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What would Thomas Jefferson think of the curious and discredited argument

from our Justice Department that the president may authorize

what plainly amounts to the torture of prisoners



 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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Tom Paine & anti-Americanism

By John Maxwell


This week the governing Republican  party in the US  is in one of its periodic frenzies about  Bill Clinton, frothing at every orifice, dusting off moth-eaten hypocrisies in search of ideological kryptonite to hurl at the political Superman they most fear. The reason is that Clinton has just published his autobiography and nearly a million people have grabbed the book – at $35 a shot –  many after standing in queues for more than 24 hours to be sure of getting a copy autographed by the great man.

It is a bad time for Republicans, many of whom must be suffering from that brand new ‘acid reflux disease’ – the only known cure for which is a little purple pill whose side effects  seem  as dangerous as the ‘disease’ itself. It is also a bad time for the rest of us, being carried along in a train driven by fools. In the meantime, it is a serious crime to criticise the current Administration. To do so is anti-American.

On Friday, it was 37 years since Muhammad Ali was sentenced to prison for refusing to fight in an unjust war against the Vietnamese people. “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘“ni * * er’ ’” he said. Of course he didn’t say ‘Ni * * er”, but, if I print out what he said, the software which controls international  email will reject my column  on some technologically impenetrable ground which, interpreted,  adds up to the ersatz gentility that  prevents a spade from calling a spade a “ni* * er,” even if he is speaking about himself.

Ali is now a genuine American hero, as is Bill Clinton, and the pusillanimous pantywaists who persecuted them are now on the wrong side of the public opinion polls.  This week it was disclosed not only that most Americans (54%) considered the Iraq War a mistake, but that a majority of US citizens, for the first time, now believe that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. So the last major lie justifying war has evaporated.

The US mass media appear to be shocked at the charge that Saddam Hussein might have been tortured, although the same networks continue to replay that disgusting video of his medical examination after capture –  in itself a clear breach of the Geneva Conventions which prohibits the humiliation or invasion of privacy  of any prisoner of war.

Mr Bush is now busy denying all sorts of things, among them, probably, the knowledge of who in his entourage criminally ‘outed’ Valerie Plame, the CIA deep cover operative whose husband  Joseph Wilson, fell afoul of the White House over the ‘nuclear’ pretext for the Iraq war.

The President denies that the White House has ever considered the idea of torturing US prisoners of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The   several learned disquisitions on the subject prepared   by White House lawyers were, according to Condi Rice   merely ‘musings” and opinion pieces. What sort of person, I wonder, muses about torture?

Perhaps the sort of man who spends hours on Civil War battlefields, dreaming of a different result. Perhaps the sort of man who can dispense with ersatz gentility long enough to snarl on the floor of Congress, at a US Senator and tell him to “F • •k-off.”

Perhaps it is the sort of man like Mr Cheney, that fugitive from a Gahan Wilson cartoon, who is under investigation in France, Nigeria, the UK, and his own country for a variety of offences dealing with wrongful enrichment.

A Prevalence of Crooks

As the discredited witch-hunters of the Clinton era take their last bows on the media stage, their insouciance provokes me to remember a curious fact. Republican Administrations over the last 60 years appear to be plagued by functionaries  with a curious weakness for getting into federal trouble. . There have been one or two casualties on the Democratic side but the Republicans have amassed an unenviable collection of exconvicts and otherwise disgraced former ‘public servants. President Eisenhower’s chief of staff, former Governor Sherman Adams, was disgraced for the  then new offence of ‘influence peddling”.

In the next Republican Administration, Vice  President Agnew went to jail, as did Messrs. Haldeman, Erlichman, and Colson while President Nixon himself narrowly escaped with a pardon from his successor, Gerry Ford. The Reagan and Bush Administrations were riddled by scandals, Contra-gate, Iran-Gate which sent Oliver North to prison, a fate narrowly escaped by a slew of others, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, mentor of Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, who attempted suicide and such luminaries of the  present Bush administration as Elliott Abrams, Admiral John Poindexter, and, of course, the ineffable Otto Reich, notorious for his connection to such terrorists as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. 

Reich and  Roger Noriega are now  the intellectual directors of the Bush administration’s Latin American outreach. Noriega, of course, was the right hand man of the notorious racist and Castro-hater  Jesse Helms, father of the legal atrocity known as the Helms Burton Act.  To report such facts is obviously, ‘anti-American”

The man who actually won the last presidential election, Al Gore, is now painted by the major American media as somewhat demented, because, like Howard Dean, he is capable of righteous anger.

In a recent speech which should be reprinted in every newspaper brave enough to speak of Freedom, Al Gore recently asked:

What would Thomas Jefferson think of the curious and discredited argument from our Justice Department that the president may authorize what plainly amounts to the torture of prisoners - and that any law or treaty, which attempts to constrain his treatment of prisoners in time of war is itself a violation of the constitution our founders put together?

What would Benjamin Franklin think of President Bush's assertion that he has the inherent power - even without a declaration of war by the Congress - to launch an invasion of any nation on Earth, at any time he chooses, for any reason he wishes, even if that nation poses no imminent threat to the United States ?

How long would it take James Madison to dispose of our current President's recent claim, in Department of Justice legal opinions, that he is no longer subject to the rule of law so long as he is acting in his role as Commander in Chief?

I think it is safe to say that our founders would be genuinely concerned about these recent developments in American democracy and that they would feel that we are now facing a clear and present danger that has the potential to threaten the future of the American experiment.

But Al Gore may be in serious danger of being deemed Anti-American for expressing such sentiments.

Tom Paine

It is no accident that this column is called “Common Sense”; it is a direct tribute to my fellow journalist and muckraker, Tom Paine, a hero of the American, French and Haitian revolutions who dared to assert his treasonous doctrine of the Rights of Man, of Freedom and of the dignity of the ordinary human being who was in his eyes, not inferior to any king in any respect.

We are at the tail end of a long panic, provoked in their own selfish interest by people who do not care about the wretched of the earth or about much except their own enrichment. Few of us remember that one of the first antidotes proposed to 9/11 was a tax cut for the rich – to “restore confidence.”

In a column two weeks after September 11, 2001, I quoted Tom Paine on the uses of panic, One peculiar advantage of panics, he said “is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world."

For the exposure of the true character of ourselves and our governors, we should be grateful.  But fear still drives many of us into denying what we know to be true. Paul Wolfowitz has admitted what many of us suspected from the start, that in Iraq we were being dragged by deception into a conflict which made no sense and had the potential to create more violence and unreason. Iraq, he said, was ‘do-able”

In my column written four days after September 11, I said:

In all the millions of words about  Tuesday's horrific tragedy,  few have been driven  to ask Why? To seek the real reasons.  Blasting the visible manifestations of a cancer may achieve cosmetic improvement, but the concealed body of the parasitic tumour will not disappear.

Injustice is the most eloquent recruiter for terrorism. Injustice breeds desperation. Suicidal behaviour is almost always a desperate call for help. People who are willing to destroy themselves along with  randomly selected groups of innocents are speaking the language of violence, which they know their enemies understand. Unfortunately, while their enemies understand the language, they do not usually listen to the message.

If terrorism is to be ended, the factors which provoke that behaviour must be eliminated. You cannot kill ideas by killing men. There can be no security without justice and men become desperate when they have nothing to lose.

Those thoughts do not require genius either to formulate or to understand. Yet,  the so-called leaders of our so-called free world operate as if they control history, ignoring all the danger signs in the roads through which they drive their intellectual Hummers.

As the day approaches when ‘sovereignty’ is to be handed over to CIA puppets in Baghdad it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that the people blowing up police stations have anything of importance to say.

Iraq, Mr Wolfowitz said, was  “do-able.” What has been done however, cannot be undone.   The eggs have been broken, the omelette is being prepared. Who is the cook?

In the Muslim world the war has provoked the most extreme passions of people who have long endured the abuse of those who speak idly of Freedom and Democracy. The Saudi  puppet regime  which has enslaved its citizens for as long as I have been alive, is now teetering on the brink of anarchy. The Americans, by their decision to surrender “sovereignty”  in Iraq, are in fact admitting the obvious – that neither they nor anyone except the Iraqis can bring peace and order to Iraq. Pakistan, roiled by the same forces let loose by the war on terror, threatens to fall to the terrorists. And Pakistan has “The Bomb.“

Iran waits, patiently. Turkey is considering its options. Egypt turns over, restlessly in its sleep. Palestine bleeds.

Eternity in a Blue Dress

Meanwhile, the same Press which considered  the Pope’s  encounter with Fidel Castro less significant than semen on a blue dress, is calmly telling the rest of us that all is well in the best possible for all worlds. And it is more important to deride Bill Clinton and Al Gore than to examine whether they have anything to say which might  help prevent even greater calamity

In Baghdad, the Americans will take over the seat of Iraq’s Government, the Republican Palace, as its embassy, unconscious of the insult it is thereby offering to the people whose lives it disrupted for no good reason. To point out facts like these is  to be labelled anti-American.   But, as I said two weeks after September 11,2001:

A country which can tolerate the fact that black people in the Bronx have the same survival rate as peasants in Bangladesh, cannot speak about Freedom and Justice as being indivisible. A country whose elite members can earn as much as the Gross National Product of Barbados, cannot export any real idea of democracy to the world. It cannot export Tom Paine.

That, of course, is  virulently anti-American.

Copyright ©2004 John Maxwell

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Ancient African Nations

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