Bush’s Proposed Terror Legacy: A Legal Basis for Perpetual War

Just when you think that there can be no more outrageous proposals from the current lame duck government, and that it’s down to a straight race between Barack Obama, a man with respect for the rule of law, and John McCain, who, I fear, may allow the malign spirits of Dick Cheney and David Addington to maintain a presence in the corridors of power, George W. Bush, the least popular president in history, has made a last-ditch attempt to secure his bellicose legacy by slipping an extraordinary passage into proposed legislation dealing with legal appeals filed by Guantánamo prisoners in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush.

As Eric Lichtblau described it in the New York Times, the president’s advisers, believing that "many Americans may have forgotten" that "the United States is still at war with al-Qaeda" – which is an easy mistake to make, given that it is both dangerous and deceitful to describe resistance to small bands of terrorist criminals as a "war" – "want Congress to say so" and to "acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans."

I must admit that I can’t actually understand why the president’s advisers should regard this commitment as particularly important, as legislation passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks – the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed on Sept. 14, 2001 – has never been repealed. This states, unequivocally, that "the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons."

Notoriously, this is the legislation that launched the power grab that is the main legacy of the "War on Terror" for the executive branch of the United States: the open-ended declaration of war that enabled the president and his advisers to start two wars, undermine the U.S. Constitution, shred the Geneva Conventions, spurn habeas corpus, tear up the Bill of Rights, discard the Army Field Manual, create a system of trials for terrorists out of thin air, spy on American citizens with impunity, and pour scorn on the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

I can only think that, like some sort of grotesque power couple ostentatiously renewing their wedding vows, Bush, Cheney, and Addington have put forward this legislation in an attempt to renew their own deathly vows of unending horror with Congress and the American people. Myopic and arrogant to the last, they will presumably play this as an attempt to support John McCain and the Republican Party in the face of an assault on national security by backsliding liberals, whereas all clear-sighted Americans should see it for what it really is: another cynical attempt to absolve the administration of its vast catalog of war crimes by yet again attempting to convince the American public that they are America’s saviors rather than a dictatorial executive branch, serving only their lust for power and the coffers of their blood-stained corporate allies, and that as a result they require the American people to live in a permanent state of paranoid and xenophobic fear.

Author: Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is a historian based in London. He is the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in Guantanámo. He writes regularly on issues related to Guantánamo and the "War on Terror" on his Web site.