While observing the Fourth of July, Americans would do well to reflect on the fundamental principles of this country as found, for instance, in our Declaration of Independence. The true patriot is the American who is not content merely to celebrate the ideals of the Founders but who struggles to defend those ideals today.
In 1776 the Founders affirmed that governments, instituted to secure the "unalienable rights" of the people, derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it."
To illustrate how George III was moving toward the "establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States," the Founders charged that "he has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good." George W. Bush flaunted both domestic and international law by invading Iraq and by deceiving the American people and Congress with false allegations of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda.
Under the Bush regime, even some U.S. citizens have been arrested and held without trial and without charges; the Founders charged the king with "depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury."
Moreover, thousands of U.S. citizens have been subjected to government surveillance in the absence of court orders. Indeed, Bush admitted that he authorized agents to make an end run even around the extremely cooperative Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court which had been set up to handle requests by government security agencies to spy on citizens. (Such disrespect for the law led one federal judge on that court to resign in protest.)
A huge National Security Agency database contains information on phone calls made by tens of millions of Americans.
The Declaration of Independence continued its charges against George III in terms which ring surprisingly applicable to today's despot: "He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers."
On the home front, the Bush regime has given abundant evidence of its hostility to civil liberties. In the international arena, Bush has stretched his executive authority by committing troops to combat without any congressional declaration of war, by imprisoning "enemy combatants" without judicial overview, and by demanding that other nations refuse to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in any prosecution of members of the U.S. military.
The current practice of "extraordinary rendition" involves handing over prisoners taken by the U.S. in its "war on terror" to foreign states for robust interrogation, which probably includes torture and other practices of terror. The previous George was charged with "transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences." (Rendition some day could include transporting "us" citizens.)
The victims of Katrina, and of the government's criminal negligence in its response, may find some contemporary parallels in this accusation by the Founders against their George: "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."
In one allegation the signers of the Declaration reveal their narrow racist view of their Indian opponents: "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." The white invaders excelled in showing merciless savagery against people who were defending their own land, as a T-shirt extremely popular in the Southwest (depicting armed Indian chiefs) explains for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear: "Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492."
Our George can be charged with being the commander-in-chief of ground and air forces "whose known rule of warfare is," in many instances in Iraq as it was in Vietnam, "an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." In addition to killing large numbers of civilians by massive firepower, destruction by torture of prisoners is another violation of U.S. and international law condoned by the Bush team.
True American patriots today, struggling against an encroaching fascism in spite of all the empty slogans about freedom, could use the closing words of the Declaration in sealing their commitment: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Joseph Mulligan writes for The Village Voice.
© 2008 The Village Voice