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.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hinderaker shows us the central defect in the mindset of Bush followers

(updated below)

Greg Sargent conclusively documents today's Daily Dose of Dishonesty from John Hinderaker. Powerline's latest deceit involves the detention and imprisonment by the U.S. military in Iraq of an AP photographer, Iraqi citizen Bilal Hussein. According to the AP, the military claims that Hussein has a "close relationship" with insurgents and is "afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities."

But the military has brought no charges of any kind against Hussein and refuses to have any public hearing. Instead, it is doing to Hussein what the Bush administration did in the U.S. to American citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi -- imprisoning him based solely on the unreviewable and unchallengeable say-so of the administration that he is guilty, while refusing to bring charges. As Sargent reports, AP has protested this state of affairs by insisting: "'We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable,' said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer."

But when Hinderaker "reported" these events to his readers, he falsely claimed that "the Associated Press, rather than expressing any embarrassment that it has been publishing propaganda photos taken by an apparent associate of al Qaeda in Iraq, is campaigning for Hussein's release." As Sargent points out, AP is not campaigning for his release, but is insisting that he either be charged with a crime or released. Sargent asks: "Why on earth would Powerline readers put up with such deception? Maybe they like being deceived." (And all of that leaves to the side Hinderaker's independently deceitful conflation of the accusation that Hussein is working with Iraqi "insurgents" with Hinderaker's claim that he is an "associate of al Qaeda").

I don't think Powerline readers would realize that Hinderaker was deceitful here even if they read Sargent's post because the deceit rests on a distinction which Bush followers don't recognize. Hinderaker's deceit here is noteworthy because it illustrates the central propagandistic myth which really does lies at the heart of almost every terrorism-related debate we are having. It is a myth which the Bush administration propagates on almost every issue and which the media, inexcusably, almost never points out, even though it is extremely simple, clear and of central importance.

This principle is just axiomatic -- the fact that someone is accused by the Bush administration of being a terrorist or suspected by the administration of working with terrorists does not, in fact, mean that they are a "terrorist." There is a distinction between (a) being accused or suspected by the Bush administration of working with Al Qaeda and (b) actually being in cahoots with Al Qaeda and being a "terrorist."

But Bush followers simply do not recognize any such distinction. They literally operate from the premise of Presidential Infallibility. Thus, to them, if the Bush administration suspects that someone is a terrorist, then it means that they are a terrorist. To Hinderaker, the AP photographer is a terrorist because the Bush administration says he is. Hence, Hinderaker complains that AP is not "expressing any embarrassment that it has been publishing propaganda photos taken by an apparent associate of al Qaeda in Iraq".

Therefore, there are only two choices which a Bush follower like Hinderaker can recognize -- (1) support the War on Terrorism by supporting the administration's imprisonment of this photographer, or (2) side with the Terrorists by demanding that this Terrorist be released (which is what he told his readers AP is doing). Hinderaker doesn't recognize a third option (such as charge the photographer with terrorism and then determine in a hearing if it's true) because, to him, the Bush administration's accusation of terrorism is tantamount to proof. Anyone who objects to the Bush administration's detention of Hussein is, by definition, objecting to the detention of a Terrorist. Why wait to see if he really is that? The Leader has said it is so. It is thus so.

This mindless, authoritarian belief in Presidential Infallibility repeats itself in almost every debate we are having. Those who favor greater protections for accused terrorists for military commissions are labelled by Bush followers as advocating for "terrorist rights" even though the whole point is that we can't know they are terrorists until we give them a fair trial. But to Bush followers, the Leader's decision to detain them and accuse them is all we need to know. We can place blind faith in the Leader's judgment. Thus, to be accused by the Bush administration of terrorism is the same as being a Terrorist. Those detained at Guantanamo, or by the U.S. military, or anyone accused by the President of being an "enemy combatant," is guilty for that reason alone. And thus anyone who advocates rights for those so accused is, by definition, advocating rights for Terrorists.

The same irrational, zombified mental process dominates the debate over warrantless eavesdropping. According to the administration, it is only eavesdropping on individuals whom it suspects are involved in some way with Terrorists. But to the administration and its followers, to be suspected of terrorism by the administration is to be a Terrorist. Hence, they will say that the Bush administration is only eavesdropping on terrorists because they recognize no distinction between being accused by the administration of terrorism and being a Terrorist. Thus, anyone opposed to warrantless eavesdropping is, to them, opposed to eavesdropping on Terrorists (rather than objecting to the administration's ability to eavesdrop without first demonstrating that there is reason to believe they are a terrorist).

Our entire system of Government and the Bill of Rights is based on the principle that to be accused by the Government of being guilty of a crime is not the same as being guilty. But a recognition of that distinction requires a healthy and definitively American distrust of Government -- exactly what Bush followers lack.

It requires recognition that the Government falsely accuses people all the time of being guilty of things of which they are not actually guilty. Yet Bush followers are so enamored of their Leader's Wisdom and Rightness that this distinction eludes them. They place blind faith in the Leader's ability to decree who is guilty, and to them, trials and safeguards and rights are just annoying obstacles which interfere with the Leader's ability to punish the Guilty Terrorists (i.e., those who have been accused of, or are suspected by, the President of being involved in Terrorism).

Those who believe that the Government should have to prove that someone is likely a terrorist before eavesdropping on their conversations -- or those who would like to ensure a reasonably fair trial before we imprison and execute people for being guilty of terrorism -- are no more "pro-terrorist" than those who favor the Bill of Rights are "pro-murderer" or "pro-pedophile." People are only guilty once they are charged and their guilt is demonstrated, not when the Government secretly concludes that they are guilty.

It's clear why Bush followers like Hinderaker can't process that distinction -- because the idea that the Bush administration might falsely accuse someone is something they can't consider -- but why can't the media make that point clear? It is very basic to everything Americans know and it rather central to every argument the Bush administration is making when trying to justify ever increasing powers.

UPDATE: The reliably misleading Mitch McConnell shows how this is done: "For example, I imagine it would be awkward for many of my Democrat colleagues to go home and explain a vote to provide sensitive, classified information to terrorists . . . " According to McConnell, those who advocate rules whereby accused terrorists can actually see the evidence to be used against them to determine if they are terrorists want "to provide sensitive, classified information to terrorists."

Similarly, McConnell calls Bush's legislation establishing military commissions Bush's "proposal for terrorist detainees." If they are already "terrorists," why bother with military commissions at all? What are the commissions supposed to determine? Why not just skip to the execution part?

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