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What is going on in America?

The Bush administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate says the situation is so bad in Iraq that the term “civil war” is inadequate to describe it.

A government inspector confirms what we already knew: that serious doubts about Iraq’s putative weapons of mass destruction and connections to al-Qaeda were shunted aside in favor of neoconservative wishful thinking. (Yes, “wishful”; the neocons had long wanted to go to go war against Saddam Hussein.)

Another government inspector says the administration pads its anti-terrorism statistics, counting as accomplishments cases merely involving illegal drugs and immigration infractions.

The British, the administration’s most loyal ally, want out of Iraq — and this is spun as a good sign. (Is this administration delusional or does it just think we’re morons?)

In Afghanistan the war goes badly for the United States and NATO while the Taliban reconstitutes itself.

Nevertheless, the administration appears to be moving closer to war with Iran.

And now a federal appeals court says Congress, in deference to President Bush, can suspend habeas corpus for noncitizens by majority vote, making a mockery of the U.S. Constitution. (For what it’s worth, the document says that habeas corpus may be suspended only during an invasion or insurrection.) The president has free rein to declare “aliens” unlawful combatants and jail them forever, not to mention torture and perhaps kill them.

In other words: the government routinely lies to us; the executive branch arrogates extraordinary freedom-smothering powers to itself, and its undertakings abroad are a shambles.

This has all the markings of a late-stage collapse of empire. It can’t happen too soon. The big questions are: (1) how many people will this administration kill in its final two years, and (2) what will survive of Americans’ liberty?

Yes, there’s another question, which the New York Times raised in an editorial the other day: will the Democrats who now control Congress do anything to constrain the wild elephant at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue? We’ve heard the talk, Dems. Now let’s do something. There’s plenty of opportunity. They could start by passing a bill introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter to repeal the habeas-corpus section of the Military Commissions Act, the infamous law that lets the president seize noncitizens anywhere in the world, proclaim them suspected terrorists, hold them indefinitely without access to the courts, and even send them off to foreign torture chambers.

Do President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have no idea of what made the founding of this country unique? It was the people’s deeply held belief that arbitrary rule by the state is an evil to be resisted at all costs. Even early America’s conservative elements, who hoped to remain in the British Empire, finally went over to the revolutionists’ side when King George III accelerated his arbitrary decrees governing the American people. Nothing indicts Bush-Cheney as profoundly as their displayed contempt for habeas corpus. I have no doubt that if they thought they could get away with it, they’d suspend it for citizens too.

Note well: the Constitution does not distinguish citizens from noncitizens. If the gang-run-amok in the White House can suspend habeas corpus for aliens, it can do so for the rest of us.

The threat to Americans from terrorism is minuscule compared with the threat from these megalomaniacs. Passing the Leahy-Specter bill is a no-brainer.

The Times goes on to say, “The Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties does not end with habeas corpus. Congress should also move quickly to pass another crucial bill, introduced by Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. That measure, among other steps, would once and for all outlaw the use of evidence obtained through torture.”

Another no-brainer. Note to the administration: 24 isn’t a reality show. That such a bill is necessary just shows the utter contempt with which this administration holds simple decency.

Democrats, right now you’re all we’ve got. Stop this administration before it kills, tortures, and imprisons again.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.