Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Very Definition Of Reactionary

Here's former Senator Gary Hart:

HREE WEEKS after I took the oath of office in the Senate in 1975, then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield appointed me to a newly created committee — the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, which soon came to be known as the "Church Committee," after its chairman, the late Sen. Frank Church of Idaho...

The Senate had impaneled the committee because of increasing reports of abuse of authority by the country's myriad intelligence agencies under the Nixon administration as well as previous administrations. For two years, the committee investigated broadly — the CIA, FBI, DIA and NSA were all within its purview — and finally, in 1976, it issued a series of recommendations designed to prevent future abuses.

The Church Committee -- and its mirror Committee in the House chaired by Congressman Otis Pike -- shone a disinfectant light on a lot of germy rot in the intelligence community, specifically in the relationship of it to the Executive Branch, which had resulted in crimes abroad (what LBJ called in a moment of candor "a goddamned Murder, Incorporated) and constitution-shredding activities at home (COINTELPRO).

Today, one has only to consider the behavior of the Bush administration during the Iraq war to appreciate how soon we forget, how little we learn and how pervasive is the tendency to violate civil and constitutional liberties in the name of war. Virtually all of the reforms recommended by the Church Committee — many of which were passed into law — have been evaded, ignored or violated in the name of the "war on terrorism."

It is often said that the first victim of war is the truth. In fact, the first victim of American war is the liberty of Americans.

During our investigations of intelligence abuse, we discovered that the government had engaged in widespread surveillance of a very large number of American citizens. Civil rights leaders were monitored. Antiwar groups were under surveillance. Domestic phones were tapped. Mail was opened. The FBI conducted warrantless "black bag" break-ins of private residences and offices. We wrote an entire report on warrantless electronic surveillance by the FBI — exactly what the NSA has now been authorized to do by the president.

One particularly egregious program, code-named COINTELPRO, went beyond the mere collection of intelligence on domestic groups to actually trying to "disrupt" or "neutralize" target groups. The excuse given by the FBI and others was, "We are at war, and we need to do everything we can to defeat our enemy." Sound familiar?

Indeed it does. I have tried in vain to find the quote over the years, but I distinctly remember almost immediately after 9-11 James Baker blaming the whole disaster on the Church Committee. No, he didn't say it by name, he just said something like "congressional actions in the late 70s that hamstrung our intelligence agencies." But I knew what he meant, knew that he spoke for the establishment, knew that "Here Come The Fascists", knew that this was the excuse for the roll-back that they'd always wanted.

The Establishment (which includes neocons and so-called "realists") always deeply resented that the crimes of Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon-Ford came to light in the Church and Pike Committees; moreover, they always deeply resented the post-Watergate reform atmosphere that allowed those Committees life. The Committees recommended, and started the re-institutionalisation of, congressional oversight -- something the Constitution had always required but the Establishment resisted, and resists.

You hear a lot, rightly, of the Bush penchant for roll-back -- rolling back the 70s reforms (die EPA, die), the New Deal (social security), the Progressive Era (19th Century Bush), and now the Bill of Rights itself (King George Dubya). It's all true; Bush politics is the quintessence of what it means to be reactionary.

The fact that the NSA is spying on American citizens (a violation of its charter) is the logical effect of this political disposition. The NSA, DIA and CIA were chartered for exclusively extranational work. No spying on Americans, which is what made these agencies distinct from the FBI. With the PATRIOT Act, as its enthusiasts told us, came down the walls between intelligence agencies. Everyone thought, "well, it's to cut out red tape bureaucracy, so that they may better share info." Actually, as we have now seen, it was to make an intelligence clusterfuck agency that could and did spy on anyone, anywhere, regardless of the target's citizenship or location, or the legality of the matter. One sees why the PATRIOT Act is so important to them.

Give them a war, and they will give you a tyrrany every time. Give them a perpetual war, a war on a concept, and you will have a permanent tyrrany.

Their behavior betrays a reaction against... liberty, law, the very idea of America. Osama bin Laden may "hate freedom;" but if he does, George Bush has definitely shown that he shares the sentiment.