Guantanamo, USA

Paul Wolfowitz finally fessed up to the obvious last week: the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were merely a pretext for ousting Saddam. That few seem troubled by this brazen admission is a sad cultural indicator. Can you imagine FDR spilling the beans on Pearl Harbor or LBJ coming clean on the Tonkin Gulf two months after the fact? A nation must be nearing the end of its decadent twilight when its politicians no longer bother to cover up their lies.

Like any good Straussian, though, Wolfowitz understands the need for "noble lies." If most folks had known how weak Iraq truly was, then war would have been politically impossible. Our D.C. betters had to make the war seem relevant to American interests, so they screamed "anthrax!" and "nerve gas!" and "nukes in six months!" All for the greater good, of course. They knew that once the war was over, everyone would bask in its wondrous results (a dictator’s comeuppance, the dawn of Arab democracy), and forget its original justifications.

This "pragmatic" approach to foreign policy always has domestic ricochets. Citizens of the empire know the following response to government misconduct all too well: "Who cares about legal technicalities? The only people who will suffer when the police search every car on demand/raid every home at will/read every e-mail with impunity are the criminals." In a country where Bill O’Reilly passes for Socrates, such "arguments" are quite effective. The perfect tautology – anyone arrested is a criminal, and any criminal should be arrested. Beneath the airtight logic, though, are some troubling assumptions. Those who consider Amendments 4 and 5 mere "technicalities" don’t understand that they’re about much more than due process. Just as Article I, Section 8 is less a procedure for declaring wars than an impediment to starting them, the Bill of Rights hinders the prosecution of crimes that shouldn’t be crimes in the first place.

I do realize that the use of present tense in the last sentence was wishful thinking. After a decade of politically-motivated law enforcement from Reno and Ashcroft, we’re all criminals just waiting to be collared. "Suspicion of terrorism" is simply another way for the feds to get a foot in your door. Remember, they don’t need to prove that you’re a terrorist; they only need to call you a terrorist in order to unearth your real sins. As one agent assigned to the Byron Cecchini case put it, "You prosecute what you can prosecute."

Byron Cecchini is an idiot racist in Virginia who perpetrated one of the ghastliest hate crimes in recent memory: unlawful use of the Nike swoosh on a few t-shirts. That wasn’t the basis for the search warrant, of course. No, Cecchini was alleged to be a Nazi gun-nut terrorist who was planning to break his pact with Stalin and invade Poland and hold rallies in Nuremberg and bomb London and bomb Guernica and generally kill everybody. Which was true, except for the gun-nut part and everything after. It seems that the suspect demonstrated his true fealty to Nazism by not owning any guns. The sneaky bastard also deleted any Reichstag plots from his hard drive, and discarded any beer hall putschers from his Rolodex. But the feds don’t hop out of bed for a pre-dawn raid and then leave with nothing. No WMDs? No problem. Like good foreign policy, good police work is all about justifying the bullet after it leaves the barrel.

Now, Byron Cecchini’s a loathsome fellow, and probably not much of a civil libertarian, either. But he has now joined the likes of Steven Hatfill and Jose Padilla as one more trial balloon on the way to full exploitation of the PATRIOT Act. Rest assured that the public’s silence is being read as approval by John Ashcroft, who can hardly wait to take down the administration’s real enemies. Get ready for Guantanamo, U.S.A.

Hope you Bushies enjoy your lock-’em-up spree while it lasts, though, because Hillary’s gonna have fun thumbing through your LifeLogs. Five years from now, after you have crushed everyone who would defend your rights on principle, you may see us again as cellmates.