"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."

On the Indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby

November 3, 2005

A number of events in the past week have focused the attention of Americans on the failure of national leaders to address the pattern of illegality that has characterized the administration of George W. Bush.

On Oct. 28, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff and national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney on five felony charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to FBI agents. Although he pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned in U.S. District Court today and perjury is a difficult charge to prove, observers who know the work of Mr. Fitzgerald assume that he will be able to make a strong case. Even more important, the trial will be an opportunity for the legal process to probe what goes on in the Office of the Vice President, which Maureen Dowd has called "that incestuous, secretive, vindictive, hallucinatory dark hole" (New York Times, Nov. 2, 2005).

A contrite response to the indictment would have been appropriate on the part of the Bush administration. Instead, the president said that Mr. Libby "has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country" and that he is "presumed innocent and (is) entitled to due process and a fair trial." The latter statement is true, at least — though the right to a fair trial is one of the fundamental features of American life that the vice president and his cohorts have sought to eliminate.

Who did Vice President Dick Cheney choose to replace Mr. Libby as his chief of staff? None other than David Addington, one of the most sinister figures in the Bush administration. David Addington is a bureaucratic warrior devoted to overturning the foundational principles of American constitutional government and replacing them with something else. "Addington is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president," Dana Milbank noted in an October 2004 profile in the Washington Post. Addington's philosophy has been described by a Republican lawyer who has worked with him as "the president and war powers über alles," a view that helps us understand his most outrageous accomplishment: co-authoring the infamous and now formally repudiated Aug. 1, 2002, "Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales Counsel to the President Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. Sections 2340-2340A," which tries to justify torture.

On Nov. 2, the anniversary of the 2004 presidential election, the Washington Post published an extraordinary front-page report on a secret system of post-9/11 U.S. facilities where individuals are subjected to mistreatment and, no doubt, tortured as part of the Bush administration's disastrously misguided "Global War on Terror." Reporter Dana Priest described "a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago" that "at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan, and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo. . . . [E]ven basic information about the system secret [is kept] from the public, foreign officials, and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions. . . . The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as 'black sites' in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country." Congress has, shamefully, abdicated its oversight responsibilities with regard to this prison system, which will, if it is not dismantled and investigated, represent an historic regression of American civilization: "The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."

What has gone wrong with the leaders of this country? Even the modest McCain amendment, which would forbid use upon persons in the custody of the Department of Defense "any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation" and provide that "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," is now under assault by the Bush administration, with Vice President Cheney and his new chief of staff leading the attack. On Nov. 1, a delegation of seven members of United for Peace of Pierce County met with staff of Representatives Adam Smith (D-WA 9th) and Norm Dicks (D-WA 6th) to press for the retention of the amendment in the House-Senate conference committee.

On Oct. 19, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's top aide, gave a speech describing how he observed up close what he called "a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense . . . on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made" (Financial Times, Oct. 20, 2005). Wilkerson is only one of those voices inside the military establishment warning that militarism is endangering the foundations of American constitutionalism; for more on this subject, read West Pointer Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press, 2005) and historian Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2004).

It is time for Americans to act. On Nov. 2, Senate Democrats thought themselves bold in forcing the U.S. Senate to move to a closed session to discuss the failure of the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate the scandal of pre-war intelligence. But much bolder action than this is needed. It will come if, and only if, the American people demand it. At present, their leaders are failing them. The hour is growing late, but certainly there is still hope. As Arundhati Roy writes on page 37 of An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, only the American people have the capacity to do something about the current crisis: "The fact is that the only institution in the world today that is more powerful than the American government is American civil society."


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."