The Attorney General’s remarks last week are a fitting departing flourish, if indeed he is done flourishing, for the man who labeled dissenters such as myself as traitors. The timing of the remarks, coming after the administration’s rather outrageous claim of a mandate to pursue its narrow partisan agenda, is certainly no accident. My sense is that the Shrub Cabal senses blood in the water and it is eager to kill off its prey quickly before perceived election momentum fades and mid-term election preoccupation begins.
In the immediate aftermath of this election, which was obviously a landslide in the altered reality of this administration, the tone is already increasingly patrician and condescending. You can hear the rhetorical finger-wags often in the Attorney General’s remarks, such as when he said:
The danger I see here is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war.
But the record of this administration makes it hard to imagine what exactly this gang might consider to not be a “critical area”. I sense no limits whatsoever on the subject matter that the administration is willing to claim as its patriotic domain. Apparently, if Karl Rove says it, then it’s so.
Truly, there is nothing genuinely new in these recent remarks. At every turn we have heard the administration’s whines about having to do their jobs within the quaint limits of the Constitution—which they only incidentally swore to uphold and defend. In the face of such egregious over-reaching for executive power, the calls for restraint by the dissent have been muted at best. Neo-cons can take great comfort in knowing that at the present rate of civil liberty legislative annulment, they will not need to whine for long: soon there will be precious little of the Constitution remaining to defend.
The context of the Attorney General’s remarks are instructive if you are not aware. The nation’s Top Attorney was obviously distressed by a recent US District Court ruling that halted the military trial of a man accused of being Osama Bin Laden’s driver and who is one among many that the administration has argued is not subject to the rules of the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention is of course famous as an effort between civilized nations to attempt to bring some protection to the human rights of prisoners of war.
And the Geneva Convention is of course equally famous for being ignored by administrations headed by Hitler, Stalin, Tojo and now Bush.
The administration has of course articulated a legal defense to repudiating the Geneva Convention—this administration, like its predecessor, is very good at legal defenses. That Al Queda is not a “state” and does not play fair seems to be about as far as the administration’s argument goes however. Depressingly lost on these self-styled patriots is the perspective that I think most of us learned as children. A patriotic perspective that taught that America is better than such practices and did the right thing even when it wasn’t fair. A perspective that understood that legal defenses to moral offenses are not very compelling whether in the Courts of Nürnberg or the Courts of Public Opinion.
Fortunately our Attorney General has announced his resignation; unfortunately the nominee for his replacement has been named as well: Alberto Gonzales. The same Alberto Gonzales that advised that the Geneva Convention was “quaint” and that by repudiating the Geneva Convention, the administration would have a defense against future accusations of war crimes. The same Alberto Gonzales that vigorously advocated a line of thought that lead to the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal.
I think the nickname “Sleazy Gonzales” will fit pretty well.
It is always dangerous to think things can’t get any worse. Certainly, in the case of our current Attorney General one might be tempted to think so, but Gonzales may well force some to rethink that conclusion.
But, there is little need to rethink your conclusion on the present Attorney General because he has remained regrettably consistent throughout his tenure. He further admonished us last week to get a firmer understanding of how our legal system works when he said:
Courts are not equipped to execute the law. They are not accountable to the people.
I must assume that since our Top Lawyer went to law school, he was offering this as instruction to the unwashed masses and not as an expression of a recently acquired personal understanding. It is, after all, fundamental to our system of government that the courts be a check on the power of the legislature and executive that is only accountable to the law itself. This is yet another instance where an administration official floats out statements that are objectively true, but which are intended to imply various meanings which are manifestly false. In this case, the implication is that the courts not being directly accountable to the people is somehow bad for America.
The obvious and unnerving irony of these remarks is that the Attorney General seems to feel that checks and balances are only required on the powers of the legislature and judiciary. This can be seen in the fact that any attempt to question the administration, or to check its abuses of power, is met with accusations of duplicity or ignorance. More unnerving still is the unwillingness of the media and political opposition to call the twisted rhetoric of this administration exactly that.
Technically, I suppose, the courts are not accountable to the people. But then again, to the extent that the past election was a referendum on the anti-American agenda of this administration, apparently neither is the Attorney general.