How Would A Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok
by Glenn Greenwald
Chapter 1: American Devolution: 9
One Nation, IndivisibleListening InReining in the PresidentsPattern of
Chapter 2: The Power of One: 38
The King and YooMatter of DecreeThe Case of the "Dirty Bomber"Confessions by WaterboardingTortured Legislation
Chapter 3: "What Can't He Do?": 61
The Weight of the LawIn Defense of the President"A Strong, Robust Executive
Chapter 4: Patriotism Beyond Politics: 72
The Right HooksAll-American BlogosphereRevolutionary WisdomThe Youngstown
Decision"Oppressive and Lawless"
Chapter 5: Fear as a Weapon: 93
Be Very AfraidFreedom FightersLife During WartimeMore Safe, Less Free
Chapter 6: Fate of the Union: 107
The Watergate LessonNothing to Hide?Muzzling the MediaAmerica's Choice
I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.
I never voted for George W. Bushor for any of his political opponents.
I believed that voting was not particularly important. Our country, it
seemed to me, was essentially on the right track.Whether Democrats or
Republicans held the White House or the majorities in Congress made
only the most marginal difference. I held views on some matters that could
be defined as conservative, views on others that seemed liberal. But I firmly
believed that our democratic system of government was sufficiently insulated
from any real abuse, by our Constitution and by the checks and balances
afforded by having three separate but equal branches of government.
My primary political belief was that both parties were plagued by
extremists who were equally dangerous and destructive, but that as long
as neither extreme acquired real political power, our system would function
smoothly and more or less tolerably. For that reason, although I
always paid attention to political debates, I was never sufficiently moved
to become engaged in the electoral process. I had great faith in the stability
and resilience of the constitutional republic that the founders created.
All that has changed. Completely. Over the past five years, a creeping
extremism has taken hold of our federal government, and it is threatening
to radically alter our system of government and who we are as a nation.
This extremism is neither conservative nor liberal in nature, but is instead
driven by theories of unlimited presidential power that are wholly alien,
and antithetical, to the core political values that have governed this country
since its founding.
And the fact that this seizure of ever-expanding presidential power is
largely justified through endless, rank fear-mongeringfear of terrorists,
specificallymeans that not only our system of government is radically
changing, but so, too, are our national character, our national identity, and
what it means to be American.
Our country is at a profound crossroads. We must decide whether we
want to adhere to the values and principles that have made our country
free, strong, and great for the 217 years since our Constitution was ratified,
or whether we will relinquish those values and fundamentally change who
we are, all in the name of seeking protection from terrorism. I genuinely
believe that we are extremely lucky to be the beneficiaries of a system of
government that uniquely protects our individual liberties and allows us
a life free of tyranny and oppression. It is incumbent upon all Americans
who believe in that system, bequeathed to us by the founders, to defend it
when it is under assault and in jeopardy. And today it is.
I did not arrive at these conclusions eagerly or because I was predisposed
by any previous partisan viewpoint. Quite the contrary.
I first moved to Manhattan in 1991 to attend law school at New York
University, and lived and worked there for the next fifteen years. Manhattan
was my home and place of work on September 11, 2001. On that day,
Manhattan felt like a nightmarish mix of war zone, police state, and anarchy
all rolled into one. I don't know anyone whose outlook on politics
wasn't altered in some meaningful way on that day. But soon we realized
that our country, its institutions, and its people are strong enough to
any terrorist attack or any group of terrorists, and, for those who had
not lost friends or family, life seemed to return to normal more quickly
than anyone could have anticipated.
This is not to say that I was not angry about the attacks. I believed that
Islamic extremism posed a serious threat to the country, and I wanted an
aggressive response from our government. I was ready to stand behind
President Bush and I wanted him to exact vengeance on the perpetrators
and find ways to decrease the likelihood of future attacks. During the following
two weeks, my confidence in the Bush administration grew as the
president gave a series of serious, substantive, coherent, and eloquent
speeches that struck the right balance between aggression and restraint.
And I was fully supportive of both the president's ultimatum to the Taliban
and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan when our demands were
not met. Well into 2002, the president's approval ratings remained in the
high 60 percent range, or even above 70 percent, and I was among those
who strongly approved of his performance.
What first began to shake my faith in the administration was its conduct
in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in May 2002 on U.S.
soil and then publicly labeled "the dirty bomber." The administration
claimed it could hold him indefinitely without charging him with any
crime and while denying him access to counsel.
I never imagined that such a thing could happen in modern America
that a president would claim the right to order American citizens
imprisoned with no charges and without the right to a trial. In China, the
former Soviet Union, Iran, and countless other countries, the government
can literally abduct its citizens and imprison them without a trial. But that
cannot happen in the United Statesat least it never could before. If it
means anything to be an American citizen, it means that we cannot be
locked away by our government unless we are charged with a crime, given
due process in court, and then convicted by a jury of our peers.
I developed an intense interest in the Padilla case. It represented a direct
challenge to my foundational political viewsthat we can tolerate all sorts
of political disputes on a range of issues, but we cannot tolerate attacks by
the government on our constitutional framework and guaranteed liberties.
My deep concerns about the Padilla case eroded but did not entirely
eliminate my support for the president. The next significant item on the
president's agenda was the invasion of Iraq. While the administration
recited the standard and obligatory clichés about war being a last resort,
by mid-2002 it appeared, at least to me, that the only unresolved issue was
not whether we would invade but when the invasion would begin.
During the lead-up to the invasion, I was concerned that the hell-bent
focus on invading Iraq was being driven by agendas and strategic objectives
that had nothing to do with terrorism or the 9/11 attacks. The overt
rationale for the invasion was exceedingly weak, particularly given that it
would lead to an open-ended, incalculably costly, and intensely risky preemptive
war. Around the same time, it was revealed that an invasion of
Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein had been high on the agenda of
various senior administration officials long before September 11.
Despite these doubts, concerns, and grounds for ambivalence, I had
not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president's
performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the
Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed,
because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country,
I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that
the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred
to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted
his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the
invasion of this sovereign country.
It is not desirable or fulfilling to realize that one does not trust one's
own government and must disbelieve its statements, and I tried, along
with scores of others, to avoid making that choice until the facts no longer
permitted such logic.
Soon after our invasion of Iraq, when it became apparent that, contrary
to Bush administration claims, there were no weapons of mass
destruction, I began concluding, reluctantly, that the administration had
veered far off course from defending the country against the threats of
Muslim extremism. It appeared that in the great national unity the September
11 attacks had engendered, the administration had seen not a historically
unique opportunity to renew a sense of national identity and
cohesion, but instead a potent political weapon with which to impose
upon our citizens a whole series of policies and programs that had nothing
to do with terrorism, but that could be rationalized through an appeal
to the nation's fear of further terrorist attacks.
And in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion came a whole host of revelations
that took on an increasingly extremist, sinister, and decidedly un-
American tenor. The United States was using torture as an interrogation
tool, in contravention of legal prohibitions. We were violating international
treaties we had signed, sending suspects in our custody for interrogation
to the countries most skilled in human rights abuses. And as part
of judicial proceedings involving Yaser Esam Hamdi, another U.S. citizen
whom the Bush administration had detained with no trial and no access
to counsel, George W. Bush began expressly advocating theories of executive
power that were so radical that they represented the polar opposite of
America's founding principles.
With all of these extremist and plainly illegal policies piling up, I
sought to understand what legal and constitutional justifications the Bush
administration could invoke to engage in such conduct. What I discovered,
to my genuine amazement and alarm, is that these actions had their
roots in sweeping, extremist theories of presidential power that many
administration officials had been advocating for years before George Bush
was even elected. The 9/11 attacks provided them with the opportunity to
officially embrace those theories. In the aftermath of the attack, senior
lawyers in the Bush Justice Department had secretly issued legal memoranda
stating that the president can seize literally absolute, unchecked
power in order to defend the country against terrorism. To assert, as they
did, that neither Congress nor the courts can place any limits on the
decisions is to say that the president is above the law. Once it
became apparent that the administration had truly adopted these radical
theories and had begun exerting these limitless, kinglike powers, I could
no longer afford to ignore them.
The 9/11 attacks were not the first time our nation has had to face a
new and amoral enemy. Throughout our history, we have vanquished
numerous enemies at least as strong and as threatening as a group of
jihadist terrorists without having the president seize the power to break
the law. As a nation, we have triumphed over a series of external enemies
and overcome internal struggles, and we have done so not by abandoning
our core principles in the name of fear but by insisting on an adherence
to our fundamental political values.
In response to the many controversies and scandals concerning its
misconduct, the Bush administration has invariably dismissed them, focusing
instead on deliberately spreading an all-consuming, highly exploitative
fear of terrorists. No matter what the accusation, the administration trots
out its favorite tool: manipulative fear-mongering. Public appearances by
senior Bush officials over the last four years have rarely missed the
for a calculated and cynical invocation of mushroom clouds, homicidal
dictators, and a never-ending parade of new and destructive weapons.
The language of fear is the Bush administration's lingo.
Upon drawing these conclusions, I developed, for the first time in my
life, a sense of urgency about the need to take a stand for our country and
its defining principles. I believe that the concentrated and unlimited
power now claimed by President Bush constitutes a true crisis for the
United Statesthat it has the potential to fundamentally change our
national character, to irreversibly restrict our individual liberties and to
radically alter our core principles. It is not hyperbole to observe that we
are moving away from the founding principles of our constitutional
republic towards theories of powers that the founders identified as the
hallmarks of tyranny.
Despite the significance of these developments, Bush's radical theories of power
have barely even been acknowledged, let alone analyzed and trumpeted, by the
national media. One of the few places where any of these issues were being
discussed was on the Internet, on online political web logs, or "blogs."
In October 2005, I started my own blog, and chose as its name
"Unclaimed Territory"a declaration that my particular political passion
has no grounding in any partisan loyalties or ideologies. Instead, my passion
emanates almost entirely from a fervent and deeply held belief in the
supremacy of our constitutional principles and the corresponding duty of
every American citizen to defend these liberties when they are under assault.
Although I lacked any specific plan, I created my blog with the goal of
finding a way to discuss and publicize just how radical and extreme the
Bush administration had become. My blog quickly grew far beyond anything
I imagined, with a daily readership of 10,000 within three months.
On December 15, 2005, The New York Times published a journalistic
bombshell when it revealed that for the last four years, the National Security
Agency has been eavesdropping on American citizens in violation of
the lawbecause it had been ordered to do so by President Bush. From
the start of the NSA eavesdropping scandal, I began writing every day
about what I believed were the profoundly important legal, political, and
constitutional issues raised by the Bush administration's secret surveillance
This is not about eavesdropping. This is about whether we are a
nation of laws and whether, in the name of our fear of terrorists, we will
abandon the principles of government that have made our country great
and strong for more than two centuries.
My blog has become one of the principal online gathering places for
citizens of every ideological perspective and background who are truly
alarmed by the law-breaking powers seized by the Bush administration,
and who want to take a stand in defense of the principles of government
and the Constitution. Original reporting on my blog led directly to frontpage
news stories on the NSA scandal in media outlets such as The Washington
Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Knight-Ridder. And when the
Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on March 31, 2006, regarding
Senator Russ Feingold's resolution to formally censure the president, Senator
Feingold read from my blog as he questioned one of the committee's
witnesses, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. Let it not be
said that our voices cannot be heard in the halls of government.
I began my blog because I believed my country needed whatever talents
or knowledge I had to offer. Our basic system of constitutional liberties
is at risk. I say that because we are a country in which the president
has saidexpressly and repeatedlythat he has the power to act without
restraints, including the power to break the law. He has not only claimed
these powers but has exercised them repeatedly over the course of several
years. And he still has more than two and a half years left in office.
Even when the other checks on our government fail, citizens always
have the ability to take a stand for their country. For that to happen, the
first requirement is that Americans be fully informed of the objective facts
regarding just how radical and extreme our government has become
under George W. Bush, and the sweeping, genuinely un-American powers
that one man has claimed. I began my blog to provide those facts and to
take a stand in defense of our nation's founding principles. That is also
why I've written the book you now hold in your hands.
Copyright by Glenn Greenwald. All rights reserved. No part
of this book maybe transmitted in any form by any means without permission in
writing from the publisher, Working Assets Publishing (www.workingassetspublishing.com).