It is so amusing to see mainstream commentators condemning Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, for assuming dictatorial powers. Their critiques are well-taken, as I observed in my blog post of yesterday, “Morsi’s Democratic Dictatorship.” But what’s amusing about the mainstreamers is how they can so quickly identify and condemn dictatorial conduct on the part of foreign rulers but maintain an absolutely obsequious blind spot when it comes to the dictatorial actions by their own ruler.
Recall President Bush’s assumption of dictatorial powers after the 9/11 attacks. Those powers included the authority to arrest Americans without warrants, cart them away to concentration camps or military dungeons as suspected terrorists, torture them, keep them incarcerated for life without trial, and even execute them, perhaps after some sort of kangaroo military tribunal.
Of course, in post-9/11 America the president himself wouldn’t personally be doing those things. That’s what the U.S. military and the CIA are for — to enforce the post-9/11 order in the United States.
Americans were able to gain a glimpse into how things now operated with the Pentagon’s treatment of American citizen Jose Padilla. The military took control of Padilla, tortured him, and claimed the authority to hold him for life without trial. What they did to Padilla, they could now do to all Americans.
Of course, Bush’s extraordinary powers were not limited to Americans. They also extended to foreigners. In post-9/11 America, the military and the CIA now had the authority to kidnap anyone anywhere in the world as a suspected terrorist, rendition him to a friendly dictatorial foreign regime for torture and incarceration, or incarcerate the suspect in some overseas concentration camp or prison facility, such as Bagram, Guantanamo, or the secret one in Poland.
What did the mainstream editorial writers and commentators say about Bush’s extraordinary power grab? Unlike their immediate condemnation of Morsi’s unilateral assumption of dictatorial powers, the American mainstream press bought into Bush’s justifications for the assumption of dictatorial powers without one iota of hesitation. Without a hint of criticism or critique, they submissively accepted Bush’s rationale that America was now at “war” with the terrorists and that he, as commander in chief of the nation, now automatically wielded those extraordinary emergency powers.
In fact, the dictatorial powers assumed by Bush were precisely the same as the dictatorial powers that had been wielded by pro-U.S. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, whom the U.S. government had long supported and partnered with.
More revealing, it is precisely those powers — the powers to take citizens into custody as suspected terrorists, incarcerate and torture them, and even execute them — that went to the heart of the Mubarak dictatorship. It is those powers — the same types of powers wielded by Bush (and, later Obama), the military, and the CIA — that the Egyptian citizenry were demanding that Mubarak and his military and intelligence forces relinquish.
But while Mubarak was ousted from power, the Egyptian military has steadfastly refused to relinquish those extraordinary, temporary, 30-year-old dictatorial powers, just as Bush, Obama, the U.S. military and the CIA have refused to relinquish their powers despite the passage of 11 years since 9/11. Their common rationale? The “war on terrorism” and “national security.”
Both Bush and Mubarak used an “emergency” to justify their assumption of dictatorial powers. Mubarak’s “emergency” was the terrorist assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Bush’s “emergency” was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There was one big difference, however, between how they acquired their dictatorial powers. Mubarak acquired his powers through legislative action. Bush acquired his powers simply through decree, as Morsi just did.
As the war on terrorism evolved, Bush expanded his dictatorial powers to include assassination of foreigners and Americans, a power that Obama has enthusiastically endorsed and expanded. Here we find the ultimate in dictatorial powers — the power of a ruler to kill anyone he wants, including his own citizens, for whatever reason he wants and never ever have to account for it.
Consider, for example, Obama’s killing of the American teenage son of American Anwar al-Awlaki, whom Obama and his forces also assassinated. Forget the presumption of innocence, due process of law, and trial by jury. Presumably they took out the boy simply because he was the son of an accused terrorist whom they had killed and, therefore, a person who might later try to see revenge for the killing of his father.
But what’s important to note is that Obama, the Pentagon, and the CIA don’t have to answer to anyone for the boy’s killing or explain their reasons to anyone for why they did it. Why, they don’t even have to acknowledge that they took out the boy. Keep in mind that what they did to that teenager, they can now do to any American anywhere in the world.
How can powers be more dictatorial than that? Yet, the mainstream press, while expressing shock and outrage over Morsi’s assumption of dictatorial powers, just nonchalantly and subserviently accepts the assumption and exercise of dictatorial powers by the U.S. president, the Pentagon, and the CIA.
What’s the solution to the dictatorial system under which we now live? How about an amendment to the Constitution that reads as follows:
The federal government shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, and every person accused of a crime shall be accorded the rights of trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and the right to confront witnesses, and no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted on anyone, and this time we, the American people, really do mean it.