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The hidden environmental consequences of 9/11.
What America can learn from its Muslims.
The White House hasn't learned any of them.
Will Digital Kill the Radio Star?
Your radio may not survive.
No Laughing Matter.
Bush is eager to break longshore workers' union.
Low on Energy
Will the administration bail out puttering power producers?
Bush is to blame for worsening mine safety.
Shock to the System
A growing indigenous and people's movement in Bolivia.
In Person: Evo Morales
BOOKS: Rescuing Ground Zero from the developers.
The Worst of Times
BOOKS: The Future of U.S. Capitalism is now.
Where's the Ecstasy?
FILM: The smarminess of 24 Hour Party People.
At one bar in Jerusalem, there is no intifada and no occupation.
August 16, 2002
No Laughing Matter
s the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the nation will begin to commemorate the thousands killed in the attacks. Less attention will be paid to the other casualties in the war on terrorism, the dismantling of open and accountable government, and our own incredulity.
The Senate and House Intelligence Committees’ joint investigation was meant to focus on how U.S. intelligence agencies dropped the ball prior to 9/11. It turns out, for example, the National Security Agency (NSA) received an electronic intercept on September 10 that appears to refer to an impending attack.
But rather than examine what went wrong, the intelligence committee chairmen, at the request of the White House, began hunting down who in Congress leaked this embarrassing information to the press. (Never mind that leaks to the press are Washington’s time-honored way for dissident insiders to let the public know of controversial issues and policy debates.) The FBI was even called in to polygraph those members of Congress who are investigating its intelligence failures.
This is the same FBI that concurrently was handling Operation TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System), a war-time network of vigilante spies. In the online magazine Salon, Dave Lindorff (a longtime contributor to In These Times) reported how his calls to TIPS weren’t routed to law enforcement officials, but to FOX’s America’s Most Wanted TV show.
Critics had a field day. “Why stop with America’s Most Wanted?” asked ACLU Legislative Counsel Rachel King, who suggested that the Justice Department hire Jerry Springer as its public information officer.
The White House retreated. Uncle Sam no longer wanted mail carriers, telephone repairmen and cable guys to snoop on their fellow citizens. In fact, the Justice Department announced that “the hotline number will not be shared” with such workers, just people involved in the “transportation, trucking, shipping, maritime, and mass transit industries.” (The Teamsters have already volunteered their services.)
A victory for common sense? Or had we been duped again?
Our attention diverted, the Bush administration quietly got on with the steady erosion of constitutional protections in the name of fighting terrorism. As it scaled back its neighborhood spy program, the Justice Department argued in federal court that the administration could deny constitutional protections—due process and freedom of speech—to any U.S. citizen it deemed an “enemy combatant.”
Further, the administration’s lawyers claimed the federal courts lacked the authority to intervene, because the executive branch has the right to make such determinations in a time of war, and the separation of powers clause of the Constitution protects the White House from judicial review. The result: secret courts operated by a secretive government.
The Bush administration wants to regulate public access to any information that might allow citizens to evaluate for themselves how the war against terror is being waged, how the nation’s intelligence agencies have performed, how they are being kept in the dark by their government.
A couple of weeks ago, Walter Cronkite, on the 28th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, described how CBS reporters came to understand that the Vietnam War was a misguided imperial adventure. “The war they saw in the fields was not the one they heard described in official briefings,” said Cronkite, who went on to lament that, in the ’60s, reporters at least had first-hand access to what was happening.
Today in Afghanistan—and perhaps soon in Iraq—reporters are fed briefings and kept on a tight leash. They are led only to those battlefields the Bush administration wants them—and, by extension, the American public—to see. In a similar way, the public and the press are allowed access only to those records about Enron’s participation in the vice president’s Energy Task Force that the White House wants us to see (in other words, none). The same goes for the records of the SEC investigation into the president’s shady Harken Energy dealings.
But one more gaffe, and that too will be forgotten—and in some strange way, forgiven. Soon, tomorrow maybe, Bush will utter an unscripted sentence, trip over his tongue and make a fool of himself. Prisoners of this presidential idiocy, we suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome. We will laugh nervously. But the joke’s on us.
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