My turn: Nurse the constitution back to vitality

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2007

In the Federalist Papers, No. 8, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free."

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Naomi Wolf, in her new book, "The End of America," details the erosion of freedom in America since Sept. 11 by comparing our current history to that of Italy and Germany. Both Mussolini and Hitler came to power in working democracies. Each made use of the Parliamentary system to subvert and reorder the rule of law; and each, by using fear to manipulate the public, quickly, legally, aggregated power overwhelmingly in his own person. After the burning of the Reichstag, Hitler had the German cabinet amend the constitution to create the Enabling Act, which allowed him to circumvent some powers of Parliament and tap citizens' phones and open their mail. Not wanting to be seen as unpatriotic, German lawmakers of all parties passed the Enabling Act by a majority of 441 to 94. The constitution remained, but from then on, Hitler could govern by decree.

The Bush administration has exploited the fear created on Sept. 11 by declaring a "war on terror," passing the Patriot Act and assuming increased powers as a war-time president. To amplify fear and manipulate the public, it has generated constant lies, produced fake news stories, eliminated habeas corpus in dealing with those it decides, with or without evidence, are terrorists, legitimized torture and refused to respond to congressional subpoenas or oversight of any kind. This is the behavior of a dictatorship, not that of a democracy.

In a dictatorship, the torturers and those who defend torture are placed in charge of the law. At the request of the CIA, then-legal counsel to the president Alberto Gonzales solicited the "torture memo" from the Justice Department. After the resulting Abu Ghraib scandal, Bush did not fire Gonzales or turn him over to authorities to face criminal charges; instead, he appointed Gonzales attorney general of the United States of America.

Human Rights Watch reports that "to date, not a single military intelligence officer has been court-martialed in connection with abuse allegations in Iraq."

According to Wolf, the Bush administration sending a current of lies into the information stream is part classic psychological operations to generate a larger shift - a new reality in which the truth can no longer be ascertained and no longer counts. In this reality citizens no longer feel empowered or able to establish truth on either side - and therefore give up their agency, allowing them to be manipulated into supporting almost any state action.

When November 2008 arrives, can we assume that "leaders who are willing to abuse signing statements; withhold information from Congress; make secret decisions; lie to the American people; use fake evidence to justify a pre-emptive war; torture prisoners; tap people's phones; open their mail and e-mails; break into their houses; and now simply ignore Congress altogether - leaders with, currently a 29-percent approval rating - will say, "The decision rests in the hands of the people. May the votes be counted?"

Whether you are liberal, conservative or in between, if you love truth, freedom, justice and tolerance and value the system of checks and balances our government was founded upon, then it is past time for the Bush administration to be reined in or impeached so that our wounded Constitution can be nursed back to full vitality.

America's founders were wise men who rebelled at great personal risk against a feudal despotism. In trying to create a free, representative and equitable system of government that would endure, they were acutely aware that it was tyranny, not democracy, that was ever renewable.

• Lisle Hebert is a social worker who lives in Juneau.

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