Glenn Greenwald explores the “we-are-at-war” argument and associated mentality, examining the four points by which George W. Bush’s legal eagles claimed for Bush powers nowhere explicitly assigned to the President in the Constitution, and virtually the same four points claimed by Barack Obama’s legal staff granting him the same extreme power… and concludes that our Executive branch, under Obama as surely as under Bush, is the effective mirror image of the corresponding self-image of al-Qaeda and other radical Muslims, and justifies actions as fundamentally un-American as they are futile, in the name of… well, of defeating our mirror image. In other words, as many of us have claimed in the past, we are becoming that which we most detest.
Here are the four principles the Bush team and later the Obama team advanced; after due consideration, I am reproducing them intact from Greenwald:
(1) Terrorism is not primarily a criminal offense. It is an act of war. Thus: We Are At War With The Terrorists.
(2) Those who try to harm the U.S. as part of this War are combatants and Terrorists — not criminals — and are thus entitled to no due process or any other rights to which accused criminals are entitled. It is the U.S. military (led by the Commander-in-Chief) — not courts — which decides who is and is not a combatant and Terrorist.
(3) Whether someone is a combatant or Terrorist is decided by only one thing: the President’s unilateral decree. Once the President decrees someone a combatant or Terrorist — including one of his own citizens — that person by definition becomes one, and he can then be treated as such without any further judicial process or Constitutional protection. Once that presidential accusatory decree issues, protections of the Constitution and law disappear. In sum, presidential accusations that someone is a Terrorist are the same as proof and a verdict of guilt.
(4) Unlike virtually every other war ever fought, the “battlefield” of this War is not found where opposing forces are shooting at each other, but is rather defined as: wherever an accused Terrorist is found anywhere in the world. Thus, the President’s battlefield powers — which are limitless: unilateral targeting for death, indefinite imprisonment without charges, spying on communications without any oversight – are not confined to any geographical location, but instead can be applied everywhere. Wherever an accused combatant or Terrorist physically exists — sleeping in a bed, riding in a car with his children, thousands of miles away from any actual shooting — is the “battlefield.”
It is difficult to argue against these four points’ being the core of Bush’s and Obama’s alleged counterterrorism programs, however different the implementations may be. But Greenwald asserts that this list… recited virtually without variation by anyone with whom one tries to argue against a “war” on terrorism… is not really about terrorism at all, but rather about the concept and feeling of being in a great battle of good against evil. Greenwald again:
But this need to embrace the idea that We-are-at-War! is driven far more by psychological and emotional desires than it is legal or policy views. It’s all about feeling strong and purposeful — we are Warriors for a great cause just like our noble forefathers who won the Civil War and vanquished the Nazis – and has virtually nothing to do with combating Terrorism. This obsession with mandating military detention for Terrorists — when civilian trials have succeeded more effectively than military tribunals in keeping Terrorists imprisoned — underscores its real purpose: it has nothing to do with counter-Terrorism and everything to do with clinging to the psychological purpose bestowed by War.
And so the former partisan difference between Democrats and Republicans dissolves… and with it the notion that either party is committed to governing our nation under the laws of its Constitution rather than according to their overwhelming sense of grand purpose. Our governing elite is literally prepared to “burn the village in order to save it.”
I can see no way to bring this to a halt. It appears to me that this course will continue until the United States of America is financially broke, lacking in anything that could truly protect us against a genuine invasion, and desperately trying to manage not less than half its population in prison for essentially ideological crimes. And if that happens… damn, we certainly will have earned it.