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Rogue Leader

Jason Priestley

MIT students like to complain about campus dining, but it could be worse. Consider Mohammed Bawazir, one of the many Guantanamo Bay detainees participating in a hunger strike. Bawazir was strapped down to a restraining chair, and force-fed for two hours through a largeish tube, inserted through his nose. The tube was larger than normal and the restraints more severe.

Torture, or not? If Bawazir’s claims of torture are true, the actions would be illegal under the recent McCain amendment. The Bush administration doesn’t disagree, exactly. Rather, its argument is that Bawazir, an “enemy combatant,” lacks the legal standing to bring his case to court. Therefore, the legality of his treatment is quite irrelevant. Isn’t that cute?

Or consider this: in 2004, the US Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in the case of Rasul v. Bush. Rasul had been held at Guantanamo for two years without being charged and without access to a lawyer. He claimed that he had the legal right to challenge his incarceration in the US court system. The Supreme Court upheld this right.

The Bush administration had lost the right to detain “enemy combatants” indefinitely without charge at Guantanamo Bay. So they complied with the letter of the ruling — by detaining “enemy combatants” indefinitely without charge at Bagram, in Afghanistan. Since 2004, the number of detainees at the Bagram facility has quintupled, while transfers to Guantanamo Bay have stopped completely.

One group of Bagram detainees is particularly troublesome: transfers from CIA “black sites.” The problem is that these sites have not been officially acknowledged, and their legal status is unclear. When McCain’s anti-torture amendment was being voted on in the Senate, Cheney asked for an exception for the CIA, so it is probable that the CIA is or was using torture at these “black sites.” These issues could put the Bush administration in some legal trouble if they ever made it to court, so it is apparently easier just to detain people indefinitely without rights.

We are faced here with a rogue administration. It acts in contravention of established law, using the most tenuous and weaselly of excuses, and its actions are bringing shame and infamy to the United States. It is high time, I think, for the United States to eat its Brussels sprouts. We must hold George W. Bush accountable to law, by impeachment if necessary.

Are Bush’s actions really so bad? And do we really need to hold him accountable? In both cases, the answer is yes.

Bush’s actions are outrageous for several reasons. For me, the strongest reason is that he violates the human rights of those he would label as terrorists. Of course, such an argument is unlikely to convince the 61 percent of Americans who support torture in at least some situations.

Still, there are more pragmatic arguments against Bush’s actions abroad. First, there is the international response. We are bound to anger some of our allies through these actions; for example, Britain can not have been happy to have had its citizens incarcerated at Guantanamo. More to the point, there is the reaction of the Middle East, and of Iraq.

What message do we send to Iraq, where we hope to foster democracy, if our own leader acts as if he is above our laws? If our own leader commits torture and dodges the principle of due process? If our own leader hold himself above international agreements on human rights? What sort of democracy do we expect them to create, by following our example?

Some sort of answer was given recently when Faik Bakir, director of the Baghdad Morgue, revealed that the morgue had been receiving thousands of bodies exhibiting evidence of torture and murder. The killings have apparently been carried out by “death squads,” with ties to groups within the Iraq government. Perhaps it is not as bleak as it seems. Perhaps these “death squads” had declared the victims to be “enemy combatants.”

Surely, the desire to set an example for the world should motivate us to cease our inhumane practices. But quite aside from the problem of international reaction, there is the principle of checks and balances to be considered. Bush has declared himself to be above the law. Our constitution is obviously not intended to support this. The Framers realized more than two hundred years ago that the only way to prevent tyranny was to make sure that no man was above the law. This was precisely why the powers of the legislative and judicial branches were balanced against those of the executive, and it is precisely these checks on executive power which Bush is now ignoring.

Nor can we hope to hold Bush accountable without substantial punitive action, most likely impeachment. The legislature can certainly pass laws telling Bush what he can and cannot do. But mere laws, without the will to enforce them, determine nothing. Congress forbade wiretaps, but Bush proceeded with them anyway. Congress forbade torture, but Bush is using it anyway. It is clear that no degree of legislative action will curb this wild dog we call President, and it is clear that the only recourse left to us is to call Bush to account, to impeach him for his crimes against the nation and against humanity.

Jason Priestley is a member of the class of 2008.