Earlier this week, Vice President Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney said the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 could have been averted if the president had the power to secretly monitor the conversations of two of the hijackers without first getting a court order. This is a prime example of how the Bush Administration has run the country into the ground using smoke and mirrors, arguing “oranges” every time someone criticizes them by saying “apples.”
First, the easy answers. There are lots of ways those hijackings could have been averted without violating the Fourth Amendment. The FAA could have banned potentially dangerous sharp objects like box cutters. They reacted by banning everything from scissors to nail clippers, which amounted to locking, bolting, and nailing shut the barn door after the horse has been flown into a building.
Faulty administrative procedures played quite a role. Instead of spending what’s approaching a trillion dollars on the Department of Homeland Security and excising large chunks of the Bill of Rights in the name of this alleged security, why weren’t the heads of the FBI, CIA, and other relevant organizations told in no uncertain terms to find ways to share their information, or we’ll find someone who will? The government had enough information to stop the attacks if anyone had bothered to make sure it got into the right hands.
These issues have been debated before. The primary approach utilized in Cheney’s remarks is another Administration standby: only address part of the argument. Never mind that leaving out the salient features of the criticism invalidates your argument; who’s going to look that deeply into it?
Hardly anyone is criticizing the surveillance itself; it’s warrantless surveillance that has people’s drawers in a knot. The special courts for secret warrants existed prior to 9/11. These warrants can be issued retroactively for up to 72 hours if speed is an issue. If the government was so sure monitoring the phone calls of these two guys could have stopped an attack, then why didn’t they get a couple of warrants? Cheney’s comments imply more than ample probable cause.
To take Cheney’s disingenuousness one step further, the Bush Administration has never shied away from assuming the broadest interpretation of presidential power, especially as it relates to the other branches of government and the public. Does anyone really think they would have hesitated to take extra-Constitutional means before they got the war powers resolution, which they are essentially interpreting as the granting of dictatorial powers?
Think “dictatorial” is too strong a word? Bush and Cheney continually stress the safeguards and good judgment used to ensure no innocent Americans have their rights trampled on. Whose good judgment are we depending on? George W. Bush. Let’s look at his history of good judgment, just since he’s been president. Cutting taxes in time of war to create record deficits. Invading Iraq in the name of 9/11, knowing full well Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Getting us stuck there, with over two thousand Americans killed since Bush’s Priapic exhibition on the USS Abraham Lincoln, when he announced “mission accomplished.” The repeated assurances that the insurgents were a small cadre of “dead enders” that were forever in their “last throes,” so they should “bring it on,” we can handle it. Is that who you want making the decision about whose rights are observed and whose aren’t?
And for you Bush supporters out there, what about when he’s gone? The next president gets the same powers. Do you want Hillary Clinton making those decisions? John Kerry?
The terrorists can do no worse than kill a few of us. These power grabs have the potential to destroy us. Once you start down the slippery slope, each incremental diminution of rights seems less significant than the last, until one day you look around and nothing’s left. Simon Bolivar is known as the George Washington of South America. Let’s hope no one ever has to be referred to as the Oskar Schlindler of the United States.