Bush’s war at home: a creeping coup d’état

2001-11-08

Richard Moore

Friends,

This seems to give a good overview & perspective on the rapid move of the U.S. 
toward becoming an outright police state.

rkm

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        g Coup d'État           11-08-2001
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Subject: [CitizensAgainstBush] Bush's war at home: a
creeping coup d'etat            11-08-2001


WSWS : News & Analysis : The US War in Afghanistan

Bush's war at home: a creeping coup d'état
By the WSWS Editorial Board
7 November 2001
Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

In the period since the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York
and Washington, the United States has undergone a radical
transformation in the structure of the government, in the
relationship between the people and the police and armed forces, and
in the legal and constitutional framework.

The White House has assumed vast new powers for internal repression,
establishing by executive order an Office of Homeland Security that
is not subject to either congressional oversight or any vote on the
personnel appointed to run it. An all-encompassing political police
agency is coming into being, through the passage of an "anti-terror"
law that effectively amalgamates the FBI and CIA and abolishes the
longstanding separation between overseas spying and domestic policing.

Side by side with the bombing of Afghanistan, the Bush administration
has declared that there is a second front in the war, the war at
home. The federal government issues vague and unsubstantiated "terror
alerts," which fuel anxiety while providing no protection to the
public. Government spokesmen urge the population to get used to
measures like random police searches and roadblocks as a permanent
feature of life. National Guard troops patrol the airports, harbors,
bridges, tunnels and even the US Capitol.

Fundamental constitutional safeguards-the right of habeas corpus, the
right of the accused to know the charges against them, the right of
arrested persons to see a lawyer, even the presumption of innocence-
have been set aside for millions of immigrants from the Middle East
and Central Asia. The right to privacy has been all but abolished for
the entire population, with government intelligence agencies given
the green light to plant bugs and wiretaps, monitor financial
transactions, and conduct other forms of spying, virtually at will.

If the average American had been shown on September 10 a picture of
the United States as it is today, the response would likely have
been: "This is not the America I know. This looks more like a police
state."

The bitter irony is that such a sweeping attack on democratic rights
has been perpetrated in the name of a war to defend "freedom"
and "democracy" against terrorism. But neither the Bush
administration, nor its Democratic Party collaborators, nor a
compliant and complicit media bother to explain the following
contradiction: the United States government never secured powers such
as these at any point in the twentieth century. Not in World War I,
World War II or the Cold War, when the antagonists were powerful and
heavily armed states, was such a radical restructuring of the
governmental and legal framework carried out. Why is this happening
today, when the alleged enemy is a small band of terrorists operating
out of caves in one of the poorest countries in the world?


The anti-terrorism law

One of the key elements of the assault on civil liberties is the
new "anti-terrorism" act, which was rushed through Congress and
signed into law only five weeks after the terror attacks. The law
defines terrorism in such a way as to include political activity and
speech previously protected by the Bill of Rights of the US
Constitution. It provides wide-ranging authority for police agencies
to carry out secret searches, conduct expanded electronic
surveillance, and indefinitely detain terrorism suspects. Non-
citizens, including legal permanent residents, can be denied reentry
to the US for expressing political views, and can be deported for
having even the most incidental association with organizations
designated as "terrorist" by the government. Attorney General John
Ashcroft last week expanded the number of groups so designated from
46 to 74.

Among the most ominous provisions of the law is the abolition of
the "firewall" between foreign and domestic intelligence agencies.
The Central Intelligence Agency now has the authority to share
information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and thereby
collaborate with the FBI in conducting domestic surveillance and
preparing criminal prosecutions. The FBI is likewise authorized to
share with the CIA information collected during grand jury
proceedings, without a court order, giving the US spy agency access
to domestic intelligence it had been barred from receiving in the
past.

An article in the November 4 Washington Post carried the ominous
headline, "An Intelligence Giant in the Making: Anti-Terrorism Law
Likely to Bring Domestic Apparatus of Unprecedented Scope." It noted
that the media focus on the electronic surveillance and wiretapping
provisions of the new legislation deflected attention from other
provisions of the bill that will fundamentally alter the operation of
US intelligence-gathering agencies. According to the Post, one of the
most significant aspects of the law is that it "empowers the
government to shift the primary mission of the FBI from solving
crimes to gathering domestic intelligence."

The law reverses legal reforms enacted under the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act of 1978, which segregated the FBI's criminal
investigation function from its intelligence-gathering operations
against foreign spies and international terrorists. The Post
comments, "the bill effectively tears down legal fire walls erected
25 years ago during the Watergate era, when the nation was stunned by
disclosures about presidential abuses of domestic intelligence-
gathering against political activists."

These changes go beyond a mere quantitative expansion of certain
investigative powers. They constitute a basic restructuring of the
police and intelligence apparatus to vastly expand its scope and
reach.

In recent days, federal officials have urged the lifting of legal
restraints on state and local police powers. Deputy Attorney General
Larry Thompson lamented that Justice Department agents "don't have
enough eyes and ears" to monitor terrorist suspects, and said
restrictions on local police departments "need to be looked at."

Many local police departments are already scrapping rules on
intelligence-gathering that were established to protect First
Amendment rights. The Los Angeles Police Commission voted last month
to relax intelligence restrictions adopted in the early 1980s,
following disclosures that police were monitoring anti-war
protesters, liberal politicians and other political dissidents. Other
big city police departments are moving to revive the surveillance
methods utilized by "Red Squad" operations of the past.


Terrorizing the public

On October 29, the government issued its second general terrorism
alert in less than three weeks. Declaring that major terrorist
attacks against the US or US interests around the world were in the
offing, Attorney General Ashcroft was utterly vague as to the likely
targets, methods or perpetrators. He provided no information to
support the claim of imminent danger. He gave no instructions as to
how the public was to respond to the alleged danger. However, he
issued an advisory to 18,000 state and local police agencies
to "continue on highest alert and to notify immediately the FBI of
any unusual or suspicious activity."

Instructing the public to accept extraordinary measures, such as
random stops or searches by police or National Guard troops, or
questioning by FBI agents, Ashcroft said, "We ask for the patience
and cooperation of the American people, if and when they encounter
additional measures undertaken by local law enforcement or federal
law enforcement authorities and others who are charged with securing
the safety of the public."

As an immediate consequence of the alert, National Guard troops were
deployed in a number of states at transportation centers, water
supplies and nuclear power plants. These are in addition to the
troops who have patrolled major airports since the September 11
events.

At week's end, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt announced that
Congress, with bipartisan support, was authorizing the posting of
armed soldiers at the Capitol building. The Supreme Court
subsequently announced it would bar the public from its hearings.

The government claims that the "terror alerts" have been issued in
order to warn and protect the public. But with no specific
information provided about the imminent threat-when and where the
terrorists might strike-what is public expected to do? Their vacuous
character demonstrates that these alerts are essentially fraudulent.
Their real purpose is to accustom the population to invasions of
privacy, the dismantling of constitutional safeguards, and a general
militarization of society. The authorities want people to accept as a
normal state of affairs the deployment of armed troops at airports,
public buildings, bridges, border checkpoints and in the streets.

The Bush administration has seized on the anthrax attacks as an
additional means of bludgeoning the public into accepting such far-
reaching restrictions on civil liberties. Although the evidence so
far made available suggests that extreme right-wing elements of the
Timothy McVeigh stripe are the most likely suspects, the White House
and the media constantly suggest that Osama bin Laden is responsible
for the anthrax attacks, depicting his Al Qaeda network as a
pervasive and all-powerful threat.

Periodic alerts such as those issued October 11 and October 29 are
intended to facilitate the consolidation of the new apparatus of
internal repression. On October 29, the same day as the most recent
alert, President Bush presided over the first meeting of the Council
of Homeland Security. This new and unprecedented body includes-in
addition to former Governor Tom Ridge, who has been named the
director of the Office of Homeland Security-the vice president, the
attorney general, the secretaries of defense, treasury,
transportation and health and human services and the heads of the CIA
and FBI. The powers of this council as well as those of the Office of
Homeland Security are vague and undefined, and therefore virtually
unlimited.

Following that meeting, Bush announced the establishment of yet
another agency with unspecified police powers-the "foreign terrorist
tracking taskforce," headed by Ashcroft. The establishment of this
task force is part of a new border policy that will enable the
government to more easily bar entry to immigrants alleged to have
terrorist connections, and to carry out a general crackdown on those
applying for or holding student visas.


Mass arrests among immigrants

These far-reaching changes come under conditions where the national
security dragnet initiated after September 11 is expanding, with the
number of people rounded up now standing at more than 1,100. While
federal officials will not say how many of these detainees have been
released, a Justice Department spokesperson said "a majority" of them
are still in custody. The roundup of these individuals has been
shrouded in secrecy, with the government providing no information
about the detainees' identities, where they are being held, why they
are being detained, and what charges, if any, are being laid against
them.

Many are held in solitary confinement. The whereabouts of some
suspects are unknown to family members, and others either have no
legal representation or have been denied contact with their lawyers.
Much of the legal action against those in custody is taking place in
secret court proceedings, with court documents sealed to the public.
All of this is being done to shield the operations of federal, state
and police agencies from public scrutiny.

The Justice Department has rejected appeals from civil liberties
groups and some congressmen for information about the detentions,
without giving any explanation for its blackout. Kate Martin,
director of the Center for National Security Studies, commented that
the government's conduct in the investigation is "frighteningly close
to the practice of `disappearing' people in Latin America."

Following each of the two national alerts against terrorism since
September 11, the number of those rounded up by the government has
risen sharply, tripling in the past few weeks. One of the main
purposes of the alerts is to signal state and local police to step up
their surveillance activities and round up more suspects.

While the mass murder at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is
the pretext for the mass arrests, not a single one of those detained
has been charged with any offense related to the September 11
attacks. Even the Justice Department claims that at most 10 or 12 of
those detained are suspected, but not proven, of having links to the
hijackers. The vast majority of the arrests have another purpose,
unrelated to any investigation of the terrorist attack: to intimidate
the immigrant population and accustom the American people as a whole
to methods previously associated with police-military dictatorships.


A "war on two fronts"

Government officials have emphasized that the anti-terror measures
adopted in recent weeks should not be regarded as temporary. At a
briefing on October 29, Ridge declared, "We want America to be on the
highest alert. And from time to time, we may issue the same general
alert again."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a column in the November 1
edition of the Washington Post, baldly stated that not only should
the American people accept an open-ended war against terrorism, but
they must "prepare now for the next war-a war that may be vastly
different not only from those of the past century but also from the
new war on terrorism that we are fighting today." In other words,
America is going on a war footing, not for the duration of a specific
conflict in Afghanistan, but indefinitely. Consequently, the domestic
police measures being taken now by the government must also be
accepted as a permanent state of affairs.

One catch phrase has more and more routinely appeared in the
statements of Bush administration officials: America is fighting "a
war on two fronts." Announcing his terrorism alert last week,
Ashcroft stated: "I trust the American people to be able to
understand in this context the conflict, where there is a front
overseas and there is another front here in the United States."

Ridge said the following day, "We are engaged in a two-front war
against terrorism." In an October 31 speech urging passage of his
economic stimulus plan, Bush repeated this mantra: "For the first
time in our nation's history, part of the battle front is here at
home."

Precisely what is meant by this "war on two fronts" is never
explained. But in light of the extraordinary security measures taken
by the government since September 11, references to a battle on
the "home front" take on a chilling significance. With their attempt
to create an atmosphere of fear and hysteria over impending terrorist
threats, authorities want to identify anyone rounded up in their
investigation as the enemy, whether or not there is evidence against
them. The same methods will be used against those who oppose the war
against Afghanistan and other policies of the government, domestic or
foreign.


Before and after September 11

The government's actions in the period since September 11 constitute
the most serious and sustained attack on civil liberties in US
history. No one should believe that this is merely a reaction to the
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Such measures
have long been sought by the most right-wing sections of the ruling
elite, who have seized on the tragic events of September 11 to
realize their political agenda at home, just as they are using them
to launch a US military intervention in oil-rich Central Asia.

These sweeping changes are the culmination of two decades of
political reaction and attacks on democratic rights, which have seen
a steady buildup of the repressive forces of the state-two million
Americans in prison, thousands on Death Row, legal restrictions on
the rights of defendants, expanded powers of police spying and
electronic surveillance. This has been accompanied by the emergence
of a fascist-minded right wing with little popular support, but
enormous influence in the Republican Party, in Congress, and now in
the White House.

Those who want to claim that the recent escalation of the onslaught
on civil liberties is simply a response to September 11 ignore the
critical fact that the Bush administration came to power on the basis
of an unprecedented assault on the most basic of democratic rights-
the right to vote. The drive by Bush and the Republican Party to
hijack the election and take power, despite having lost the popular
vote nationally, was consummated in a ruling by the right-wing
majority on the US Supreme Court, which halted a legal recount in the
pivotal state of Florida, handing the presidency to Bush. A
government that takes power by methods of fraud and conspiracy must
rule through the same methods.

This is an administration committed to a domestic and foreign policy
tailored to the interests of the wealthiest and most privileged layer
in American society. It is also an administration of enormous crisis.
Prior to the terror attacks, the Bush administration was showing
clear signs of internal disarray. Its already narrow social base of
support was eroding under the pressure of a deepening economic slump,
both in the US and globally.

The Republicans had lost control of the Senate, and on the
international front, the Bush administration was increasingly
isolated, with nominal allies as well as enemies opposing its
aggressive and unilateralist posture. The events of September 11 were
seized on by those who run the Bush administration as a welcome
opportunity to shore up the government and rally public support by
launching a military attack on the alleged perpetrators, while
preparing for an upsurge of social struggle over rising unemployment,
worsening slump and the government's pro-corporate policies by
expanding and restructuring the police powers of the state.

The Bush administration's domestic "anti-terror" campaign must serve
as a sharp warning. After the Florida debacle of November and
December 2000, there were complacent commentaries in the press
declaring that, unlike many other countries, the bitter political
struggle in the United States did not end with tanks in the streets.
Now the tanks are in the streets, and soldiers surround the Capitol,
in what might be called a slow-motion coup d'état.

All of the traditional norms of bourgeois democracy in the US are in
question. The Bush administration expresses the contempt for
democracy that pervades powerful sections of the American corporate
and financial oligarchy, as well as their fascistic allies in the
Christian right, the gun lobby and the militia movement. They are
determined to go as far as they can in establishing an authoritarian
regime. Such concepts as the separation of powers between the three
branches of government and legislative oversight of the executive
branch are being tossed aside in the effort to vastly expand the
police powers of the federal executive.

It is worth noting that at the height of the anthrax scare, in mid-
October, congressional Republicans favored shutting down Congress and
adjourning indefinitely, the better to give Bush, the FBI, the CIA
and the military a free hand, both abroad and at home.

The Bush administration's war on democratic rights has exposed the
inability of the Democratic Party to offer any serious opposition to
the extreme-right forces that dominate the Republican Party. Within
hours of the September 11 attacks, the Democrats pledged
unconditional support to the Bush White House, declaring that
political dissent was no longer permissible. The Democratic
leadership not only lined up to give Bush an open-ended mandate to
wage war abroad, it insured the passage of his "anti-terror" bill,
suppressed any investigation of the unexplained intelligence failure
that allowed the September 11 attacks to take place, and sanctioned
the trashing of constitutional safeguards in the ongoing police
dragnet.

The political collapse of the Democratic Party is the culmination of
a protracted process of adaptation to the most right-wing sections of
the ruling elite. In their craven response first to the Republican
impeachment conspiracy, and then to the theft of the 2000 election,
the Democrats already demonstrated their inability and unwillingness
to defend democratic rights.

While for the moment, the vast majority of those caught up by the
government's dragnet are immigrants of Middle-Eastern and Central
Asian descent, it is only a matter of time before these anti-
democratic methods will be used more widely. The wholesale attack on
democratic rights can only be halted through the independent
organization of the working class, which unites all sections of the
working population-immigrant and US-born-in a political struggle
against the financial oligarchy and its political representatives.

See Also:
Bush "anti-terror" law mandates sweeping attacks on democratic rights
[31 October 2001]
US anthrax scare: Why the silence on right-wing terrorism?
[27 October 2001]
Bush's war at home: government censorship, secrecy, and lies
[13 October 2001]
Nearly 600 detained
Widespread violations of civil liberties in US dragnet
[6 October 2001]
Where is the Bush administration taking the American people?
[22 September 2001]
Democratic rights in America: the first casualty of Bush's anti-
terror war
[19 September 2001]
The political roots of the terror attack on New York and Washington
[12 September 2001]



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