Ironically, his interview ended up being fodder for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart played Cheney?s outright denial that he had ever said that representatives of Al Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence met in Prague. Then Stewart froze Cheney?s image and played the exact video clip in which Cheney had indeed directly claimed linkage between the two, catching him on videotape in a lie. At that point Stewart said, addressing himself to Cheney?s frozen image on the television screen, ?It?s my duty to inform you that your pants are on fire.?
Dan Rather says that post-9/11 patriotism has stifled journalists from asking government officials ?the toughest of the tough questions.? Rather went so far as to compare Administration efforts to intimidate the press to ?necklacing? in apartheid South Africa, while acknowledging it as ?an obscene comparison.? ?The fear is that you will be necklaced here (in the U.S.), you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck,? Rather explained. It was CBS, remember, that withheld the Abu Ghraib photographs from the American people for two weeks at the request of the Bush Administration.
Donald Rumsfeld has said that criticism of the Administration?s policy ?makes it complicated and more difficult? to fight the war. CNN?s Christiane Amanpour said on CNBC last September, ?I think the press was muzzled and I think the press self-muzzled. I?m sorry to say but certainly television, and perhaps to a certain extent my station, was intimidated by the Administration.?
The Administration works closely with a network of ?rapid response? digital Brown Shirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for ?undermining support for our troops.? Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, was one of the first journalists to regularly expose the President?s consistent distortions of the facts. Krugman writes, ?Let?s not overlook the role of intimidation. After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative of the President?you had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation.
Bush and Cheney are spreading purposeful confusion while punishing reporters who stand in the way. It is understandably difficult for reporters and journalistic institutions to resist this pressure, which, in the case of individual journalists, threatens their livelihoods, and in the case of the broadcasters can lead to other forms of economic retribution. But resist they must, because without a press able to report ?without fear or favor? our democracy will disappear.
Recently, the media has engaged in some healthy self-criticism of the way it allowed the White House to mislead the public into war under false pretenses. We are dependent on the media, especially the broadcast media, to never let this happen again. We must help them resist this pressure for everyone?s sake, or we risk other wrong-headed decisions based upon false and misleading impressions.
We are left with an unprecedented, high-intensity conflict every single day between the ideological illusions upon which this administration?s policies have been based and the reality of the world in which the American people live their lives.
When you boil it all down to precisely what went wrong with the Bush Iraq policy, it is actually fairly simple: he adopted an ideologically driven view of Iraq that was tragically at odds with reality. Everything that has gone wrong is in one way or another the result of a spectacular and violent clash between the bundle of misconceptions that he gullibly consumed and the all-too-painful reality that our troops and contractors and diplomats and taxpayers have encountered. Of course, there have been several other collisions between President Bush?s ideology and America?s reality. To take the most prominent example, the transformation of a $5 trillion surplus into a $4 trillion deficit is in its own way just as spectacular a miscalculation as the Iraq war.
But there has been no more bizarre or troubling manifestation of how seriously off track this President?s policies have taken America than the two profound shocks to our nation?s conscience during the last month. First came the extremely disturbing pictures that document strange forms of physical and sexual abuse ? and even torture and murder ? by some of our soldiers against people they captured as prisoners in Iraq. And then, the second shock came just last week, with strange and perverted legal memoranda from inside the administration, which actually sought to justify torture and to somehow provide a legal rationale for bizarre and sadistic activities conducted in the name of the American people, which, according to any reasonable person, would be recognized as war crimes. In making their analysis, the administration lawyers concluded that the President, whenever he is acting in his role as commander in chief, is above and immune from the ?rule of law.? At least we don?t have to guess what our founders would have to say about this bizarre and un-American theory.
By the middle of this week, the uproar caused by the disclosure of this legal analysis had forced the administration to claim they were throwing the memo out and it was, ?irrelevant and overbroad.? But no one in the administration has said that the reasoning was wrong. And in fact, a DOJ spokesman says they stand by the tortured definition of torture. In addition the broad analysis regarding the commander-in-chief powers has not been disavowed. And the view of the memo ? that it was within commander-in-chief power to order any interrogation techniques necessary to extract information ? most certainly contributed to the atmosphere that led to the atrocities committed against the Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. We also know that President Bush rewarded the principle author of this legal monstrosity with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals. President Bush, meanwhile, continues to place the blame for the horrific consequences of his morally obtuse policies on the young privates and corporals and sergeants who may well be culpable as individuals for their actions, but who were certainly not responsible for the policies which set up the Bush Gulag and led to America?s strategic catastrophe in Iraq.
I call on the administration to disclose all its interrogation policies, including those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and those employed by the CIA at its secret detention centers outside the U.S., as well as all the analyses related to the adoption of those policies.
The Bush administration?s objective of establishing U.S. domination over any potential adversary led to the hubristic, tragic miscalculation of the Iraq war, a painful adventure marked by one disaster after another based on one mistaken assumption after another. But the people who paid the price have been the U.S. soldiers trapped over there and the Iraqis in prison. The top-heavy focus on dominance as a goal for the U.S. role in the world is exactly paralleled in their aspiration for the role of the president to be completely dominant in the constitutional system. Our founders understood even better than Lord Acton the inner meaning of his aphorism that power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely. The goal of dominance necessitates a focus on power. Ironically, all of their didactic messages about how democracies don?t invade other nations fell on their own deaf ears. The pursuit of dominance in foreign and strategic policy led the bush administration to ignore the United nations, do serious damage to our most alliances in the world, violate international law and risk the hatred of the rest of the world. The seductive exercise of unilateral power has led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that would have been the worst nightmare of our framers.
And the kind of unilateral power he imagines is fools gold in any case. Just as its pursuit in Mesopotamia has led to tragic consequences for our soldiers, the Iraqi people, our alliances, everything we think is important, in the same way the pursuit of a new interpretation of the presidency that weakens the Congress, courts and civil society is not good for either the presidency or the rest of the nation.
If the congress becomes an enfeebled enabler to the executive, and the courts become known for political calculations in their decisions, then the country suffers. The kinds of unnatural, undemocratic activities in which this administration has engaged, in order to aggrandize power, have included censorship of scientific reports, manipulation of budgetary statistics, silencing dissent, and ignoring intelligence. Although there have been other efforts by other presidents to encroach on the legitimate prerogatives of congress and courts, there has never been this kind of systematic abuse of the truth and institutionalization of dishonesty as a routine part of the policy process.
Two hundred and twenty years ago, John Adams wrote, in describing one of America?s most basic founding principles, ?The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them?to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.?
The last time we had a president who had the idea that he was above the law was when
Richard Nixon told an interviewer, ?When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal? If the president, for example approves something, approves an action because of national security, or, in this case, because of a threat to internal peace and order, of significant order, then the president?s decision in this instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating the law.?
Fortunately for our country, Nixon was forced to resign as President before he could implement his outlandish interpretation of the Constitution, but not before his defiance of the Congress and the courts created a serious constitutional crisis.
The two top Justice Department officials under President Nixon, Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, turned out to be men of great integrity, and even though they were loyal Republicans, they were more loyal to the constitution and resigned on principle rather than implement what they saw as abuses of power by Nixon. Then Congress, also on a bipartisan basis, bravely resisted Nixon?s abuse of power and launched impeachment proceedings.