Dismantling US Democracy
By Charles Levendosky
International Herald Tribune
There's a disturbing irony in a US administration that claims it intends to establish democracy in Iraq - yet all the while systematically dismantling democracy at home.
Access to information about government actions, the ability to share that information with other citizens and the right to protest government policies are all fundamental to a representative democracy.
Open government and open records are not popular concepts with the Bush administration. Yet they are essential to a citizenry that wishes to participate in helping the government select a wise direction in both domestic and foreign policies.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, with the blessing of the Bush administration, has stifled the flow of information and its sharing-in the name of national security.
Crucial government Web sites have been shut down. Access to presidential records has been dramatically limited. Freedom of Information Act requests for government documents have been denied or the documents heavily blacked out.
The president and the attorney general have both refused to give proper congressional committees the information they have requested. These House and Senate committees are supposed to exercise oversight in regard to the Department of Justice.
President George W. Bush has forced peaceful protesters into so-called Free Speech Zones-out of sight and hearing of the president - as he passes by in his motorcade. Only those cheering citizens who support Bush and his policies are allowed curbside to be seen by the president.
Ten days before the massive Washington demonstration against the war in Iraq on Oct. 25, the FBI circulated an internal bureau bulletin noting the scheduled demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco. It corroborates what many had already suspected: The FBI has mounted a nationwide operation to collect intelligence on demonstrators.
The bulletin ends by telling law enforcement agencies to "report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force." In major cities around the nation, the FBI has set up Joint Terrorism Task Forces staffed with local law enforcement officers as well as FBI agents.
The terrorism task forces' spying eyes are active in cities like Denver, Portland, Oregon, and Fresno, California. The New York City Police Department arrested peaceful antiwar demonstrators earlier this year and questioned them about their political affiliations. The practice was finally stopped by public criticism.
More ominously, the Nov. 23 Los Angeles Times quoted Air Force General Ralph Eberhart, commander of the newly-created Northern Command, the military's homeland security arm: "We must start thinking differently," he said, alluding to citizens not focusing on "the home game."
Terrorism at home would activate the Northern Command's military operations. So, despite the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, Americans might find their streets patrolled by combat troops. The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the direct use of federal troops "to execute the laws" of the United States - unless the president declares a state of emergency.
In a recent interview, now retired General Tommy Franks, who led the US military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, told the men's lifestyle magazine Cigar Aficionado that if the United States were hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicted large casualties, the Constitution would probably be discarded in favor of a form of military government.
Such a statement from a former four-star general may be meant to prepare the American people for the end of their constitutional form of government, the end of democracy. Because Franks said it, however, doesn't mean it will happen. The Constitution has survived more than 200 years of wars and serious threats to the nation. Franks's statement may be a scare tactic or a political trial balloon to see how the American public reacts.
In either case, the general's comment reveals his own doubts about the inner strength and will of the American people-to uphold the rule of law and to trust the document that has made their nation great, the US Constitution.
The writer is the editorial page editor of the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune