Thursday, May 13, 2004


My friend Dan Gilmartin comes in with a snip from the NYT. As much as I hate to admit it, these guys have a place to stand.

I love Dan's renaming.... Darth Rumsfeld. I love it. Doesn't change my mind, but it is cute.


Just Trust Us

May 11, 2004

Didn't you know, in your gut, that something like Abu
Ghraib would eventually come to light?

When the world first learned about the abuse of prisoners,
President Bush said that it "does not reflect the nature of
the American people." He's right, of course: a great
majority of Americans are decent and good. But so are a
great majority of people everywhere. If America's record is
better than that of most countries - and it is - it's
because of our system: our tradition of openness, and
checks and balances.

Yet Mr. Bush, despite all his talk of good and evil,
doesn't believe in that system. From the day his
administration took office, its slogan has been "just trust
us." No administration since Nixon has been so insistent
that it has the right to operate without oversight or
accountability, and no administration since Nixon has shown
itself to be so little deserving of that trust. Out of a
misplaced sense of patriotism, Congress has deferred to the
administration's demands. Sooner or later, a moral
catastrophe was inevitable.

Just trust us, John Ashcroft said, as he demanded that
Congress pass the Patriot Act, no questions asked. After
two and a half years, during which he arrested and secretly
detained more than a thousand people, Mr. Ashcroft has yet
to convict any actual terrorists. (Look at the actual
trials of what Dahlia Lithwick of Slate calls "disaffected
bozos who watch cheesy training videos," and you'll see
what I mean.)

Just trust us, George Bush said, as he insisted that Iraq,
which hadn't attacked us and posed no obvious threat, was
the place to go in the war on terror. When we got there, we
found no weapons of mass destruction and no new evidence of
links to Al Qaeda.

Just trust us, Paul Bremer said, as he took over in Iraq.
What is the legal basis for Mr. Bremer's authority? You may
imagine that the Coalition Provisional Authority is an arm
of the government, subject to U.S. law. But it turns out
that no law or presidential directive has ever established
the authority's status. Mr. Bremer, as far as we can tell,
answers to nobody except Mr. Bush, which makes Iraq a sort
of personal fief. In that fief, there has been nothing that
Americans would recognize as the rule of law. For example,
Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's erstwhile favorite, was
allowed to gain control of Saddam's files - the better to
blackmail his potential rivals.

And finally: Just trust us, Donald Rumsfeld said early in
2002, when he declared that "enemy combatants" - a term
that turned out to mean anyone, including American
citizens, the administration chose to so designate - don't
have rights under the Geneva Convention. Now people around
the world talk of an "American gulag," and Seymour Hersh is
exposing My Lai all over again.

Did top officials order the use of torture? It depends on
the meaning of the words "order" and "torture." Last August
Mr. Rumsfeld's top intelligence official sent Maj. Gen.
Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the Guantánamo prison, to
Iraq. General Miller recommended that the guards help
interrogators, including private contractors, by handling
prisoners in a way that "sets the conditions" for
"successful interrogation and exploitation." What did he
and his superiors think would happen?

To their credit, some supporters of the administration are
speaking out. "This is about system failure," said Senator
Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. But do
Mr. Graham, John McCain and other appalled lawmakers
understand their own role in that failure? By deferring to
the administration at every step, by blocking every effort
to make officials accountable, they set the nation up for
this disaster. You can't prevent any serious inquiry into
why George Bush led us to war to eliminate W.M.D. that
didn't exist and to punish Saddam for imaginary ties to Al
Qaeda, then express shock when Mr. Bush's administration
fails to follow the rules on other matters.

Meanwhile, Abu Ghraib will remain in use, under its new
commander: General Miller of Guantánamo. Donald Rumsfeld
has "accepted responsibility" - an action that apparently
does not mean paying any price at all. And Dick Cheney
says, "Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the
United States has ever had. . . . People should get off his
case and let him do his job." In other words: Just trust