Burma on the Potomac: Another Step Deeper Into Tyranny


One day, you'll open up your eyes and

You'll see where you are.
-- Bob Dylan

From USA Today:
Three days after a 24-year-old college graduate spoke out on her immigration plight in USA TODAY, U.S. agents arrested her family — including her father, a Vietnamese man who once was confined to a "re-education" camp in his home country for anti-communist activities.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who chairs the House immigration subcommittee, on Tuesday accused federal officials of "witness intimidation" for staging a pre-dawn raid on the home of Tuan Ngoc Tran.

The agents arrested Tran, his wife and son, charging them with being fugitives from justice even though the family's attorneys said the Trans have been reporting to immigration officials annually to obtain work permits.

Lofgren said she believes the family was targeted because Tran's eldest child, Tam Tran, testified before Lofgren's panel earlier this spring in support of legislation that would help the children of illegal immigrants. On Oct. 8, Tam Tran was quoted in USA TODAY. Her parents and brother were taken into custody Thursday. The family was released to house arrest after Lofgren intervened.

Is this the America you thought you were living in? Is this the America your parents and teachers told you about? Is this the America that you sing about at all the ball games and public events, "the land of the free and the home of the brave"? Is this the America you have carried in your mind, and perhaps your heart, all these years?

You'd better snap out of it. You'd better slap yourself in the face and look around, see where you really are. You aren't living in "the land of the free;" you're living in a two-bit, tin-pot, half-assed tyranny, led by greasy cut-throats and howling cranks. And they have peopled the entire government with ideological automatons, willing and eager to use the levers of power to punish all those who displease the Leader.

The story highlights the thuggish regime's increasing disinterest in trying to hide its true nature. The excuse for the arrest offered by the Immigration agency is transparently false on its face. The agency itself admits that the Trans had been in regular, constant, unbroken contact with Immigration authorities for  years; how then could they be arrested as "fugitives"? They have in fact done everything that the authorities have asked them to do throughout their time in the United States. They have never broken any laws. But they did commit one cardinal sin: they allowed their daughter to speak freely. And she spoke in favor of humanitarian policies which the regime opposes. And for this sin, her family home was raided, her parents and brother were arrested and dragged to jail. Then, after the Congressional intervention, they were clamped with electronic ankle bracelets and sent back to live under house arrest – like Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. That's the level to which we are rapidly descending.

The only reason the family was not subjected to even worse treatment – incarceration in some Halliburton-built holding pen, perhaps – was the intervention of Rep. Lofgren, who had personal knowledge of the Trans' situation from their daughter's earlier appearance before Lofgren's committee. This in turn lead USA Today to quote Tam in a recent story, which in turn meant the newspaper was primed to give national attention to the arrests when Lofgren publicized them. The thought of the looming bad press finally induced the Bushists to remove the family's spy bracelets, although they remain under house arrest.

All of this is good, of course, and shows that some vestiges of a more normative civic society still flicker here and there. But what of the multitude of people in similar situations who don't have these fortuitous connections? They are obviously subject to the same arbitrary power that tried to crush the Trans family. What happens when one of them "steps out of line," in the eyes of the Regime and its apparatchiks? Nobody knows – except for the families that are ripped apart.

Anyone who believes that the kind of abritrary punishment dished out to the Trans family by a lawless and vindictive regime will be confined to immigrants is living in a fool's paradise. Step by step, Americans have been led into a Leader-State, where the "Unitary Executive" can exert his arbitrary and unrestricted power throughout the government -- and over the life and liberty of every citizen, indeed every person on the planet. Bush has claimed – and exercised – the power to ignore laws passed by Congress; he has stated quite specifically, over and over, in his signing statements, that he will follow only those laws – or parts of laws – that suit him while disregarding the others. And as the New York Times reports, his nominee for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, is an adherent of this authoritarian philosophy:

He suggested that both the administration's program of eavesdropping without warrants and its use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, might be acceptable under the Constitution even if they went beyond what the law technically allowed. Mr. Mukasey said the president's authority as commander in chief might allow him to supersede laws written by Congress.

And this is the man regarded by some, including the usually-astute Scott Horton, as "a light at the end of the tunnel," a straight-shooter who will restore rigorous independence to the degraded Justice Department. To be fair, the estimable Horton, often quoted here, wrote his paean to Mukasey before the latter's second day of Congressional testimony, when, as Sen. Patrick Leahy pointed out, it was obvious that Mukasey had been leaned on by the White House to back the regime's barbaric positions on torture and presidential dictatorship. Mukasey even declined to rule out waterboarding as an interrogation technique; obviously that remains an arrow in the regime's torture quiver. Instead, he merely mouthed the regime's circular logic: we don't torture, therefore if we do something – not matter what it is, even waterboarding – then it can't be torture.

But none of this is surprising. As we've noted here before, Mukasey would not have been nominated unless the regime knew he would toe its authoritarian line. If he had in fact been opposed to torture, tyranny and the subversion of all government into a base, partisan tool of the Leader's arbitrary will, then he would not have accepted the nomination in the first place. We cannot stress this enough: anyone who signs on with the Bush Regime at this point becomes a willing accomplice to evil. No person of honor or integrity would associate themselves with such a criminal enterprise. Whatever moral credit Mukasey has earned in the past (a matter of some dispute, given some of his rulings), however great his admiration for stalwarts of freedom like Justice Robert Jackson and George Orwell, he has forfeited all of that now by not only joining the Bush Regime but publicly defending some of its filthiest practices. And the government is literally crammed with such people now, in every department and agency, appointed by Bush (or picked by Bush appointees) to serve only Bush, and the cut-throats and cranks he represents.

So is this the America you have carried in your heart? No. But it's the one you've got now.

NOTE: Regarding the step-by-step sleepwalk into tyranny, Dave Neiwert has a telling passage in a recent post:

Milton Mayer's remarkable book They Thought They Were Free, built around a series of interviews he conducted with "ordinary Germans" who lived through Nazi society, talked about the mechanism by which this happened:

"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to "go out of your way to make trouble." Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to you colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, "It's not so bad" or "You're seeing things" or "You're an alarmist."

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

"But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to – to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked – if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in "43" had come immediately after the "German Firm" stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in "33". But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D."

UPDATE: In a new post, Scott Horton says he retains his warm personal view of Mukasey, but is troubled by his second-day testimony on torture. More importantly, Horton provides the unspoken background to yesterday's questioning: the practice of flagrantly illegal torture by the CIA in its secret prison on the island of Diego Garcia, a British possession in the Indian Ocean. As Horton notes, the UK Parliament is about to investigate British collusion in these crimes. He boils the case down thusly (the bolding is in his original):

And that brings us back to yesterday’s questioning of Michael Mukasey. The same question was lurking in the background, and it went unarticulated. So let’s be clear about what that question is: Has the CIA been given the go ahead to use torture and torture-lite techniques in its black sites overseas? The answer which emerges from everything we’ve seen is: Yes. The techniques in question include waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia, sleep deprivation in excess of two days, the use of dogs to terrify detainees, sexual humiliation techniques, and psychotropic drugs. Each of these techniques is very clearly illegal and their use is punishable as a crime.

Yes, exactly. And thus it would seem to me that the important thing now is not whether Mukasey satisfactorily answers Sen. Leahy's written questions on this "critical policy issue." In the extremity of the hour, Mukasey does not matter. He will almost certainly either lie in response to Leahy's questions, or else fudge the issue as he did in his oath-sworn testimony. But even in the highly unlikely event that he gives a satisfactory answer, declaring his firm adherence to the rule of law in every instance, it will not matter. He will simply be overriden by the White House, or ignored, as Congress is, or undercut by the cadre of Bush zealots that now fill the top reaches of the Justice Department.

The important question now is not where Mukasey might or might not stand on this or that policy issue; the important, overwhelmingly urgent question is: When will Congress act to call this blatantly criminal activity to account? When will Congress move to impeach the perpetrators, remove them them from office so they can be prosecuted for their crimes?

And if Congress does not do this – or even try to do it, and thus bring it to the forefront of the nation's attention – then it doesn't really matter what else they do or don't do. The Bush Regime will go on committing crimes and blithely ignoring the law as they have done for almost seven years.