English Politics USA

Does Dick Cheney Understand What He Has Helped Unleash?

From “The Battle for a Country’s Soul” by Jane Mayer, New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 13 · August 14, 2008

[After 9/11] President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and a small handful of trusted advisers sought and obtained dubious legal opinions enabling them to circumvent American laws and traditions. […] They turned the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel into a political instrument, which they used to expand their own executive power at the expense of long-standing checks and balances.

From ” Obama inheriting broad covert ops policies“, Associated Press, November 11, 2008

A top aide to Obama said Sunday the new president will use his executive powers to make an immediate impact when he takes office […] “There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we’ll see the president do that,” said John Podesta, Obama’s transition chief. “I think that he feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set.”

Benjamin Franklin’s words outside the Federal Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, cited by Jane Mayer, are very topical indeed

A lady asked Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.”

English Politics USA

International Relations at the Time of Obama

If Barack Obama wins tomorrow, politicians the world over will want to be pictured next to such a globally-popular celebrity politician. President Obama will have a few months of honeymoon with the World, during which he will be able to ask anything, and everything will be done for him and for the USA. If he’s half as smart as needed, Obama will bring untold advantages to America.

If it’s instead John McCain the one to win, he’ll find a world in shock and disbelief, even more desperate than usual and ready for a few months of outright condenscendence against the USA. Plenty of work and talk will be needed before President McCain will be able to put together some international agreement that will be of any advantage for America.

And the funny thing is, if Obama or McCain will win tomorrow, the international relations of the USA will not change in substance from President Bush’s, apart some minute detail.

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With Five Months To Go, Let’s Pray About Iran

For the next five months President George W Bush will remain Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States.

In other words, there are still slightly more than 150 possibilities for Iran to be attacked.

And the strange thing is, nobody can really do much to prevent President Bush from taking advantage of any of those opportunities. It’s a danger highlighted by the words of Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books’ “Iran: The Threat” (July 17, 2008; Powers’ words are in italic ):

  • According to the President, “all options” must remain “on the table.”
  • Last April, information about an Israeli air strike in Siria has been released explicitly with the aim of “sending a message to Iran”
  • According to Administration officials, Tehran wants a bomb in order to dominate the Persian Gulf region and to threaten its neighbors, especially Israel
  • The seriousness of American threats is confirmed by the fact that […] the whole country listens to the administration’s threats with breath held […] in effect leaving the decision entirely to [Bush and Cheney]
  • President Bush has accompanied periodic threats against Iran, supporting them with practical steps—the presence of large American armies just across Iran’s borders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the dispatch of the world’s largest fleet of warships to cruise along Iran’s Persian Gulf coastline. The Bush administration further accuses Iran of “meddling” in the affairs of its neighbors, of supplying weapons and training to Iraqis who kill Americans, and of being the world’s principal state sponsor of terrorism
  • [Bush and Cheney’s] frequent warnings that the United States does not trust Iran with the knowledge to enrich bomb-grade uranium and will not tolerate an Iranian bomb. Many of these warnings have been issued in the last month or two and we may expect a continuing barrage until their final days in office.
  • The President’s frustration is plainly evident: Saddam Hussein may be gone, but Iran remains defiant, and more powerful than ever. The President’s male pride seems to have been aroused; he said he was going to solve the Iranian problem and he doesn’t want to back down.

Whatever the US Constitution has to say about war, the President of the United States can do pretty much anything he wants, under the guise of “executive power”. For an example, think of the botched rescue attempt of the American hostages in Iran, in 1980. Likewise, the successful invasion of Grenada in 1983.

And so we can literally wake up any day with the “news” of a US attack against Iran. Because as Powers concludes:

if attack is impossible, why does Bush talk himself into an ever-tighter corner by continuing to issue threats? Does he believe Iran will cave? Are these the only words he thinks people will still listen to? Is he hoping to tie the hands of the next president? Or is he preparing to summon the power of his office to carry out the last option on the table? One hardly knows whether to take the question seriously. It seems alarmist and overexcited even to pose it when the realities are so clear. But it is impossible to be sure—Bush has a history

English Ethics International Herald Tribune International Law Iraq War Politics USA War

Time to Indict George W Bush for War Crimes?

Requests periodically recur for the indictment of U.S. President George W Bush, perhaps in front of an International Court, for various charges of war crimes, from the making-up of the “evidence” against Saddam Hussein to the list of abuses by American soldiers in Iraq and at Guantanamo against their prisoners, to the use of torture to extract information and confessions from terrorist suspects.

What is the feasibility of all that? It depends. Of the fact that the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was based on nothing, I do not think there can be any doubt. Furthermore, it was definitely not me the one in charge whilst abuses and torture were (are?) being practiced. If Bush were a private citizen, the whole thing would already be in the hands of prosecutors and defense lawyers, trying to establish the boundaries between law, crime and ineptitude.

But Bush is no private citizen. Instead, he has spent eight years at the top of the Superpower. What hope could then be in getting him indicted, let alone sentenced?

First thing to be clarified is, would there be any role for an International Court? I do not think so. What future U.S. Administration would take the responsibility of establishing a precedent, sending a former president abroad to answer for war crimes? The only possibility is via the American own justice system.

Even in that case, one would have to present shock-and-awe evidence of criminal intent. It is true that, however slowly, the Congress is publishing reports very critical of the choices and behaviour of members of the Bush Administration, such as the results of the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D, W Va.), published about a month ago. But first of all, behind all that it’s simple partisan struggle, Democrats against Republicans in a fight which little interest in finding the truth about the President: because the only thing they care about is of course, getting re-elected.

To leave everything in the hands of various parliamentary committees, from this point of view, only serves to hush-hush the whole thing, with potential defendants more likely to die of old age than of attending a single hearing in a court of law. Ah, and to polarize the electorate for no overall gain (another positive opportunity for the politicians, and a pernicious disaster for the electorate itself).

One should therefore more than welcome the latest proposal by Nicholas D Kristof, from the pages of International Herald Tribune: forget the parliamentary committees, the courts, the discussions on the legality of Presidential decisions, in favor of a “Truth Commission” (TC) modeled on the one that helped South Africa become a democratic nation without bloodshed.

The TC would be something coming out of the U.S. themselves, thereby dismissing suggestions of “international interference”; it would only establish a single precedent, namely the fact that Presidents are responsible for what they do, and for what they leave behind; many of the “crimes” would be out in the open, because perpetrators just as in South Africa would prefer sincerity in front of the TC, to the danger of being brought in front of a criminal court.

At the end of the day, what Justice is the one that never comes to conclusions? It is much better to “know the truth”, because it allows us to dream to be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.

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Sulla Denuncia Contro George W Bush Per Crimini Di Guerra

Ritorna periodicamente in auge la mai sopita richiesta di portare il Presidente USA George W Bush magari davanti a un Tribunale Internazionale per rispondere di varie accuse di crimini di guerra, dall’invenzione delle “prove” contro Saddam Hussein alla serie di abusi contro i prigionieri dei soldati americani, in Iraq e nella base di Guantanamo, all’uso della tortura per estorcere notizie e confessioni da presunti terroristi.

E’ di pochi giorni fa per esempio l’iniziativa di Marco Pannella di cercare di presentare al Congresso USA “le documentate menzogne e irresponsabilità del presidente per poter imporre non già la caduta di Saddam e la democrazia per l’Iraq, ma la ‘sua’ guerra contro la verità e le leggi del proprio Paese“.

E’ quella una strada fattibile? Dipende. Sul fatto che la guerra in Iraq nel 2003 sia stata costruita sul niente non penso ci possano essere dubbi; e abusi e torture non sono certo capitati mentre comandavo io. Se Bush fosse un privato cittadino qualunque, la situazione sarebbe gia’ in mano a giudici e avvocati per stabilire il confine fra diritto, delitto e imperizia.

Ma non e’, un privato cittadino. Anzi, ha passato otto anni in cima alla Superpotenza. Quale speranza potrebbe esserci allora nel vederlo processato, o addirittura condannato?

C’e’ da chiarire prima di tutto se la strada del Tribunale Internazionale sarebbe praticabile: quale futura Amministrazione USA infatti si prenderebbe mai la responsabilita’ di stabilire un precedente, mandando un ex-Presidente a rispondere di crimini di guerra all’estero? E quindi al massimo ci sarebbe da aspettare che si muova qualcosa in America.

Anche in quel caso, occorrerebbero delle prove schiaccianti. E’ vero che piano piano anche il Congresso sta facendo uscire rapporti molto critici delle scelte e dei comportamenti dei membri dell’Amministrazione Bush, come per esempio il risultato della “Commissione sull’Intelligence” capitanata dal Senatore John Rockefeller IV, pubblicato circa un mese fa. Ma dietro a tutto cio’ c’e’ prima di tutto la lotta fra i due schieramenti, Democratici contro Repubblicani in una lotta cui sicuramente interessa poco la veridicita’ delle accuse al Presidente, e tanto la possibilita’ di essere o meno rieletti alla prossima tornata ai seggi.

Lasciare tutto in mano alle varie Commissioni parlamentari, da questo punto di vista, serve solo a far insabbiare la cosa, a far morire i potenziali imputati di vecchiaia inoltrata prima che si arrivi finanche a una sola udienza in argomento, e a polarizzare l’elettorato (un’altra positiva opportunita’ per i politici, una sciagura perniciosa per l’elettorato stesso).

E’ dunque piu’ che benvenuta la proposta di Nicholas D Kristof dalle pagine dell’International Herald Tribune: dimentichiamo le commissioni parlamentari, lasciamo perdere i Tribunali, evitiamo di disquisire sulla legalita’ delle decisioni presidenziali, in favore dell’istituzione di una “Commissione della Verita’” (CdV) modellata su quella che ha aiutato il Sudafrica a diventare democratico senza spargimenti di sangue.

La CdV sarebbe espressione degli USA stessi, senza problemi di “ingerenza internazionale”; l’unico principio che farebbe passare e’ che i Presidenti sono responsabili di quello che fanno, e di quello che lasciano; molti dei “crimini” verrebbero fuori, alla luce del sole perche’ e’ meglio essere sinceri di fronte alla CdV, che ritrovarsi a dover rispondere dei crimini che non si hanno.

In fondo, che Giustizia sarebbe se non arrivasse mai a termine? Conoscere la “verita'” e’ molto meglio, anche perche’ permette di sognare che certi errori non verranno mai piu’ commessi.

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Did We Just Miss George W Bush’s Election as President of Venezuela?

Roger Cohen’s thoughtful piece on Venezuela (“The limits of 21st-century revolution“, IHT, Dec 3) may have missed some important news coming from Caracas…

In fact, President Hugo Chavez said on the eve of the recent Venezuelan referendum that “Anyone who votes ‘No’ is voting for George W. Bush“.

Now, since the majority of people actually did vote “No”, doesn’t that mean George W Bush has just been elected President of Venezuela?

One wonders…