Saturday, December 31, 2005


Brilliantly bungled. Ridgeway article on Bushco depradations against civil rights

James Ridgeway is one of those frustratingly brilliant journalists who manage to bury important stories in a mishmash of sloppy writing. Let's write it the way it should have been written: The 9-11 attacks provided the rationale for what amounts to a Bush family coup against the Constitution. From the outset, President George Bush used 9-11 to reorganize and increase the federal government's reach ...It is little wonder both left and right have come together to fight Bush...After all, [the Administration is] directly engaged in overthrowing constitutional government. How did this all come about? So far, so cool. It's a straight recitation of the train of abuses and it lays the theme of the story: left and right come together to resist excesses. Then there's a good section on the pre-FISA history: Between 1960 and 1974, the FBI conducted half a million investigations of so-called subversives, without a single conviction, and maintained files on well over a million Americans. The FBI tapped phones, opened mail, planted bugs, and burglarized homes and offices. At least 26,000 individuals were at one point catalogued on an FBI list of persons to be rounded up in the event of a "national emergency." Hoover was particularly obsessed with Martin Luther King ...Meanwhile, the CIA began spying domestically. The Agency planted informants of its own within the United States, especially on college campuses. Between 1953 and 1973, they opened and photographed nearly a quarter of a million first-class letters, producing an index of nearly 1.5 million names. Under something called Operation CHAOS, separate files were created on approximately 7,200 Americans and over 100 domestic groups. Again, very good. It would have been nice if he had mentioned that it was Nixon's decision to stop spying on African Americans and the left and shift over to spying on mainstream whites like Jack Anderson and the head of the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence O'Brien, that brought this happy little tyranny crashing down. Yet the name of Nixon is nowhere mentioned. Ridgeway skips over with a brief phrase one of the most outrageous abuses of the 1980s, the FBIs insertion of agents into groups--many of them religious-- opposing the illegal Central American war. They are believed to have engaged in making death threats and conducting breakins, as well as perhaps attempting to lure peaceful activists into committing violent crimes. You can read the DoJ's version of things here. There are substantially less generous characterizations of their actions. For example: informer who infiltrated the Dallas CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), a group which regularly met in a church, reports that his FBI contact encouraged him to seduce one of the nuns in the group and film it. It's very hard to thing of anything much more scummy than that, but read much history and you'll find some. And then, in what troubles me the most about the article, this paragraph: The shooting at Ruby Ridge and the raid in Waco galvanized not just the right but the heartland against the Bureau. At Ruby Ridge, it was an FBI sniper killing a mother with a baby in her arms. At Waco it was a monstrous assault on a religious enclave. And the Bureau's handling of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995-with botched lab work and lost documents-to this day fuels the controversy over the government's role in that catastrophe. Recent evidence suggests a federal agent may have penetrated the gang that conducted the bombing. The informant told her superior, who sat on the information until long after the bombing. Um. Let's see. At Waco, four agents attempting to serve a lawful warrant were shot down in cold blood. At Ruby Ridge, an agent was killed while attempting to serve a lawful warrant. Aren't they and their parents and widows and surviving children also human beings, worthy of being remembered with at least the same consideration as Vernon Howell and the people that he burned to death at Waco, or Randy Weaver and his wife? And there is no "recent evidence" about Oklahoma City, unless "recent" means allegations going back almost 10 years of involvement by a German named Andrew Strassmeier and an extremist group centered at Elohim City. So, if what is bringing together left and right is Waco and the federal abduction and torture of Maher Arar, they should stay apart. There is absolutely no comparison. Ridgeway cheapened and trivialized an important story, of how difficult it is to do good law enforcement while not giving police and intelligence agencies so much power that they commit grave crimes against liberty, by throwing in what are minor abuses.
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