Like a gang of twitchy hit men afraid they've botched the job, the Bush Regime is creeping back to the scene of the crime: the Congressional backrooms where they thought they'd put the kibosh on the American Republic once and for all.
But it seems there is still a flicker of life in the victim -- and thus a threat that the gangsters might have to face the music somewhere down the line. So they went back to the bagmen on Capitol Hill this week, ordering their minions to provide retroactive legal cover for the rank offenses committed by the big boys at the top when they devised their torture regimen -- in knowing, deliberate violation of the U.S. War Crimes Act, which was passed by acclamation in the Republican-led Congress in 1996, and toughened up the following year with the support of the Pentagon, the Washington Post reports.
The moribund Republic, which the Bush gangsters had slowly tortured for years, was thought to have been finally bludgeoned to death when the Bushists brought out the blunt instrument of the "unitary executive" earlier this year. After the Regime's patently illegal domestic spying programs were revealed, the Regime at last dropped all pretense and openly declared a presidential dictatorship, insisting that any action ordered by the "Commander-in-Chief" is beyond the reach of law.
When this extraordinary usurpation of the Constitution did not produce angry crowds in the street demanding the return of their liberties -- and nothing more than a prissy "Well, I never!" from the oozing invertebrates in the Democratic opposition -- it seemed that the Republic was well and truly dead. But then last month, the Supreme Court's decision in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case effectively overturned the Bushists’ "unitary executive" fantasies by ruling that the Geneva Conventions -- which have been incorporated into U.S. law and are the basis of the War Crimes Act -- applied to Bush's Terror War.
This was the nightmare scenario that Attorney General Alberto "The Fixer" Gonzales and Dick Cheney's capo, David "The Enforcer" Addington laid out in legal memos for George W. Bush in early 2002, when Bush, Cheney and Pentagon warlord Don Rumseld were signing off on the various tortures they would inflict on their captives. The legal minions told Bush that they could all be prosecuted, even executed, under the War Crimes Act for what they were doing -- if the Geneva Conventions were upheld. Gonzales thus advised Bush to issue a presidential order stripping Terror War captives of the Geneva protections, the Post reports. Only this bit of weasel-wording could provide a "defense against future prosecution," Gonzales wrote.
What he forgot to say was that this defense would only work in a presidential dictatorship under the legally baseless "unitary executive;" otherwise, the president would still be bound by America's strict laws against torture. Thus any president who ordered interrogation techniques that violated those laws could be prosecuted; and if those techniques resulted in the murder of prisoners, then that president, and his minions, could be executed. So far, at least 35 Terror War captives have been killed in military or CIA custody, Human Rights Watch reports.
But Bush duly wrote the unconstitutional presidential order anyway, thereby committing himself to full, personal responsibility for the criminal system that followed. For the U.S. War Crimes Act not only forbids "murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," it also specifically criminalizes "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." Gonzales and the other Bushist legal perverts have tried to define away torture, claiming that anything less than outright murder or "pain approaching, but not equal to, that experienced during organ failure" is not really torture, but just a kind of extending tickling or good-natured horseplay. Thus, they say, there is no torture in the gulag.
Yet even if you accept these ludicrous and frankly evil formulations, and even if you ignore the overwhelming evidence of systematic beating, water-boarding, hostage-taking, deprivation and other actions acknowledged by any sentient human being as torture, there is no escaping the fact that the Pentagon and the CIA have openly instigated interrogation techniques centered around outrages upon personal dignity and humiliating, degrading treatment. Indeed, they're proud of it; they brag about it. And yet these techniques -- planned, approved and celebrated at the highest levels of government -- are patently illegal.
The military's own lawyers know this -- and have long known it. Albert Mora, the Navy's general counsel throughout the Terror War until last December, told the Pentagon that some of the specifically approved techniques "violated domestic and international legal norms," with legal responsibility for the crimes running "along the entire length of the chain of command," the Post reports. And just last month, the Air Force's chief counsel, Major General Jack Rives, told Congress, under oath, that "some of the techniques that have been authorized and used in the past have violated" key portions of the Geneva Conventions: the very portions that are the foundations of the U.S. War Crimes Act. As the Post noted, "the top military lawyers for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, who were seated next to Rives, said they agreed" with his analysis.
That's why the Bushists are now roaming the back alleys of Congress again, looking to fire a few more slugs into their victim. Bush wants the "unitary executive" autocracy he created in secret to be restored -- in public -- by Congress. There is brutal arrogance behind this of course -- but blind panic too. For the bloodsoaked thugs of the Bush Regime now realize they have no choice: if law and the Constitution are allowed to prevail, they could all be doing hard time -- or even find themselves strapped down and stretched out, waiting for the executioner's needle. To save their hides, the Republic must die, for good this time, forever.
*This is an expanded version of the column in the August 4 edition of the Moscow Times.*