Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

From the NYTimes review, published prior to tonight’s TV evocation of the torture and torture photographs, at Abu Ghraib in Iraq:

“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” will appall and sadden viewers worried about human rights and international law. But it will be just as discouraging for those who believe that the danger posed by Al Qaeda trumps even those humanitarian concerns.

Abu Ghraib wasn’t just a moral failure, it was a strategic setback in the war against terror.

Again, that’s February 22, 2007 on HBO, 9:30 pm Eastern and Pacific time, 8:30 pm Central time.

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Freedom of the Press

There is more than one way to erode the freedom of the press guarantee of the Constitution’s First Amendment. As a reminder, this brief Amendment reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment need not be eroded by Executive Branch subversion and challenges to the freedoms it grants. It can be eroded by the failure of the members of the press to investigate and report what they find. A single reporter faces enormous institutional pressures. These pressures come from major corporations that own broadcasting networks and newspaper facilities; from the routine, everyday sources for meeting deadlines; and from the “high-level” sources who, it is hoped, provide something new, however laden with spin. It is not easy to be a reporter, and it is even less easy to be an independent publisher of print media.

How this works is beautifully detailed in an article on the Media Matters website by Eric Boehlert, titled “Scooter Libby and the Media Debacle.” In careful prose he cites name after name of well-known reporters who were aware of the source of the information that Joseph Wilson, former Ambassador in Africa, had a wife who was an active undercover CIA agent, and that her name was Valerie Plame. In addition, some of these reporters knew that the story emanating from Libby and others in the Office of the Vice President was false. Their collective failures to report what they knew are carefully documented in Boehlert’s article, without flaming liberal prose.

In a similar vain, I have noted here Eric Umansky’s article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) on the U.S. record on torture, which asks “How Well Has the Press Covered Torture?”

<>The previous doctortwo comments on issues and articles connected with press freedom can be found under the titles “Press Freedom” and “Reason and Responsibility.”
<>The lack of press responsibility on the issues of compromising the CIA, and on torture, in the major, most used press outlets  means that as citizens we have a heavy burden of due diligence. This burden is the time-consuming search for alternate news sources, and failing (or suspecting) those as well, for reporting on the newsmakers themselves, and the newsmaking process.

The Imperial Presidency

The role of President of the United States is the ultimate in the fantasy of political power.  Legislators who are frustrated and disgusted by the process of producing laws, and further frustrated by an Imperial Executive who disdains to carry out the laws and directives of the legislative branch, look at the unrestrained power of the Chief Executive and wish to gain it for themselves.  Of course, they will do different things with the power.

Others, the Arlen Specters and Ted Kennedys and Russ Feingolds and, dare I say it, Orrin Hatches, in the Senate have settled down to do what is within the power of the Senate to do. I hesitate to name members of the House of Representatives, other than Nancy Pelosi, because the frequency of scandal discourages me from endorsing particular members, lest they later be tainted by some misdeed or other.  Nominations will be taken from the floor, on this.
<>The power of the Presidency is a different thing, somewhat unwritten, somewhat written, and perhaps unwriteable. In particular, since we (probably) will not use the power to impeach,  this power can be self-defined. Because of the ambiguity in the role definition, which leads Presidents to define and redefine the Presidency, we are potentially and actually in the uncomfortable position of being citizens of a country governed by a Presidential fantasy.

<>For a further discussion of the definition of the Presidency, please see this article by Garrett Epps, in Salon.

The Clash

I wrote the following two days ago; since then I have seen two articles which use the word “clash” to describe current political events. One of them, using “clash” repeatedly, is this article from Salon by Garrett Epps. My remarks below turn the word clash into an hypostasis, a living symbolic word for the present and coming period, The Clash.

<> We are less than two years from the installation of a new President, not George Bush. In looking at the varied events of the past two weeks, which include a number of announcements of presidential campaigns, and Bush’s State of the Union Address, I foresee a period of Clash. This next period of Clash may well undermine the presidency of whomever follows George W. Bush.A mobilized Peace Movement will clash with the efforts of those who have national office, not only in the Executive Branch, but in the Legislative Branch as well.

Efforts of centrists in the Democratic party will clash with the partially out-of-power progressives, to the point that they do not talk or work out a joint agenda. Instead, they will probably pull in opposite directions.

The troop surge and its purpose of securing Baghdad and then Al Anbar province will become a Platonic ideal. What is actually not too bad an idea of exerting our responsibilities for a usable solution to the chaos WE have brought to Iraq will fail in its execution. The reason it will fail is not that it is a bad idea, but that it has been proposed by a President who no longer has the political power he may have had at one time. There is nothing he can do to bring people together behind this idea.

The political attacks on the President will clash with the laudable aim of securing Baghdad so that people can live ordinary lives in the city, obtaining food and water and electricity and fuel and educations and jobs.

The next president will inherit the results: Bush will not have let go of Iraq, the securing of Baghdad will not have been accomplished, Global Warming will not have been slowed and stopped, New Orleans will not have been rebuilt, our national debt will be out of sight, and yet there will be still greater need for spending on intelligent programs

The need to make debate points will clash with the need to govern. I don’t follow Nancy Pelosi’s day-to-day activities; I observe, on limited information, that she provides a political outburst about once every three weeks. The rest of the time she is paying attention to how to carry out the responsibility of the House of Representatives to legislate responsibly.

<>I would add that the Constitutional imperative to impeach, to remove a dangerous and lawless president, will clash with our recent experience of stalled governing during the effort to impeach Bill Clinton.

<>The effect of the Clash Period will be the expectation that a new President will lead us in a Restoration. Unless such a restoration is truly an expression of national will, beyond political posturing, the next President will go down in flames attempting to resolve the problems s/he inherited from The Clash.