The Twilight Zone

Be sure to read Paul Krugman’s column today, brought to you by the brave folks at Welcome to Pottersville. He begins by noting the famous “How’s your boy?” exchange between James Webb and George Bush, then continues,

We need people in Washington who are willing to stand up to the bully in chief. Unfortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, they’re still in short supply.

You can understand, if not condone, the way the political and media establishment let itself be browbeaten by Mr. Bush in his post-9/11 political prime. What’s amazing is the extent to which insiders still cringe before a lame duck with a 60 percent disapproval rating.

Look at what seems to have happened to the Iraq Study Group, whose mission statement says that it would provide an “independent assessment.” If press reports are correct, the group did nothing of the sort. Instead, it watered down its conclusions and recommendations, trying to come up with something Mr. Bush wouldn’t reject out of hand.

In particular, says Newsweek, the report “will set no timetables or call for any troop reductions.” All it will do is “suggest that the president could, not should, begin to withdraw forces in the vaguely defined future.”

And all this self-abasement is for naught. Senior Bush aides, Newsweek tells us, are “dismissive, even condescending” toward James Baker, the Bush family consigliere who is the dominant force in the study group, and the report. Of course they are. That’s how bullies always treat their hangers-on.

That’s pretty much what I was saying here. Everyone in Washington is still tip-toeing around His Majesty in fear of … something. The Iraq Study groups was supposed to provide an independent evaluation of how to handle Iraq. Instead, it was working on how to handle George W. Bush.

The Reptile writes in today’s Washington Post:

The notion bruited about Washington that James A. Baker is a deus ex machina imposed by President Bush to resolve the entangled Iraqi plot is nonsense. The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton, is out of the White House sphere of influence. The White House certainly did not ask Congress for help by creating this commission. Baker has made sure that the report, though leaked in part to the press, has not gone to the White House.

As a creature of Congress (an institution that Bush dislikes), Baker’s group spells trouble for Bush when it releases its report Wednesday. It will propose, however muted its tone, gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq before the president is ready for it. The hope is that Baker will nuance the report’s words sufficiently and hedge calls for withdrawal in such a way that Bush can say that is what he has been doing anyway.

Remember the Twilight Zone episode about the six-year-old boy who held a town in terror because he could change or destroy anything at will? Washington is starting to remind me of that. Even the Reptile frames his column around what kind of problems the ISG might cause Bush, not whether it will provide a good plan for Iraq. He continues,

Bush has not stepped back from the decisions he has made on Iraq. At the core of Bush’s Iraq dilemma is the fact, still denied at the White House, that the president has lost his political base on the overriding issue of the war. In contact mainly with fawning campaign contributors, Bush may not appreciate the steady decline in support of his war policy that I have seen deepening among Republicans in the past year.

And those Republicans haven’t marched into the Oval Office to explain this to the President … why, exactly?

This New York Times editorial
offers more testimony that the whole bleeping planet is being held hostage to George Bush’s ego.

Commission members say they concluded that Mr. Bush’s strategy so far has created an expectation that the United States will always be there to hold Iraq together. Breaking that culture of dependency, they concluded, is the key to making the long-discussed “Iraqification” of the country’s security a reality. But they are uncertain whether they can persuade a famously stubborn president to adopt that view.

“Is George Bush ready to hear that?” one commission member asked over the weekend. “I don’t think any of us really know. I don’t know if the president himself knows.”

There is much flapping around about how George W. Bush is the “commander in chief,” meaning he’s the only one who can make decisions about war. But earlier in our nation’s history it was understood by most that the power to declare and conduct war belonged to Congress (see Findlaw’s annotations to Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution). My reading of the authorities granted to Congress and the President say that Congress is responsible for the political decision to make war, not the President. The “commander in chief” powers granted the president in Article II (again, see Findlaw for further discussion) originally were understood to be “supreme command and direction of the Military and naval forces, as first general and admiral,” according to Alexander Hamilton. In other words, he was supposed to be responsible only for the conduct of military campaigns.

Through the years there has been considerable tension between Congress and the President on these matters, and on the question of when a President may act without the express permission of Congress. Little by little, the “war power” trickled from Congress to the President. And now all of Washington is tip-toeing around some petty martinet who thinks he’s Napoleon, and everyone is afraid to tell him, um, you know that war you started? Well, we’ve decided it’s turning out badly, and we’d like you to wind it up now.

I don’t think this is how the Founders intended the government to function.

Don’t think even Republicans aren’t stewing about this. George Will wrote today,

Sen. John Warner put down a marker.

Four months ago the Virginia Republican said that Congress must “examine very carefully” what it authorized the president to do in 2002 when it authorized military action against Iraq. Warner wondered whether, if there is an “all-out civil war,” the president must “come back to the Congress to get further indication of support.”

Yet there is faint hope. Walter Pincus writes that a pack of House Democrats who opposed the war all along are about to move into key positions.

Although given little public credit at the time, or since, many of the 126 House Democrats who spoke out and voted against the October 2002 resolution that gave President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq have turned out to be correct in their warnings about the problems a war would create.

With the Democrats taking over control of the House next January, the views that some voiced during two days of debate four years ago are worth recalling, since many of those lawmakers will move into positions of power. They include not only members of the new House leadership but also the incoming chairmen of the Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget and Judiciary committees and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Notice, these are Dems who had the spines to say no to war before saying no to war was cool. You’ll want to read this article; it will cheer you up.

Anyway, I believe Congress would be within its constitutional authority to order Bush to end the war, whether he wants to or not. They probably don’t want to do this, because Bush would certainly refuse, and who’s going to make the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, Justice Department, and various espionage agencies obey? Congress’s only recourse would be impeachment.


By the way, here’s how Krugman’s column ends:

Well, here’s a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully’s ego?

See also:
Today’s Dan Froomkin column; in Salon, “Dems Gear Up for Oversight“; in Newsweek, Eleanor Clift writes about Jim Webb.

Update: Evan Thomas, “So Now What, Mr. President?”

First, They Came for Jose Padilla

Now that Jose Padilla’s case has been turned over to the criminal justice system, details of his 3 1/2 years of being held without criminal charges are coming to light. These details include a video made by his military jailers now in the hands of Padilla’s lawyers. Michael Isikoff at Newsweek and Deborah Sontag of the New York Times describe the video, which shows Padilla being taken to see a dentist. Sontag writes,

“Today is May 21,” a naval official declared to a camera videotaping the event. “Right now we’re ready to do a root canal treatment on Jose Padilla, our enemy combatant.”

Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.

At least he had some human contact that day. Most days, he didn’t. Sontag continues,

Now lawyers for Mr. Padilla, 36, suggest that he is unfit to stand trial. They argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said Sunday that the military disputes Mr. Padilla’s accusations of mistreatment. And, in court papers, prosecutors deny “in the strongest terms” the accusations of torture and say that “Padilla’s conditions of confinement were humane and designed to ensure his safety and security.”

“His basic needs were met in a conscientious manner, including Halal (Muslim acceptable) food, clothing, sleep and daily medical assessment and treatment when necessary,” the government stated. “While in the brig, Padilla never reported any abusive treatment to the staff or medical personnel.”

In the brig, Mr. Padilla was denied access to counsel for 21 months. Andrew Patel, one of his lawyers, said his isolation was not only severe but compounded by material and sensory deprivations. In an affidavit filed Friday, he alleged that Mr. Padilla was held alone in a 10-cell wing of the brig; that he had little human contact other than with his interrogators; that his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door; that windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and that he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran, “as part of an interrogation plan.”

Even if Padilla was not tortured, in fact a human being cannot endure more than three years of deprivation of normal human contact — not even the second-hand contact of books — without severe emotional and psychological harm. His “basic needs” were NOT met.

And Jose Padilla is a citizen. A citizen locked up by the government for 3 1/2 years without being charged with a crime. If the Constitution didn’t protect Padilla, it doesn’t protect any of us.

I don’t have anything to say that others haven’t already said; see Glenn Greenwald, Digby, and Steve M.

For an object lesson in why a rule of law is preferable to a rule of men, see the Confederate Yank.

Sortakinda related — Craig Whitlock writes in the Washington Post that not all Europeans are cooperating with the CIA and “extraordinary rendition.”