The Unmerciful and The Necessary
The most dangerous place to be right now is behind any Bush administration official. At any moment, Bushies all over town are backpedaling as fast as they can on important issues on which they formerly promised to stand their ground. As the ground crumbles and shifts under their feet, they lurch back, back, searching for that safe, common ground.
Like millions of others, I have waited six excruciating years for the Bushies to get their just deserts in the courts. Given how Bush was "elected" in the first place – ultimately appointed by the worst decision ever from the U.S. Supreme Court, I’m sure they didn’t take the courts very seriously as anything other than a manipulable rubber-stamp. I can still hear Justice O’Connor from the tense, historically live audio during oral arguments: Something like, "Why couldn’t the voters just follow the instructions, for goodness sake?" For goodness sake, indeed.
The Bushies have always had designs on your civil liberties, but they were handed an enormous gift on 9/11/01. After flying around the country in Air Force One while they tried to figure out how to spin the disaster to their advantage, Karl Rove decided that Bush must use the word War, for maximum political leverage. After declaring War when there was none, the Bushies proceeded to demand and grab power for themselves in a way unheard of in American history, even (especially) during real war time.
And why wouldn’t they? It’s not like Congress was going to reign them in, what with the GOP congressional lapdogs in power and their pitiful sycophants on talk radio and cable marching in lockstep. Meanwhile, consultants convinced the Democrats that they ought not be perceived as unhelpful to the military response. You would have thought the Dems would have learned their lesson after Al Gore graciously conceded the presidency that rightfully belonged to him that they get nothing out of playing nice with these bastards. But, there they went, and, as the better, as it always will be.
In the meantime, the usual suspects were rounded up on the "battlefields" of Afghanistan – many innocent cab drivers, merchants and cell phone users – and hauled off, hooded and naked, to the metal cages of Guantanamo, so that America could show the world how humane we are and how we would like our captured fighters to be treated. Not.
The whole bizarre setup at Guantanamo was created fully-formed, as if it was the result of a five-year project at the Heritage Foundation. Because of the ingenious design of the unprecedented program – Gitmo is in a foreign country, but on U.S. land; names of detainees withheld; access to lawyers and the Red Cross next to impossible; "rendering" to foreign torture agents, etc. – it took over four years and lots of creative lawyering to get a case to the Supremes that actually meant something.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, an amazing thing happened. Despite all odds, what’s left of the U.S. Supreme Court – five of them, at least, the last vestige of sanity in a nation of corrupted democracy – stepped up and inserted a badly-needed legal foot into the Bushies’ behind. In fake TV wrestling, they call it a smackdown – that from which one does not get up, much less spin it in terms that preserve your dignity.
Known by the last name of the unfortunate detainee, the Hamdan case is destined to be as legally iconic as Miranda. In the opinion written by the Ford(!)-appointed, moderate-in-any-world-but-this John Paul Stevens, the Court left no question where it stood on the issue of the Bush claims to imperial status and power.
"But in undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction." Wow. Read it again: "...the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law..." Thus ends five years of bullshit-and-bluster by the Bushies, everything from warrantless searches of phones and bank records to endless detention without charges. "...bound to comply with the Rule of Law..." And, while you’re at it, John Paul the Good capitalized "Rule of Law". Boo-yah.
So much for the Bushies’ visions of monarchy, or so it would seem. For instance, in its ruling, the Court addressed the broad claims the Bush gang has always made about the infamous Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that swept through Congress so that we could kick some Taliban in 2001. Not so fast, says the Supreme Court: "...there is nothing in the text or legislative history of the AUMF even hinting that Congress intended to expand or alter..." the regular processes of the courts of military justice.
Let’s just apply that logic to the many now-wild power assertions of the Bushies in so many other areas. What else can it be said that Congress never even "hinted" at an intent to expand or alter? Warrantless wiretaps? Bank and phone records? Forget it. Their goose is cooked like a Cheney quail – caged, helpless and with buckshot all over the faces of the innocent.
The Rove talking-point machine has had a hard time handling a smackdown as dramatic and definitive as this. At the height of their belligerence – say, a year ago – the Bushies would have used this opportunity to announce the suspension of Supreme Court rule, setting up a sub-division of the "Justice" Department to review and dispose of all complaints from annoying Americans and others as an alternative. At first, they called the broad ruling "narrow". They implied that Congress can "fix" or "tweak" the process, but not without enough protections that would result in the outright release of all but a few.
And then there are the dark ruminations of the sub-surrogates, the places that Rove sends the most outrageous messages, to soften up the underbelly with the poison of the obscene. There, the Mark Levine and Mark Savage’s of the world – pliant local and national wingnuts – talk about the ultimate constitutional crisis, the declaration of executive branch supremacy that puts to death comity and checks-and-balances once and for all.
But even Dick Cheney knows he couldn’t pull that one off. Even Cheney knows it’s over for their sorry regime and they can choose to slink off in shame or drop the Bomb and hasten the Rapture. For even thinking about this, the Bushies will burn in a Special Hell built for those who falsely claim the Kingdom.
So, the Bushies this week did the only thing they could do. They capitulated. A memo went out saying that, oops, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did apply to the Gitmo unfortunates, as the Supreme Court said. Now, we hear that even those in CIA custody (no difference, really) are so protected.
At times like these, you want to be a fly on the wall when the lawyers came in to tell Cheney the jig is up. For all of his evil intentions and accomplishments (now unraveling), Cheney always inherited, as the driven straw-that-serves-the-drink, the legacy of Richard Nixon. Nixon got drunk in the White House at night and railed at all the elites that victimized him and his poor father and mother. He talked to the portraits on the walls and thought they talked back. He forced Kissinger on his knees to pray for a god only he saw, and only after three or four stiff bourbons.
For his part, Cheney has none of the pitiful charm of the overwhelmed, lonely psychopath that Nixon was. Unlike Nixon, Cheney is surrounded by yes-men and other enablers, much more loyal and dangerous than those amateur pipsqueaks Haldeman and Erlichman. He also has a ridiculous Amen chorus in the wingnut media, willing to make excuses for any failure. Unlike Nixon, Cheney will not die in lonely isolation – both he and Junior will be very well taken care of, thank you.
But, for at least one day last week, Cheney had to swallow what the Supreme Court handed out. You know these bastards thought long and hard about creating a constitutional crisis by blowing the Court off – boy, did they ever think about it. But, in the end, they had no political capital to expend. So they caved. They are not, in any way imperial or all-powerful just because they have declared that a War is going on.
And the Rule of Law applies. To them.