Just before everyone settled down for Thanksgiving to eat far too much and watch the usual Detroit Lions game (against the Falcons this year as the Cowboys had the late game against the Broncos), the national dialog was sputtering down. Wednesday there was that new poll - "A majority of US adults believe the Bush administration generally misleads the public on current issues, while fewer than a third of Americans believe the information provided by the administration is generally accurate, the latest Harris Interactive poll finds."
There's been a massive "public mood" change over the past several months, as the "fed up" quotient in the country rises. Perhaps this started with the Hurricane Katrina business - the president late to the game and looking childish, and Michael Brown's FEMA performing worse than the wildest conspiracy theorist could imagine - and this peaked with last week's silliness in the house with the name-calling and the Republicans forcing a vote one what they said that fellow from Pennsylvania really meant but clearly didn't. These folks who have control of the executive branch, both houses of congress, and seventy percent of federal judgeships, were looking just petty and bullheaded. The vice president was on stump saying, "We didn't lie" - and to think we did is reprehensible and near treason and makes our troops cry and is worse than drowning puppies in Drano and whatnot. This produced somewhat the opposite of the intended effect, as they say - as in, "What's his problem?"
The plan for these pages was to comment on this item - In Legal Shift, U.S. Charges Detainee in Terrorism Case - "The Bush administration brought terrorism charges on Tuesday against Jose Padilla in a criminal court after holding him for three and a half years in a military brig as an enemy combatant once accused in a 'dirty bomb' plot."
What's up with that?
As laid out here, Padilla was detained at Chicago's O'Hare airport on May 8, 2002, and held as a "material witness" in New York. Then, facing a legal deadline to defend its decision to hold him as a material witness indefinitely, the government quickly labeled this guy an "enemy combatant" and shipped him off to a military brig in Charleston - the Charleston in South Carolina, not the one in West Virginia - and the administration, claiming congress gave the president authority to do what was necessary to disarm Saddam and eliminate any threats associated with terrorism - determined this fellow had no legal rights at all - no right to counsel or to be charged with a crime. He was one of the bad guys - even if he was an American citizen (he is a Brooklyn-born, or Chicago-born, former gang member who converted to Islam).
They said he was plotting to set off a "dirty bomb" and irradiate who knows what, and who knows how many fine Americans. There was some legal maneuvering and in June 2004, as the courts considered the case - can you hold an American citizen and take away all his rights on the president's word? - the government released a surprise document saying, well, no, the dirty bomb thing may have been a mistake - he was really plotting to blow up a particular apartment building, so throw away the key. Now it seems they're actually allowing a trial and all the rest that all of us think we have a right to - charging him with being part of "a broad conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas."
So now he gets access to the rights Americans think they have? The silliness of all of this is covered by Dahlia Lithwick here, and she reminds us that when the Defense Department decided to release America's last "Public Enemy Number One" - Yaser Esam Hamdi - from his three years of in a military prison without charges, he was shipped off to Saudi Arabia, "with a firm handshake and commemorative US Navy mug." The terrorist too dangerous to be tried in open court was "sent home to his parents for a seriously enforced new bedtime." And she lists other "oops" cases.
Just what is going on?
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek do some digging. They get administration lawyers to explain that the Bush administration, determined not to yield any ground on the constitutional issues in the case, have indicated it may still hold this accused "enemy combatant" indefinitely - even if he is acquitted of these terrorist conspiracy charges he was indicted on.
As in -
In short, this indictment removes the question of whether he has rights - so there's nothing to argue. They're making a test case go away.
Today's comments are significant because the Justice Department plans this week to file a motion with the Supreme Court urging that it not review an appellate court ruling affirming Padilla's status as an enemy combatant. The department plans to argue that the case is now moot because President Bush, in an order signed earlier this week, transferred Padilla from the custody of the Defense Department - which had been holding him in a military brig - to the custody of the Justice Department so he can stand trial in Miami.
Isikoff and Hosenball offer a ton more detail that will make your head spin - but that's the idea.
Dahlia Lithwick offers lots of links to all sorts of legal folks commenting on this basic question - did the congress give the president the clear authority to suspend parts of the constitution regarding citizens' rights as he sees fit, until the war on terror is declared officially over? That's something the administration would like to keep off the Supreme Court docket, at least until O'Conner is home in Arizona sipping iced tea and Alito is on the bench, as he had already ruled, at a lower level, that the president has that authority, without question. The case of Jose Padilla had to "go away."
There's a lot more from the famous Denver criminal attorney, Jeralyn Merritt, here, with lots of links - even some conservatives (the traditional kind) are appalled. One old-line conservative here -
But that's Andrew Sullivan, and he thinks Bush and that crew have distorted and just ruined the conservative movement - they've made a sick joke out of what is means to be a conservative. Last time out he was so angry he endorsed John Kerry.
I have no brief for Padilla or any other al Qaeda mass-murderers. But he is an American citizen, presumed innocent, and it took the government three years even to charge him. Anyone who cares about liberty - which obviously does not include many members of the Bush administration, should be appalled by what has occurred and what it means for the future of freedom in this country.
Then again, no one - expect these folks above - thinks much about constitutional law and basic rights. You just assume you have those rights you vaguely remember from that eight-grade civics class. It's a yawn.
So the plan in these pages changed.
What isn't a yawn for some folks is when husband or wife, son or daughter, nephew or niece, gets to come home from that fifth or sixth tour in Iraq, where they could get killed. That's been the national topic since the pro-military ex-Marine friend-of-Cheney congressman from Pennsylvania stood up and said our military has done all it was supposed to do and it's time to redeploy them and work on the diplomatic stuff and "soft power" and all the rest. The shrew from Cincinnati called him a coward and not much of Marine (she apologized and said she was misinformed and all that), but the questions were the sitting out there. When will this Iraqi people be ready to take care of their own country? If we stay until we win, how will we know we've won - when everyone is nice and various "evildoers" undergo a massive personality change? Is working out a timetable for changing things a sign of weakness that will cause "the world of folks who hate us for our freedoms" to laugh at us as girly-men with tiny penises who "cut and run" when faced with real men - or it is a sign of intelligence and common sense and a sign we know reality from bullshit? Will it make things more stable, or insure a regional Sunni-Shiite war?
You couldn't raise the issues before. You'd be told you hate America and all the rest. Well, now you can.
And Wednesday, November 23rd you saw things like this:
Rice Seems to Nod to Calls to Reduce Troops in Iraq (New York Times) - "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered assurances that the United States may not need to maintain..."
US sends strong signals on Iraq troops pull-out (Financial Times, UK) - "The US administration this week sent its strongest signals yet that it intends to..."
Pentagon envisions pulling out 3 combat brigades in early '06 (Chicago Tribune) - "Barring major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number..."
It seems the "we won't change a thing until we've won" idea doesn't poll well.
But there really is the psychosexual thing about how some insecure men react when anyone questions his "manliness." Makes them want to go beat up gays, or at least make sure they don't marry each other. And it means you cannot back down from anything, ever, no matter how logical it is to change tactics for the specific new circumstances.
On that issue, go read this from Digby over at Hullabaloo. He thinks this withdrawal plan is "the same phony drawdown" that they've been talking about for the last year. They will do it to show "progress" before the 2006 election - but he doesn't think there's "a chance in hell that George W. Cheney is going to allow himself to be portrayed 'cutting and running' by anyone. And if bombs are still going off in Iraq "that's exactly how it will look."
There's a fascinating discussion here to of how Princeton historian Bernard Lewis - someone Bush actually reads - has become the key prop in the argument for never backing down. The guy has written at least twenty books on Islam and the Middle East. He's eighty-seven but meets with Cheney and Rove all the time. It's all here -
So what's the explanation? Instilling respect or at least fear through force is essential for America's security.
After the terror attacks, White House staffers disagreed about how to frame the enemy, says David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President Bush. One group believed Muslim anger was all a misunderstanding - that Muslims misperceived America as decadent and godless. Their solution: Launch a vast campaign to educate Muslims about America's true virtue. Much of that effort, widely belittled in the press and overseas, was quietly abandoned.
A faction led by political strategist Karl Rove believed soul-searching over "why Muslims hate us" was misplaced, Mr. Frum says. Mr. Rove summoned Mr. Lewis to address some White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council. The historian recited the modern failures of Arab and Muslim societies and argued that anti-Americanism stemmed from their own inadequacies, not America's. Mr. Lewis also met privately with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Frum says he soon noticed Mr. Bush carrying a marked-up article by Mr. Lewis among his briefing papers. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Says Mr. Frum: "Bernard comes with a very powerful explanation for why 9/11 happened. Once you understand it, the policy presents itself afterward."
The policy? Do everything you can to not appear weak. What you do may be stupid or illegal, buy you cannot appear weak. Your safety, the safety of you friends and family, the safety of your country, depends on not appearing weak. Throw a punch. To do anything else is pointless.
Eight days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Pentagon still smoldering, Mr. Lewis addressed the U.S. Defense Policy Board. Mr. Lewis and a friend, Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi - now a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council - argued for a military takeover of Iraq to avert still-worse terrorism in the future, says Mr. Perle, who then headed the policy board.
A few months later, in a private dinner with Dick Cheney at the vice president's residence, Mr. Lewis explained why he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. could gradually build democracy in Iraq, say others who attended. Mr. Lewis also held forth on the dangers of appearing weak in the Muslim world, a lesson Mr. Cheney apparently took to heart. Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" just before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney said: "I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world."
The Lewis Doctrine, in effect, had become U.S. policy.
This is just a summary with some excerpts, of course. Digby gives lots of detail.
Let's give them at least some credit for sincerity on one thing. They honestly believe that we have been perceived as weak by the rest of the world. They've always thought this. This isn't a political calculation - they really believe it. They went into Iraq with the idea that they had to show those hinky Arabs that we are not going to be pushed around. When they say that everyone from Nixon on down behaved like cowards, they really mean it. This is their worldview.
... It is a deep article of faith that the reason we were hit on 9/11 is because we failed to respond to the terrorists and others. Therefore, we must make them respect and fear us by being violent and dominating.
I am of the opinion that alienating our allies, exposing ourselves as having an intelligence community that can't find water if they fall out of a boat and then screwing up Iraq in spectacular fashion, we have destroyed our mystique and have made this country less safe. We were much better off speaking softly and carrying the big stick than flailing around like a wounded, impotent Giant.
I see no reason to believe that these people see that. They believe that to "cut and run" is the equivalent of emasculating this country and that is what puts us at risk.
Are the troops ever coming home? If those who lead us, and many of those who support them, feel our only safety comes from what we do to seeming sufficiently manly, one doubts it.
So it isn't Clinton who had the problem with sex. Given this, he actually seems well-adjusted.