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An Orwellian Plus in the offing in United States
By Karamatullah K. Ghori
|Toronto: Before Vietnam, Elvis Presley and James Bond captured the fertile imagination of Hollywood producers, a pet theme for them was space movies. They made sweeping forays into scientific thrillers, of H.G.Wells type, in which our world was threatened by aliens invading from other planetary worlds. That kept Hollywood occupied and productive. The American moviegoers’ appetite was whetted with colourful productions of U.S. defeating all the weird " aliens " threatening their way of life.
That was in the mid-50s and early 60s. Now in the dawn of the 21st century, it is the Bush administration, not Hollywood, which is once again conjuring up the spectre of terrorist ‘aliens’ conspiring to undo the fabric of American life. It is also engaged in the crafting of a deadly apparatus to deal with these aliens that makes George Orwell’s imaginary "Oceania " look like a haven of civility.
George W. Bush wasted not a moment in unfurling the banner of a ‘ war’ within minutes of the twin-tower tragedy in New York on September 11. He has never since given up or toned down his battle cry. On the contrary, all the guns of his administration have been blazing in full force to ingrain the theme of war on the minds, hearts and psyche of the American people. To Bush and his cohorts in the administration it is a war ( read crusade ) against evil ( read Muslims and Islam).
Not content with the bamboozling of Congress which literally steamrolled a draconian piece of legislation in a matter of hours through both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Bush has now invoked those extraordinary powers which had only been assumed once before, in World War II, and had not been recoursed to by any other president even in situations like the Korean War or the Vietnam War.
The Executive Power Order signed by Bush on Tuesday, November 13, was prepared by a hawkish, and apparently high-strung conservative, like Attorney General John Ashcroft whose nomination had faced the strongest backlash in the Congress last year. Ashcroft has been carrying the torch of Bush’s crusade with a greater elan than any other of his cabinet members. Even an ultra-conservative columnist like William Safire, who writes for the ‘ New York Times’ and was once a speech-writer to President Nixon, has described Ashcroft in his present state of mind as " a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney-general."
This extraordinary and brazen invasion of the sanctum of American civil liberties and individual freedoms, grants Bush a blanket right to set up military tribunals to try alien terrorists and those suspected of harbouring or in any other way assisting them. The trial of such non-American ‘ criminals’ or mere ‘suspects’ will be held behind closed doors and dispensed with the requirement of a jury central to American norm of justice. The trial judges will be from the military whose verdict against the impugned person or persons will not be subject to any appeals, not even to the Supreme Court of U.S.
In an obvious haemorrhage of justice, if only two-thirds of the trying military judges agreed on awarding a death sentence to the accused, the verdict will be upheld. Executive clemency, even if theoretically possible, will be conspicuous by its absence. Mr. Bush doesn’t believe in remission of death sentence. As Governor of Texas he prided on his track record that did not allow a single remission in hundreds of cases.
Even more alarming is the provision that the security agencies, such as FBI or CIA, on whose accusation any suspect may be indicted and hauled up before a military tribunal, will not be obliged to disclose the sources of their information on grounds of " national security." Little wonder, therefore, that an otherwise staunch supporter of any hardline administration, William Safire, has vehemently debunked George W. Bush for seizing dictatorial power in America in the guise of safeguarding the nation’s rights in this war against terrorism. Safire assailed the contraption of military courts as " kangaroo courts" and regretted that this summary system of trial leaves a non-citizen at the mercy of "an executive that is now investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and jailor or executioner."
This scribe had described weeks ago the emerging political culture in America, on the heels of Sept.11, as the genesis of an Orwellian nightmare. Today, an establishment-man like Safire is lamenting America’s slide into Orwellianism under Bush. Alluding to the impending gross miscarriage of justice in the land of freedom he cavils that in " an Orwellian twist, Bush’s order calls this Soviet-style abomination " a full and fair trial."
There are, no doubt, defenders aplenty of Bush’s ambition to become the first Cromwellain President of U.S.
There is, in the vanguard of his praetorian legion his vice-president Dick Cheney who is the doyen of American conservatives, and a darling of the hawks. Cheney was quite unapologetic in defending the provision that there should be no protection of American civil liberties for the ‘ aliens’ sworn to the destruction of America and the American way of life.
There are other administration apologists who contend that this will not be the first time when fundamental human rights will not be observed in trials of aliens on American soil. In World WarII, for instance, 8 Nazi saboteurs were nabbed before they could execute their plans, tried in military courts on a war footing, and 6 of them were consigned to the electric chair.
Interestingly, the reference to ‘war’ as the basis for the president assuming such extraordinary, dictatorial, powers has no legal sanction or authority. Under the U.S. constitution, war can only be declared by Congress, and Congress has not, to date, declared war on Afghanistan, or anybody else for that matter. So, the whole premise of Bush arrogating to himself the authority of judge, prosecutor and executioner is suspect and, in legal parlance, ultra vires.
But in the present day America, where the administration and its tribunes are beating the war drums incessantly, who cares about legal or juridical nuances ? There is a war hysteria on with a consummate passion never before witnessed in a land which has periodically been consumed by its predilection for war. It seems more and more like the Americans may have been placed in a trance, a hypnotic state. Xenophobia ( read Muslimphobia ) is the name of the game, and all is fair and legitimate for a president desperate to paint himself as a crusading defender to don any mantle, constitutional or not.
Muslims, by the same token, are a kosher game in Bush’s passionate war against terrorism.
Defenders of the latest congressional legislation and dictatorial executive powers by the president argue, with great conviction, that it is ineluctable to try the likes of Osama bin Laden ,and his Al-Qaeda minions, in special military courts behind closed doors. Why? Because they must not be given an opportunity to use the normal legal process and civilian courts as a platform for their terrorist propaganda. Might does, invariably, come up with good excuses to run its own edict and have its own self-righteous way.
That the sole—first and last—target of this Orwellian methodology is Muslims is no longer in any doubt.
No one has the exact count of the ‘ suspects’ taken into custody by FBI and other intelligence agencies in the wake of Sept. 11. The figure could be anywhere from 5 to 8 thousand. Almost all of those rounded up in a massive police dragnet are Muslims, predominantly of Middle Eastern and South Asian origins. These people are being held outside the due process of law for interrogation. Which, in other words, means no bail for them and no production before a court of law. They are simply being grilled for evidence of any complicity with, or involvement in, the crime perpetrated on Sept. 11.
On top of it, Attorney-General Ashcroft, trying to prove himself more loyal than the king, has compiled a list of 5 thousand young visitors to U.S. between the ages of 21 to 33, who may have entered U.S. in the past one year from suspected ( read Muslim ) countries. These youths are in the U.S. mainly for studies and holding student visas. They will be questioned by the police and intelligence services to sift the grain from the chaf. In other words, the purpose of the exercise is to sort out anyone tainted or influenced by Al Qaeda or other terrorist organisations on the State department list.
All this frantic attempt to run rings around the Muslim community in U.S. cannot simply be excused as a knee-jerk reaction to the horror of Sept.11. Its moral should not be lost on the leaders of the Muslim world around the globe, though it is a different matter if many of them choose to feign ignorance of it because of their obsequiousness to America. It is a war against Muslims and the world of Islam no matter how robustly Bush and others in the western camp, from Blair downwards, protest and pretend that it is not. Malaysia’s Mahatir Mohammad, a fearless and courageous leader who does not mince his words when it comes to the core interests of the Islamic world, has bravely spoken to this effect that this ‘ crusade’ of Mr. Bush looks more and more like a well-planned movement against Muslims throughout the world, no matter what finesse or gloss is attempted to be put on it.
There are, for instance, straws in the wind to suggest that as soon as Afghanistan is done with, the war may be shifted to Iraq, said to be ‘ hot’ on the list of potential targets. Dick Cheney and company, including Donal Rumsfeld, are itching to have a swipe at Iraq too. The argument being vigorously proferred is that Bush Jr. Should finish the task left unaccomplished by Bush Sr. in the Gulf War.
Actions, after all, speak louder than words. Look at how meticulously the western chessboard is being arranged to fight what Bush has baptized as a ‘ long haul war.’
Russia’s Putin, whose hands are still soaked with the blood of tens of thousands of Chechen civilians has become a " barbecue buddy" of Bush and has just been feted as a family friend at the Bush ranch in Texas. Tony Blair wants Russia to become an equal and integral partner in NATO. Not a word, not so much as a squeak, has been heard in any capital about the butchery of the Chechens that made Putin a hero. Germany’s Schroeder literally went out on a limb, and staked his political future, in his frenzied bid to chip in with 4 thousand soldiers for the war effort. Italy and France are already robustly in the loop; so are Australia and Canada. What else is it if not a resurrection of the Crusaders’ army? The only difference between the 11th century , when the first call for the Crusades rose from Rome, and the 21st century is that this time round the call has come from Washington.
Be that as it may, Muslim visitors to the U.S. had better beware. The land of limitless freedoms and personal liberties is rapidly being convulsed by stirrings of an Orwellian revisionism. The pathways of the greatest experiment in governance by the people, for the people and of the people are now being rigged with trapdoors. Caution is demanded. q