Bush’s proposed terror legacy: a legal basis for perpetual war


The first prisoners at Guantanamo, January 11, 2002Just when you think that there can be no more outrageous proposals from the current Lame Duck government, and that it’s down to a straight race between Barack Obama, a man with profound respect for the rule of law, and John McCain, who, I fear, may allow the malign spirits of Dick Cheney and David Addington to maintain a presence in the corridors of power, George W. Bush, the Least Popular President in History, has made a last-ditch attempt to secure his bellicose legacy by slipping an extraordinary passage into proposed legislation dealing with legal appeals filed by Guantánamo prisoners in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush.

As Eric Lichtblau described it in the New York Times, the President’s advisers, believing that “many Americans may have forgotten” that “the United States is still at war with al-Qaeda” — which is an easy mistake to make, given that it is both dangerous and deceitful to describe resistance to small bands of terrorist criminals as a “war” — “want Congress to say so” and to “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”

I must admit that I can’t actually understand why the President’s advisers should regard this commitment as particularly important, as legislation passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed on September 14, 2001 — has never been repealed, and states, unequivocally, that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Notoriously, this is the legislation that launched the power-grab that is the main legacy of the “War on Terror” for the executive branch of the United States: the open-ended declaration of war that enabled the President and his advisers to start two wars, undermine the US Constitution, shred the Geneva Conventions, spurn habeas corpus, tear up the Bill of Rights, discard the Army Field Manual, create a system of show trials for terrorists out of thin air, spy on American citizens with impunity, and pour scorn on the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

I can only presume, therefore, that, like some sort of grotesque power couple ostentatiously renewing their wedding vows, Bush, Cheney and Addington have put forward this legislation in an attempt to renew their own deathly vows of unending horror with Congress and the American people. Myopic and arrogant to the last, they will presumably play this as an attempt to support John McCain and the Republican Party in the face of an assault on national security by backsliding liberals, whereas all clear-sighted Americans should see it for what it really is: another cynical attempt to absolve the administration of its vast catalog of war crimes by yet again attempting to fool the American public that they are America’s saviors rather than a dictatorial executive branch, serving only their lust for power and the coffers of their blood-stained corporate allies, and that as a result they require the American people to live in a permanent state of paranoid and xenophobic fear.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post and Antiwar.com.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    This is the opinion of “optomdoc,” who posted this reply to the article on the Huffington Post, which seems to be both chilling and accurate:

    What the proposed legislation seems designed to do would be to ex post facto set forth an argument that the original legislation was intended to apply not to just those responsible for 9/11, but other organizations or associations that were not involved in 9/11.

    So if you applied “enhanced interrogation” techniques against an individual who was a member of an organization or association that was not involved in 9/11, but that might know something about those that were, you could use the authorization as a defense. Otherwise, you have just committed a war crime.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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