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The Thirteen Stars and Stripes: An Expatriate's Alarm

By Emanuel E. Garcia

06/06/07 "ICH" -- - I grew up scorning politics, ignoring their local, state and federal manifestations for years. The assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK jolted me, but I was too young to respond in any practical way, though I remember vividly being plunged into a transient despair about our country which was accompanied by a fear of traveling over bridges. The Vietnam War, which I was very fortunate enough to elude solely by dint of age, was an abstraction despite my knowing several neighbors who served there. It was, surprisingly enough perhaps, only through psychoanalysis that awareness of the importance of political man began to dawn and a portal into the machinations of state opened. Nonetheless I considered my fibers to be imbued with the spirit of the principles upon which America was founded and declared and which set us apart from all of history.

Having studied the classics I knew well of the horrors perpetrated during the grandeur of the Athenian democracy and the glory of the Roman republic. But I really thought we were different -- that unlike these ancient empires and the modern totalitarian states of Germany and Russia -- the safeguarding of basic rights, for rich or poor (and as a result of the Civil Rights movement, black, brown, yellow or white) could always be relied upon in principle if not consistently in practice. A person accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, was assured by rule of law of dignified treatment and appropriate humane protections. The inevitable lapses that occurred -- and they were many and notable -- occurred nonetheless in violation of law.

The theft of the Presidential election of 2000 by our Supreme Court did not bode well. Nor did the opacity and obstructonism of the White House in the aftermath of 9/11. The queries of any reasonable person -- how, for example, could an aircraft penetrate the heart of the nation's capitol? how could the President not be whisked away immediately when suspicions of a terrorist attack were formed? why and how was a Vice-President given command-and-control powers over the Eastern seaboard ? why and how did WTC 7 implode? why was no higher governmental official, whose responsibility was national protection and security, not held accountable for breach of duty? why did the President not authorize an immediate and comprehensive investigation into the attacks? and so forth -- went unanswered. In fact, such queries were discouraged and denounced as subversive. When a Commission was finally appointed and the President asked to be questioned, it was with morbid disbelief that I learned he would only appear in the company of the Vice-President and with the stipulation that no transcript be preserved.

These phenomena, I concluded, were not consistent with the behavior of an agency that had nothing to hide. The popular stampede to cheap and bullying 'patriotism' was goaded by willful deception and the propaganda of fear, epitomized by Colin Powell's shameful appearance at the United Nations.

It was, however, the picture of hooded, bound and caged prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, prisoners seized under dubious circumstances, held without charge and legal protection -- prisoners beyond any rule of law, prisoners tortured and beaten and force-fed and murdered and tried in secret -- that struck my heart beyond all else. My America didn't do such things.

Then more recently the image of Jose Padilla -- confined in near-complete sensory deprivation, driven insane -- what on earth can justify treating anyone like this? What purpose does this serve except to cow the citizenry with the threatening spectacle of inhumane power that might be unleashed on us?

But far more ominous was the trail of legislation quietly enacted that legitimizes the destruction of all that has set us as a nation apart -- protection from unwarranted search and seizure, habeas corpus, safeguards against military or monarchical rule, renunciation of torture....

A quartet of laws has been signed that lays the complete legal foundation for the takeover of our constitutional democracy. They are the (so-called) Patriot Act of 2001 (extended in 2005); the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (which allows for the suspension of habeas corpus and the practice of torture and rendition); the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which facilitates the declaration of martial law and nullifies posse comitatus by allowing the President to station troops anywhere in the country and to commandeer the National Guard without the consent of local authorities; and, finally, the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive, signed on May 9, 2007, which in the event of a catastrophe would place all governmental authority in the hands of the President.

If we are a nation of laws ... then in light of the laws above, we are no longer the nation we once at least strove to be.

The convenient existence of these laws makes it therefore increasingly inevitable that a pretext will be manufactured to allow a tyrant to seize power absolute before the 2008 elections.

Am I crazy? Bear in mind that the illegal, unwarranted and murderous invasion of Iraq, a huge undertaking costings hundreds of thousands of lives (yes, even Iraqi lives count), was achieved in scornful disregard of international and domestic protest. It serves as a warning to the rest of the world that those holding the reins of power in our government will not be stopped ... and will stop at nothing.

Now nothing legal can stop these same forces from accomplishing their mission of total dominance, democracy be damned.

Not long ago I asked the esteemed Lewis Lapham, who had just delivered a brilliant talk on Tom Paine in Philadelphia, what practical advice he could give to those who would oppose fascistic governmental policies. Mr. Lapham knows as much about world and American history as anyone alive, but all that this most erudite mind could offer was for us "to get the message out." More recently Scott Ritter, who surely deserves to be included in a heroes' gallery, urges us not simply to impeach Bush, but rather to repudiate the notion of a unitary executive and its allied ills1. Yet Mr. Ritter fails to specify how exactly an informed citizenry – a citizenry who cannot trust that their votes will be tallied, cannot look to the major media to report the truth or question authority, and who cannot count on their congressional representatives to speak for them and set into action the popular will -- can go about the actual process of 'repudiation.'

Indeed, this palpable sense of political impotence is what drives so many citizens to apathetic despair. Just how many emails or faxes can we send to our senators and congressmen, only to receive boilerplate pablum in reply? How many letters-to-the-editor can go unpublished by our newspapers before we lay down the pen?

In the years before I emigrated to New Zealand, a country incidentally where paper ballots are mandatory and counted, I helped to organize a meeting of thoughtful and concerned friends to tackle just this problem: what exactly should we, could we, do? Several gatherings produced no clear consensus, and we resolved by default to let our aspirations be carried by larger established entities such as the American Friends Service Committee to whom we could donate funds. This however is simply not enough.

We have before us the clear but formidable task of reversing the afore-mentioned laws that pose so great a peril to our fragile democracy – and we have little time to do so. There is, however, a means at hand – the only one to my mind with any chance of success.

Like Cindy Sheehan we must get up close and personal. We must look the perpetrators, the enablers, the conspirators, the corrupt and the lazy in the eye. We must park our carcasses in front of every congressional office, every embassy, every newspaper, every television and radio station, and we must let them see our faces as we see theirs. We must ask them the uncomfortable questions they don't wish to acknowledge. We must challenge them, face to face, day in and day out. We must make ourselves unavoidable to press them into the service of political truth.

Let us choose for our banner, the symbol of our solidarity and resolve to uphold the Constitution and the principles of a government by and for the people, those thirteen stars and thirteen stripes of the United States at the dawn of their freedom in 1777. Let us hoist this first American flag outside our homes, let us place it in our windows, let us wear it on our lapels, let us bring it to our rallies and marches and sit-ins and camp-outsides.

Let us remind every prevaricating politician and pusillanimous pressman that the American Revolution is not yet over.

Emanuel E. Garcia is a citizen of the United States who now makes his home in New Zealand.


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