Following the months-long campaign of the right-wing media to tarnish anti-Iraq War Democrats as “appeasers” of “Islamo-fascist” terrorists, top officials of the Bush Administration, including the President, launched their own public relations blitz last week. In a speech to the American Legion convention, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ridiculed his critics as having misunderstood “history’s lessons” -- referring directly to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Hitler at Munich in 1938, and asserting that the current terrorist challenges are the product of “a new type of fascism.”
Vice President Cheney and the President followed up with their own analogies between “Islamic fascism” and Nazism. They suggested that those advocating withdrawal of American troops from Iraq are akin to Hitler’s appeasers, and that withdrawal from Iraq would invite an upsurge of anti-American terrorism.
In his speech to the Military Officers Association on Tuesday, Bush substituted the expression “Islamic radicalism” for “Islamic fascism,” but the message was the same. Following the emotion-packed election plan of “Fear and Smear,” Bush hopes to divert attention away from just how extravagantly his administration lied and bungled its way into the current mess in Iraq.
In his speech, Bush quoted Osama bin Laden to the effect that the main front in the power struggle with the United States is Iraq. The President forgot to mention the oft-repeated fact that al Qaeda has played a relatively small role in Iraq’s violence, which stems from a homegrown conflict between Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shias for political power. He also ignored the fact that it was the American invasion of Iraq and the incompetent management of the post-invasion occupation that created the conditions for al Qaeda to commit terrorist acts in Iraq.
The “Fascism Caper” is the Republicans’ last desperate ploy to cling to power. Bush’s political operatives had better duck, because the boomerang they’ve hurled might come back to clobber them. True, the apocalyptic Muslim extremists who urge the murder of Christians, Jews and anyone in their own societies who oppose a harsh, authoritarian, theocratic government reflect some similarity in thinking with Nazi and fascist philosophies of the 20th century. On the other hand, there are also significant differences which several commentators have extensively analyzed.
For example, fascism grew out of western, Christian societies. Mussolini and Hitler were born into Christian families. In classic fascism, the big industrial corporations more or less merged with the government and exploited racial hatreds to control the masses and oppress minorities and all dissent. Like al Qaeda’s brand of Islamic radicalism, it was totalitarian.
What Americans might want to ponder is how some of the Bush Administration’s policies, as well as its Weltanschauung, frighteningly parallel those of the Third Reich. Let’s examine them.
First, and maybe most shocking to lawyers, are the policies concerning the detention and trial of suspected terrorists. In 2002, Bush’s and Cheney’s key political lawyers told the President what he wanted to hear -- that he had the power to ignore laws of Congress forbidding abuse and torture of suspected terrorists. Career military lawyers and State Department lawyers flatly refused to go along with these departures from American jurisprudence. As documented in Ingo Müller’s book, Hitler’s Justice, the Gestapo’s Chief Counsel, Werner Best, said essentially the same thing about Hitler’s powers. Whatever the leader says is the law -- is the law. It didn’t matter what the legislature said.
Even after the Supreme Court’s June decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which declared Bush’s Guantanamo military tribunals illegal and his evasion of Geneva Convention Common Article 3 (which prohibits any cruel, abusive or degrading treatment) unlawful, the Bush Administration is still trying to maneuver its way into holding trials of suspected terrorists without providing even the minimum due process guarantees required by American military law. It is still trying to provide retroactive immunity for torturers and Bush policy-makers who condoned torture. That strikes a lot of thoughtful Americans as “fascistic.”
Second, corporate infiltration, and in some instances, control, of Bush’s administration has grown. One need only examine the relationship between defense contractor, Halliburton, and Vice President Cheney. He passed from government service to the Halliburton corporation and back into government service again. He used his position as vice president to lobby hard for the war in Iraq. Halliburton then received mega-millions from non-bid contracts in Iraq, where it proceeded to violate numerous accounting standards to rip off still more cash from the U.S. government.
There isn’t enough space here to document all the ways in which the Bush Administration has become progressively fascistic. Some include: the violation of constitutional liberties in its surveillance programs, its flag-waving nationalism and militaristic foreign policy, its relentless propaganda campaign against domestic “enemies” through Fox News propagandists and others in the right-wing media, and its cronyism and corruption.
If we are lucky, our political system will have the resilience to overcome the terrible damage inflicted during the past six years by the Bush Administration. If Democratic officeholders have the courage, they will leap to respond to each and every scurrilous accusation made by Bush operatives. They have already reminded Americans that the Republican-controlled Congress shot down numerous Democratic proposals to increase anti-terrorism funding (for ports, railroads and the like), but they need to go further. Democrats should alert the public that -- when it comes to comparisons to fascism -- the Bush Administration might start by looking at itself in the mirror.
Rivkin, a U.S. Army
veteran and author of GI Rights and Army Justice, is a San
Francisco lawyer who has trained foreign judges and lawyers in
international law reform projects.