by Charles Levendosky, December 3, 2003
There's a disturbing irony in a U.S. administration that claims
it intends to establish democracy in Iraq - yet all the while
systematically dismantling democracy at home.
Access to information about government actions, the ability to
share that information with other citizens and the right to protest
government policies are all fundamental to a representative democracy.
Open government and open records are not popular concepts with
the Bush administration. Yet they are essential to a citizenry
that wishes to participate in helping the government select a
wise direction in both domestic and foreign policies.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, with the blessing of the Bush
administration, has stifled the flow of information and its sharing
- in the name of national security.
Crucial government Web sites have been shut down. Access to presidential
records has been dramatically limited. Freedom of Information
Act requests for government documents have been denied or the
documents heavily blacked out.
The president and the attorney general have both refused to give
proper congressional committees the information they have requested.
These House and Senate committees are supposed to exercise oversight
in regard to the Department of Justice.
President George W. Bush has forced peaceful protesters into so-called
Free Speech Zones - out of sight and hearing of the president
- as he passes by in his motorcade. Only those cheering citizens
who support Bush and his policies are allowed curbside to be seen
by the president.
Ten days before the massive Washington demonstration against the
war in Iraq on Oct. 25, the FBI circulated an internal bureau
bulletin noting the scheduled demonstrations in Washington and
San Francisco. It corroborates what many had already suspected:
The FBI has mounted a nationwide operation to collect intelligence
The bulletin ends by telling law enforcement agencies to "report
any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism
Task Force." In major cities around the nation, the FBI has
set up Joint Terrorism Task Forces staffed with local law enforcement
officers as well as FBI agents.
The terrorism task forces' spying eyes are active in cities like
Denver, Portland, Oregon, and Fresno, California. The New York
City Police Department arrested peaceful antiwar demonstrators
earlier this year and questioned them about their political affiliations.
The practice was finally stopped by public criticism.
More ominously, the Nov. 23 Los Angeles Times quoted Air Force
General Ralph Eberhart, commander of the newly created Northern
Command, the military's homeland security arm: "We must start
thinking differently," he said, alluding to citizens not
focusing on "the home game."
Terrorism at home would activate the Northern Command's military
operations. So, despite the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, Americans
might find their streets patrolled by combat troops. The Posse
Comitatus Act prohibits the direct use of federal troops "to
execute the laws" of the United States - unless the president
declares a state of emergency.
In a recent interview, now retired General Tommy Franks, who led
the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, told the men's
lifestyle magazine Cigar Aficionado that if the United States
were hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicted large
casualties, the Constitution would probably be discarded in favor
of a form of military government.
Such a statement from a former four-star general may be meant
to prepare the American people for the end of their constitutional
form of government, the end of democracy. Because Franks said
it, however, doesn't mean it will happen. The Constitution has
survived more than 200 years of wars and serious threats to the
nation. Franks's statement may be a scare tactic or a political
trial balloon to see how the American public reacts.
In either case, the general's comment reveals his own doubts about
the inner strength and will of the American people - to uphold
the rule of law and to trust the document that has made their
nation great, the U.S. Constitution.
The writer is the editorial page editor of the Casper Star-Tribune,