...
posted by amberglow at 5:28 PM on September 26, 2006


... The White House is further rewriting the torture and self-absolution legislation that is currently sailing through congress.

Now the real targets turn out to be you and me. The new version of the law would allow the CIA and the U.S. military:

indefinite detention of anyone who, as the bill states, "has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or its military allies. ...


posted by amberglow at 5:54 PM on September 26, 2006


more from there: The law is about "hostilities against the United States and it military allies", not about "terrorism".

With this, the legal fishing net just got a lot larger and the meshes became smaller. Even us small fish may be caught in it.

posted by amberglow at 5:54 PM on September 26, 2006


*revises thinking on time for violence*
posted by Smedleyman at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2006


Spineless Democrats Deserve to Lose--they're not even going to filibuster--appalling.
posted by amberglow at 10:12 PM on September 27, 2006


Legislation Advances on Terrorism Trials
posted by taosbat at 8:06 AM on September 28, 2006


This is the most un-American bill I have ever seen. Republicans have proven themselves to be craven sycophants who will do Vice President Cheney's bidding no matter what, over and over. There is almost no hope for any of them. They will go down in history as the leaders of the worst Congress of all time. But the Democrats ...
For the love of God, you are supposed to be our last line of defense. You are about to gut our whole system of government. Torture. Indefinite detentions. Unlimited and arbitrary executive power. What on God's green earth is American about any of that? You're going to let them turn us into a third rate banana republic. ...

posted by amberglow at 8:28 AM on September 28, 2006


...In court the government has repeatedly said that merely teaching English or international law, political advocacy, or how to petition the United Nations can constitute material support if the person on the receiving end happens to be affiliated with a blacklisted group. So saying only "enemy combatants" can be detained without court review is no limitation at all when anyone guilty of teaching English to someone affiliated with any of the thousands of blacklisted groups qualifies as one. ...
posted by amberglow at 8:35 AM on September 28, 2006


Senate rejects terror suspect challenges
posted by taosbat at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2006


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