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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Escalating the rhetoric

Billmon has an excellent discussion of the significance of the pending Pentagon investigation into allegations that U.S. Marines in Haditha killed innocent Iraqi citizens in cold blood. These allegations have received substantial attention due to Jack Murtha's public claim that military sources have told him that these allegations are true -- that "there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

As is the case whenever anyone discloses information which reflects poorly on the Bush administration and particularly its Iraq project, Bush followers are swarming in fury, attacking Murtha personally as a traitor and a criminal. The "California Conservative," in a post concisely entitled "John Murtha, Traitor", recommends these actions against Murtha:

Frankly, this is the actions of a traitor or a sellout. He deserves to be ridiculed, excoriated and frog-marched off Capitol Hill, then remanded to jail. No bail. Doesn’t his idiot know the type of damage this inflicts on the Marines?

Michelle Malkin accuses Murtha of "hanging the Marines." GatewayPundit laments that "it's sad that this 'war crimes conspirator' is the best the democrats have to offer on Defense... very sad." Confederate Yankees alleges that Murtha "has dishonored his seat, the military criminal justice system, the Marine Corps and the United States of America."

Let's leave aside the all-too-obvious irony that the same circles who all but scheduled the public hanging of Mary McCarthy for treason a few weeks ago -- and who, for months, have been calling for the lengthy imprisonment of New York Times reporter Jim Risen -- now find it so deeply troubling that someone would dare to opine about someone's guilt before a full-fledged trial has been conducted. That level of hypocrisy is way too commonplace among this strain of Bush supporters to merit a real discussion.

What is so notable here is the sheer personal venom directed towards Murtha and his patriotism, up to and including calls for his imprisonment. One would think that someone who honorably serves their country for 28 years as a Marine, and who has a long and trusted record of serving as one of the primary allies of the U.S. military in Congress, would be immunized from having their patriotism and honor assaulted so casually and glibly by people whose record of service (military and non-military) could not even compare to Murtha's. One can certainly criticize Murtha for reaching this conclusion or voicing it in the way he did, but to accuse him of hating the Marines, hating the United States, and then urging his imprisonment -- all done so casually and routinely, as though it's nothing more than the Hate Session for the Day -- never ceases to amaze.

I have no idea why Murtha opined on this case, although it is clear that he was relying upon at least one or more of the numerous, high-level military allies he has. It is very likely that he came forward with this information -- and that he was urged to do so by his military allies -- for exactly the reason Billmon speculates:

I don't know why Murtha went public (just as the right wingers don't know) but I can make my own guess: He did it to try to prevent Rumsfeld's toadies from classifying and then deep sixing the investigative report, as they tried to bury the Taguba report on Abu Ghraib. And if the past really is prologue, Murtha is probably speaking on behalf of some fairly senior Marine officers who either can't abide a cover up, or who want to pin the blame on the people who created this mess, and left the jarheads in Haditha to deal with it, instead of on their beloved Corps.

Ultimately, do any of these war supporters really care if these allegations are true? Weren't they just recently celebrating Shelby Steele's recommendation that we fight this war with much less precision and sensitivity to civilian deaths, and with much greater and unrestrained "ferocity"? Are they angry at Murtha for violating their oh-so-deeply held beliefs in the need for due process before publicly proclaiming someone's guilt, or are they angry at him for confirming that the U.S. engaged in conduct in Iraq which, yet again, is incalculably harmful to our image and credibility in that region, supposedly the principal purpose of our occupation?

This administration hates nothing more than people who publicize politically harmful information that they want to conceal. Those who have been most viciously attacked, and at whom the most intense calls for imprisonment have been aimed, have been those who have disclosed information that has reflected poorly on the Commander-in-Chief and his administration. That is what explains these sustained attacks on investigative journalism. Investigative journalists, by definition, reveal information which the Bush administration wants to keep secret, and they are therefore one of the prime Enemies.

When ABC News recently revealed on its blog their sources had advised the journalists that their telephone records were being monitored by the Bush administration in order to determine the identity of their sources, the reactions in the Comment section to the ABC blog were as intense as they were illustrative:

'Bout time you guys are roped in.
Posted by: Brad May 15, 2006 11:11:50 AM

Excellent the Media needs looking after, Traitors most of them.......
Posted by: ken wiley May 15, 2006 11:12:07 AM

good, you seditionist creeps deserve what you get. who knows how many serviceman have died because of your "right to know"
Posted by: jeff bynum May 15, 2006 11:12:10 AM

I hope the information they gain allows them to catch the scum that leak information, and helps them arrest the communist scum who publish it.
Posted by: Dave Mottolo May 15, 2006 11:12:28 AM

well maybe ABC news better stop leaking classified information. This only helps our enemies and right now I believe ABC news is an enemy of the US.
Posted by: scott May 15, 2006 11:13:39 AM

GOOD! I hope they find out who is reporting all of these leaks. And I hope you are tried and perhaps spend some time in jail for it.KEEP CALLING and I hope they track your every word!
Posted by: bridget May 15, 2006 11:17:21 AM

I am a journalism graduate, UNC-Chapel Hill. I am also a veteran.I hope they catch every government leaker of classified secret information and put them in prison for life. And any reporter publishing known classified secret information should be shot. It is called treason, not first amendment rights.
Posted by: Tom Camp May 15, 2006 11:26:53 AM

This type of rhetoric matters. New Bush press secretary Tony Snow told Hugh Hewitt that he reads right-wing blogs -- and specifically identified Instapundit, Michelle Malkin and Powerline. Dick Cheney spent more quality time yesterday with Rush Limbaugh. Failed political movements often turn to the most extreme elements in their base in order to prop up enthusiasm, and there are few things uglier than the extreme elements among Bush followers.

I can't think of a single prominent Democratic political figure (perhaps other than Joe Lieberman) who hasn't been routinely accused of being a traitor and at whom threats of imprisonment haven't been launched by certain Bush followers around the blogosphere. News that journalists are being investigated, and even calls for the imprisonment of journalists, are now so routine that they hardly attract notice any longer. And anyone who reveals information that reflects poorly on the administration -- including life-long military veterans and pro-military Congressmen -- is an anti-American traitor who is tantamount to a criminal.

The Bush administration and many of its followers are coming increasingly to see hostile journalists and various political opponents as traitors and criminals, and their escalating rhetoric includes what are now routine calls for the investigation and punishment of those who politically harm the administration.

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