A government that spies on its citizens, on Americans, without oversight is not democracy; it is tyranny. And yet this is what the Bush administration continues to try and do.
In yet another installment of high-fear politicking, Vice President Richard Cheney, lobbying for the passage of new FISA legislation, spoke at the Heritage Foundation today — obviously speaking to a room filled with folks who mostly agree with him rather than venturing forth to talk to those who don’t.
From Cheney’s speech:
Under President Bush’s leadership, after September 11th, the government made some difficult choices.
One of these was to stop treating terrorist attacks as criminal matters — where you find out what happened, arrest the bad guys, put them in jail, and move on. The world changed when a coordinated attack ended the lives of 3,000 Americans and turned 16 acres of New York City to ashes. As the President has made clear many times, we are dealing with a strategic threat to the United States. We are at war with an enemy that wants to cause mass death inside the United States. And we must act systematically and decisively until this enemy is destroyed.
The terrorists waging war against this country don’t fight according to the rules of warfare, or international law, or moral standards, or basic humanity. And we have to be clear-eyed about the character and objective of these adversaries. They have a strategic goal to recreate the old seventh-century caliphate — an empire stretching from Europe through the Middle East, all the way around to Southeast Asia. They want to arm themselves with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons — and they would not hesitate to use such weapons.
Their tactics, of course, are familiar to all the world: hijackings like those of 9/11, suicide attacks, car bombs, beheadings, messages of violence and hatred on the Internet. Their method is plain; is to plan in secret, and to proceed by stealth, so that we won’t know what they’re up to until a moment of sudden, catastrophic violence.
To wage this fight we have to marshal our resources to go after the terrorists, to shut down their training camps, to take down their networks, deny them sanctuary, disrupt their funding sources, and bring them to justice. We’ve taken necessary steps, as well, to go after the sponsors of terror, and to confront those who might provide these killers with more deadly capabilities. And because some of the early battlefields of the war have been right here in the United States, we have taken vital actions to defend the homeland against future attacks.
Among the most effective weapons against terrorism is good intelligence — information that helps us figure out the movements of the enemy, the extent of their operation, the location of their cells, the plans that they’re making, the methods they use, and the targets that they want to strike. Information of this kind is also the very hardest to obtain. But it’s worth the effort in terms of the plots that are averted and the lives that are saved.
The best source of that information is, of course, the terrorists themselves. So our government has taken careful but urgent steps to monitor the communications of enemies at large, and to get information out of the ones that we’ve captured. The military has interrogated terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay. In addition, a small number of terrorists, high-value targets held overseas, have gone through a tougher interrogation program run by the CIA. These include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.
The Soviet Union used the threat of internal sedition to justify all kinds of horrendous big brother strategies for spying on its people and justifying abusive government power. Cheney is doing the same and calling it patriotism.
As my Japanese politics professor, Hans Baerwald, taught me long ago — the norms of a political system can’t really be assessed without observing that system under shock, or under stress. And America has been under stress — not only from 9/11 but from the purposeful manipulation of the country in a high-fear politics used to justify anything the Executive Branch wants.
And overall, America is not doing well on the issue of showing that democratic norms and America’s system of justice, liberty, and checks and balance can weather shocks and stress.
Cheney wryly notes in his speech that Benjamin Franklin “believed that the vice presidency was entirely unnecessary” and that “[Franklin] said that if the office were to be created, anyone who served as Vice President should be addressed as ‘Your Superfluous Excellency.'”
Dick Cheney has made the Vice President’s office structurally powerful — and the next holder of that position will be endowed with legal powers and tools that Cheney’s predecessors did not have — and thus Franklin’s assessment of the office has been over taken by events and the challenges of American government today.
However, it is also important to note that Benjamin Franklin, after leaving Philadelphia’s Independence Hall after signing the Constitution, was asked by a citizen:
“Dr. Franklin, what kind of government did you give us? A monarchy or a republic?” Franklin’s response was: “A republic, if you can keep it!”
I wonder what Cheney would say leaving the Heritage Foundation today, if he were to give an honest assessment. . .”Vice President Cheney — what have you wrought? A monarchy or a republic?”
— Steve Clemons