Shred the Constitution, Win a Promotion
Published on Saturday, January 15, 2005 by Working for Change
Shred the Constitution, Win a Promotion
On Michael Chertoff, the new Bush nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security
by Geov Parrish
Argh! Another one. The Bush Administration has done it again.

It has nominated to yet another high position a key player in the War On Terror whose actions are described, in a conspiracy of media buzzwords across the land, as "controversial."

What, in the case of Michael Chertoff, new nominee to oversee the Homeland Security Department after the meltdown of Bernard Kerik's nomination, does "controversial" mean?

It means that as a senior Justice Department official in the weeks after 9/11, Chertoff was responsible for the dubious practice of rounding up several hundred non-citizens on minor immigration violations, holding them in prison incommunicado for an average of three months. It meant that these people were plunged into the American gulag pending a policy, initiated by Chertoff, of "hold until clear" meaning, basically, that the presumption of innocent until proven guilty was stood on its head, and detainees imprisoned until they were proven innocent. It means that Chertoff, as an aggressive proponent of the USA PATRIOT Act, helped set up the newly authorized surveillance networks that need not rely on a targeted individual being suspected of any crime.

"Controversial," in the Bush lexicon, means that the person in question has done their best to shred the constitution and its protection of civil liberties. That, and unquestioned fealty to the president, seem to be the two main qualifications for promotion in Bush's second term.

Virtually every "controversial" aspect of the War On Terror now features someone who's been promoted for their misdeeds. Previous to Chertoff, the poster child for this has been Alberto Gonzales, promoted from White House counsel to the nation's highest law enforcement post, U.S. Attorney General. Gonzales is almost certain to be confirmed by the Senate despite his role in defining "torture" so narrowly, in legal terms, as to allow torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and almost every other prison associated with military intelligence gathering around the world. At least five and up to 28 confirmed deaths of detainees are believed by the Pentagon to have been caused by aggressive policies Gonzales did not define as torture. Remember this when you hear Gonzales', and Bush's, ringing denunciations of torture.

The torture scandal is as good a measure as any of what happens to miscreants in the Bush Administration. They keep their jobs (Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Gen. John Abizaid) or were promoted. Gonzales is one promotee; Jay Bybee, author of a memo maximizing which interrogation techniques could be used, was another. Bybee, like Chernoff, received a lifetime federal judgeship for his efforts. Condoleezza Rice, War On Terror hardliner, is now Secretary of State.

In Chertoff's case, the mass round-up of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians after 9-11 was not only a civil liberty atrocity, it was wholly ineffective. None of the detainees, held incommunicado and without bond until proven innocent, was ever charged -- let alone convicted -- of any terrorism-related crime. Few if any held any useful intelligence value.

One of the reasons for Chernoff's appointment, on the heels of the fiasco of Bernard Kerik, is that he is a safe appointee, without any of the unexpected personal or professional baggage that felled Kerik. When up for his federal court of appeals judgeship in 2003, he was confirmed by an 88-1 vote despite his role in post-9/11 detentions; the sole "no" vote came from Hillary Clinton, presumably still bitter that Chernoff was a special counsel for the Senate panel investigating Whitewater in 1994. As with Gonzales, what this underscores is that few Democrats are willing to take on even the most "controversial" of the Bush appointees. No matter what they've done, no matter how disastrous such policies would be if applied in their new, more powerful positions.

This has been a pattern in the Bush regime, where no bad deed goes unrewarded. What is more mystifying is why Democrats so often stand idly by and watch it happen. Overshadowed by the conduct of the war in Iraq, the conduct of the rest of the War on Terror -- whether the torture scandals of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, or the excesses of the PATRIOT Act -- scarcely figured in John Kerry's campaign. When appointees like Gonzales and Chernoff sail through Congress, they reinforce a culture in which there is no accountability, and bad news is never acknowledged. It's one thing for Bush, who champions these policies, to promote their architects. At some point, somebody has got to oppose them.

© 2005 Working Assets