Comparing Bush and Obama on the “War on Terror”
By Dennis Loo (5/30/13)
In what proved extremely illuminating in light of recent events, today I looked back over some of Jane Mayer’s 2008 book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.
In Chapter Four, Mayer recounts the struggle between the Senate’s Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D) and the Bush White House in the week after 9/11/01. Congress was about to pass the Authorization to Use Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) but on the verge of the vote Alberto Gonzales, then Bush’s White House Counsel, approached with a request that Congress give the White House the power to wage war on suspected terrorists not just abroad but inside the U.S.
Daschle said in response to Gonzales’ request, “We were just dumbfounded.” As Mayer puts it, “The White House wanted to target not just those terrorists who could be linked to the September 11 attacks, but anyone whom the President deemed a terrorist.” (p. 44-45)
After considerable haggling, the White House was given almost but not all of what they wanted. Literally minutes before Daschle was about to present the approved language to Congress for the vote, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, conveying a new message from Gonzales, asked for the words “in the United States” to be included in the President’s proposed battle zone.
As Mayer puts it, “The wording would have given President Bush the authority to round up American citizens as enemy combatants, potentially stripping them of their civil liberties.” (p. 45) Daschle refused and Congress passed the AUMF without the addition “in the United States.”
Undaunted that Congress would not give them everything they demanded, the Bush White House went to its lawyers at the DOJ and got the lawyers to draft up secret memos1 which Congress did not learn about until three years later that gave the President the powers that Congress would not, and then some:
“If the president decided the threat justified deploying the military inside the country,” the federal government could legally “raid or attack dwellings where terrorists were thought to be, despite risks that third parties could be killed or injured by exchanges of fire.” The government could also shoot down civilian airliners hijacked by terrorists and set up military checkpoints inside the American cities. (p. 46)
What makes this material particularly useful at this point is when we compare what the Bush White House asked for unsuccessfully of Congress on September 14, 2001 when the AUMF was passed, and what Congress and President Obama have done since. What Congress balked at in 2001 it willingly passed in 2012 in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and then again in the NDAA of 2013.
What Tom Daschle and other Senate leaders were scandalized by as patently unconstitutional in 2001, was something that the Democratic Party leadership was so alright with that the Democratic liberals comprised the winning margin in passing in 2012. Had the liberals not voted for NDAA, it would not have passed. Take note, those of you who put your faith in liberal Democrats to stem the tide of tyranny that the Republicans would impose if liberals did not stand in their way.
On May 23, 2013 Obama gave a speech in which for the first time in his administration, the targets for drones were described not as “senior figures in al-Qaeda” but in the same manner that Bush wanted to – “anyone that the President deems a terrorist”: “those who want to kill us,” “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat,” and “all potential terrorist targets.” This is precisely what Bush wanted.
What then is the difference here between the Republican President with a Democratically controlled Congress in 2001 and a Democratic President with a Democratic Senatorial majority in 2012 and 2013? The difference is that one is a Republican and the other is a Democrat and Americans have the inalienable right to choose whether a Republican or a Democrat destroys our civil liberties and kills and tortures people. Who is doing it is what matters, and how they describe what they are doing, not what they are doing. When Obama does it, he expresses agony and regret. When a Republican does the exact same thing, he or she does it gleefully. Viva la difference!
1Under Obama a whistleblower leaked to NBC a secret DOJ memo, reported by NBC on February 4, 2013, that showed that the Obama Administration was covertly preparing legal justifications for killing Americans on American soil with drones. This revelation courtesy of a whistleblower is what prompted Sen. Rand Paul to question Eric Holder about this secret White House plan. To satisfy Paul, Holder finally wrote him a letter in which he semantically distanced himself from the memo by stating that the POTUS would not use lethal force on Americans on American soil unless that American was "engaged in combat." Obama's remarks in his May 23, 2013 speech in which he describes those eligible to be killed with drones if someone is designated a terrorist because they "pose a continuing and imminent threat" or falls into the category of "all potential terrorist targets" makes clear that Holder's "engaged in combat" was merely semantic dissembling. No wonder the Obama Administration has prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers as all prior presidents combined!