Since his retirement by Ronald
Reagan, President Carter has given active service to the causes of human rights
and peace. He has written a number of books, and now he has delivered a humdinger:
Endangered Values (Simon & Schuster, 2005) in which he takes the Bush
administration to task.
Carter is an uncommonly decent and sincere person to have gone so far in American
politics. His presidency failed because it coincided in time with three crises:
economic malaise resulting from the exhaustion and failure of postwar Keynesian
demand management, the outburst of long-simmering hatred in Iran of U.S. interference
in Iran's internal affairs, and a run-up in the oil price (small compared to
what Bush and Cheney have achieved).
President Carter finds it unpleasant to write his assessment of the Bush administration,
but he steadfastly makes it clear that the Bush/Cheney/neocon "war on terror"
is in fact a war on America's reputation and civil liberties. He points out
that the Bush administration has used the "war on terror" to justify actions
"similar to those of abusive regimes that we have historically condemned." Consequently,
"the United States now has become one of the foremost targets of respected international
organizations concerned about these basic principles of democratic life."
Carter reports that the deception, naked aggression, and torture that define
the Bush administration have caused a tremendous setback for human rights throughout
the world. At an international human rights conference in June 2005, "Participants
explained that oppressive leaders had been emboldened to persecute and silence
outspoken citizens under the guise of fighting terrorism. … The consequence
is that many lawyers, professors, doctors,and journalists had been labeled terrorists,
often for merely criticizing a particular policy or for carrying out their daily
work. We heard about many cases involving human rights attorneys being charged
with abetting terrorists simply for defending accused persons." Carter is especially
disturbed that the Bush administration is encouraging these abusive policies
in the name of "fighting terrorism."
Who among us ever expected to hear an American president, vice president, and
attorney general justify torture as essential to the protection of the American
way of life? Carter quotes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who sounds more
like a third-world tyrant than an American when he dismisses the Geneva Convention's
provisions as "quaint." Bush threatened to veto any congressional limitation
on his right to torture, and Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon declared that "the president,
despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has
the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological
actions during interrogation, up to and including torture."
It is not only Carter who is disturbed, but also members of the previous Bush
administration, including the current president's own father and his former
national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. Carter quotes Dr. Burton J. Lee
III, President George H.W. Bush's White House physician, as follows:
"Reports of torture by U.S. forces have been accompanied by evidence that
military medical personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military
ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health professionals
in ill-treatment of detainees. … Systematic torture, sanctioned by the government
and aided and abetted by our own profession, is not acceptable. … America cannot
continue down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. … It is
not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear
who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and of the citizens of the United States."
Carter notes that the illegal detentions following 9/11 were hurriedly legalized
by dubious methods that violate a number of constitutional protections of civil
liberties. Carter is distressed that children as young as 8 years old are being
held in indefinite detention and tortured. Confronted by Seymour Hersh, a Pentagon
spokesman replied that "age is not a determining factor in detention."
similarity of Bush administration policies to " those of abusive regimes that
we have historically condemned" is brought home to us by historian Nikolaus
Prisons (Yale University Press, 2004).
Wachsmann's book is a detailed history of the conflict and cooperation between
the traditional legal/judicial/prison system on the one hand and the police/SS/concentration
camp system on the other. He does not mention George Bush or Bush's "war on
terror." However, the similarities leap off the pages.
Just as 9/11 was a crystallizing event for Bush's seizure of executive power
to suspend civil liberties, detain people indefinitely without evidence, and
spy on American citizens without warrants, the Reichstag fire of Feb. 27,1933,
was followed the next morning by Hitler's Decree for the Protection of People
and State. This decree became the constitutional charter of the Third Reich.
It "suspended guarantees of personal liberty and served as the basis for the
police arrest and incarceration of political opponents without trial."
In a frightening parallel to our own situation, Wachsmann writes: "Various
police activities during the 'seizure of power' clearly damaged legal authority.
Indefinite detention without due judicial process was incompatible with the
rule of law. But, on the whole, there were no loud complaints or protests from
legal officials." I read this passage the same day I heard on National Public
Radio University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner defend President Bush's
use of extralegal, extra-Constitutional authority to protect the people and
state from terrorists.
The precedent for Alberto Gonzales' declaration that Bush is the law was Reich
Minister of Justice Franz Gurtner, who agreed in a cabinet meeting on July 3,
1934, that "Hitler was the law." Bush's claim that extraordinary powers are
necessary for him to be able to defend our country under extraordinary circumstances
is identical to Hitler's claim that he was entitled to ignore the rule of law
because he was "responsible for the fate of the German nation and thereby the
supreme judge of the German people." What is the difference between HItler's
claim and the U.S. Department of Defense's claim that President Bush has the
right to violate domestic and international laws?
Wachsmann's book shows that it is extremely easy for extraordinary measures
in the name of national emergency to become permanent.
Germans did not understand that the Decree for the Protection of People and
State was the beginning of legal terror.
being a former president, must write with restraint. Wachsmann sticks closely
to his subject. But Robert Higgs in his Resurgence
of the Warfare State (Independent Institute, 2005) lays it all on the
With ruthless logic, Higgs shreds every claim of the Bush administration and
its apologists. Reading Higgs leaves no doubt that the Bush administration's
invasion of Iraq was an illegal act based in deception. Under the Nuremberg
standard established by the U.S. itself, Bush's invasion is a war crime. Widespread
slaughter of the civilian Iraqi population and the torture of detainees are
also war crimes. In one of his best chapters, Higgs destroys the claim that
U.S. "smart weapons" are expressions of our morality in warfare because they
target only enemy combatants.
Higgs explains that the accuracy within a few yards of smart weapons is meaningless.
The blast, heat, and pressures from the weapons destroys everything within 120
yards of the hit. No one within 365 yards can expect to remain unharmed. Injuries
can extend to persons 1,000 yards away from the blast. The odds are zero, Higgs
writes, that the use of such weapons on towns and cities will not kill and maim
large numbers of civilians.
And they have done so. American forces in Iraq have killed far more Iraqi civilians
than they have insurgents. It is safe to say that Iraqis never experienced such
terror from Saddam Hussein as they have experienced from the American invasion
Bush claims that his war crimes are justified because they are committed in
the name of "freedom and democracy." The entire world rejects this excuse. Sooner
or later, even Bush's remaining Republican supporters will turn away in shame
from the dishonor Bush has brought to America.