Banana Republic Watch

Yep, it was a funny movie


Fielding Mellish (a consumer products tester) becomes infatuated with Nancy (a political activist). He attends demonstrations and tries in other ways to convince her that he is worthy of her love, but Nancy wants someone with greater leadership potential. Fielding runs off to San Marcos where he joins the rebels and eventually becomes President of the country. While on a trip to the states, he meets Nancy again and she falls for him now that he is a political leader.


Ah, he is leader of a banana republic, and that will do. The movie also had that classic line about justice in such places – “I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”


Maybe the Washington Post folks thought of this when they told the story of the Australian


GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 31 – The plea deal that allows Australian David M. Hicks to leave the detention facility here with a nine-month sentence was negotiated between defense attorneys and the convening authority for military commissions without the knowledge of prosecutors, lawyers from both sides said.


The deal shows that the politically appointed authority has the power to personally decide the fate of America’s most notorious terrorism suspects.


Putting it bluntly, we find Vice President Cheney went to Australia and met with their “anything Bush does is fine with me” Prime Minister John Howard.  Howard tells Cheney that the Hicks case is killing him in Australia – he may lose the next election because of it. Hicks’s case is then quickly moved to the front of the line at the new Guantanamo hearing – and we get a sort “legal” process “almost ludicrously inept” (to quote Andrew Sullivan) – with two of Hicks’ three lawyers thrown out on one day, then an abrupt plea-bargain, with “a transparently insincere confession.” So what is the sentence? Hicks is given a nine months in jail in Australia, before being set completely free.




Who negotiated the plea-bargain? Hicks’ lawyer. Who did he negotiate with? Not the prosecutors, as would be normal, but Susan J. Crawford, the top military commission official. Who is Susan J. Crawford? She served as Dick Cheney’s Inspector General while he was Defense Secretary.


The Post –


As the deal developed in recent weeks, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor for military commissions, and his team on the Hicks case were not in the loop. Davis said he learned about the plea agreement Monday morning when the plea papers were presented to him, and he said the prosecution team was unaware that discussions had been taking place.


“We got it before lunchtime, before the first session,” Davis said at a news conference Friday night. In an interview later, he said the approved sentence of nine months shocked him. “I wasn’t considering anything that didn’t have two digits,” he said, referring to a sentence of at least 10 years.


Sullivan –


If you think this was in any way a legitimate court process, you’re smoking something even George Michael would pay a lot of money for. It was a political deal, revealing the circus that the alleged Gitmo court system really is. For good measure, Hicks has a gag-order imposed so that he will not be able to speak of his alleged torture and abuse until after Howard faces re-election. Yes, we live in a banana republic. It certainly isn’t a country ruled by law. It is ruled by one man and his accomplice.


Or it’s ruled by Woody Allen.  But that was just a movie, from twenty-six years ago.


You’d think some of the military prosecutors involved in this would be a little frustrated with the farce. They don’t even get to participate in the plea bargain stuff – that comes out of the White House. And it does seem that more and more military prosecutors are refusing to prosecute “enemy combatants” in the great terror war. As the Wall Street Journal reports, it’s not that they think the guys are innocent.  They know better than that.  It’s the torture business –


When the Pentagon needed someone to prosecute a Guantanamo Bay prisoner linked to 9/11, it turned to Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch. A Marine Corps pilot and veteran prosecutor, Col. Couch brought a personal connection to the job: His old Marine buddy, Michael “Rocks” Horrocks, was co-pilot on United 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.


The prisoner in question, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had already been suspected of terrorist activity. After the attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower. To Col. Couch, Mr. Slahi seemed a likely candidate for the death penalty.


“Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands,” Col. Couch says.


But, nine months later, in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career, Col. Couch refused to proceed with the Slahi prosecution. The reason: He concluded that Mr. Slahi’s incriminating statements – the core of the government’s case – had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.


The Slahi case marks a rare instance of a military prosecutor refusing to bring charges because he thought evidence was tainted by torture. For Col. Couch, it also represented a wrenching personal challenge. Laid out starkly before him was a collision between the government’s objectives and his moral compass.


Add this detail –


In the following weeks, Mr. Slahi said, he was placed in isolation, subjected to extreme temperatures, beaten and sexually humiliated. The detention-board transcript states that at this point, “the recording equipment began to malfunction.” It summarizes Mr. Slahi’s missing testimony as discussing “how he was tortured while here at GTMO by several individuals.”


Sullivan again


Remember the missing critical Padilla DVD? Recall that David Hicks has been put under a gag-order against discussing the torture techniques used against him by the US? Evidence is “disappeared.” Detainees are gagged. Verdicts are pronounced based on testimony procured through torture. Col Couch is not stupid. He must also know that using evidence procured by torture is a war-crime. Every military prosecutor tasked by Bush and Cheney to prosecute torture victims is being set up as a war criminal. Bush and Cheney, meanwhile, secured their own legal immunity in the Military Commissions Act last year.


Under this president and vice-president, we are beginning to live in a banana republic.


Yeah, yeah – it’s the Woody Allen movie, without the jokes.


There is of course more than these trails. Recently a number Republican candidates – those who want to be the next president – attended a meeting of Club for Growth, and afterwards, the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru spoke to Cato Institute’s President Ed Crane about what they said. His brief report is amazing –


Crane says he was disappointed with Romney’s answer to his question the other night. Crane asked if Romney believed the president should have the authority to arrest U.S. citizens with no review. Romney said he would want to hear the pros and cons from smart lawyers before he made up his mind. Crane said that he had asked Giuliani the same question a few weeks ago. The mayor said that he would want to use this authority infrequently.


Sullivan –


I never thought I’d read a post like this in America in my lifetime. Isn’t this power of a sovereign to detain any citizen without charge at any time part of the reason this country was founded? And now it is simply assumed that this kind of monarchical power is fine. A country that grants its executive the power to do this is definitionally not a free country. It really is as simple as that.


Say, why did we have that revolution 1776 and all that?  At one point we did want to rid ourselves of a monarchy.  What happened?


Glenn Greenwald, the constructional lawyer, is thinking that through


Mitt Romeny can’t say – at least not until he engages in a careful and solemn debate with a team of “smart lawyers” – whether, in the United States of America, the President has the power to imprison American citizens without any opportunity for review of any kind. But in today’s Republican Party, Romney’s openness to this definitively tyrannical power is the moderate position.


It sounds like Giuliani is positioning himself in this race as the “compassionate authoritarian” – “Yes, of course I have the power to imprison you without charges or review of any kind, but as President, I commit to you that I intend (no promises) to ‘use this authority infrequently.'”


Two of the three leading Republican candidates for President either embrace or are open to embracing the idea that the President can imprison Americans without any review, based solely on the unchecked decree of the President. And, of course, that is nothing new, since the current Republican President not only believes he has that power but has exercised it against U.S. citizens and legal residents in the U.S. – including those arrested not on the “battlefield,” but on American soil.


And you thought tight-assed Republicans didn’t like Woody Allen? Well, perhaps they didn’t think that “Bananas” movie was a comedy.  Irony and satire are not their cup of tea – the just don’t get it most of the time.


Greenwald’s main point –


What kind of American isn’t just instinctively repulsed by the notion that the President has the power to imprison Americans with no charges? And what does it say about the current state of our political culture that one of the two political parties has all but adopted as a plank in its platform a view of presidential powers and the federal government that is – literally – the exact opposite of what this country is?


Now he knows.


And he does the lawyer thing, quoting Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in his concurring opinion in Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 533 (1953)


Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint.


And there’s that pesky Jefferson fellow. He cites Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408, Papers 15:269 – “”I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution”


But that’s old stuff, before 9/11 changed everything as they say, so he bring up Hamdi v. Rumsfeld from just three years ago. After the administration exercised this very power against and American citizen, they said this was a violation of the most basic Constitutional guarantees –


It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.


Heck, even super-conservative Antonin “Fat Tony” Scalia was joined by John Paul Stevens in dissenting – on the ground that the opinion did not go far enough. Scalia explained it clearly – “The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.”


Is anyone calling for him to be removed from the bench, for someone a little more hard-line? You never know.


Greenwald seems upset –


Yet Rudy Guiliani expressly does not believe in this “very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system.” And Mitt Romney has to convene a team of lawyers before he can decide whether he does. And Romesh Ponnuru can pass along these views as though they are the most unremarkable things in the world, nothing that warrants comment, just the latest position of the Republican candidates, like whether they believe in adjustments to the capital gains tax or employer mandates (though Ponnuru did note, without specifying the reasons, that Cato’s “Crane says he was disappointed with Romney’s answer to his question the other night”).


Greenwald also supplies the Woody Allen context –


… the context being that the hero and icon of the Republican Party over the last six years has, in fact, imprisoned U.S. citizens and insisted that he has the power to throw Americans into black holes indefinitely with no charges or review of any kind.


That is the modern Republican Party. Its base, its ruling factions, simply do not believe in our most basic Constitutional guarantees. For anyone who wants to dispute that, how is it possible to reconcile the above with any claim to the contrary?


And I doubt any Republican candidate could simply stand up and emphatically oppose this grotesque idea without creating real problems for himself among Republican primary voters – not even so much because executive, due-process-less imprisonment is important to the Republican base, but rather, because it has become a symbol of the Bush presidency, and one shows loyalty to the Movement by defending it (and the worst sin – disloyalty – by opposing it).


These days, it’s only those despicable “liberals” who whine about quaint “terrorist rights” like due process, so the loyalties of any Republican will be immediately suspect if they start chattering about annoying and obsolete liberal ideas like “due process” as a way of limiting the Leader’s powers in Fighting The Terrorists.


Don’t you hate living in a Woody Allen movie?  Yes, these two are “vesting themselves with the very powers that this country was founded in order to banish” –


One of our two major political parties believes that the U.S. President should have powers that not even the pre-Revolution British King possessed. Maybe that is worth some commentary and examination.


But then the president says he is like Churchill, leading the nation in an existential fight, for our very survival.


Is that so?  Sullivan throws the words of Winston Churchill back in the president’s face. Churchill, fighting a war against “the greatest evil imaginable, when the very survival of Britain as an independent and free country was in the balance,” spoke of –


… the great principle of habeas corpus and trial by jury, which are the supreme protection invented by the British people for ordinary individuals against the state. The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments.


… It is only when extreme danger to the state can be pleaded that this power may be temporarily assumed by the executive, and even so its working must be interpreted with the utmost vigilance by a free parliament.


… Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy. This is really the test of civilization.


Sullivan’s comment


America is now failing that test. And the Republican party has lost not only its own soul; it is busy mortgaging the soul of America and the West as a whole. On this, there can be no compromise. Until a leading Republican commits to the full restoration of habeas corpus for American citizens, whether the executive considers them an “enemy combatant” or not, no one who loves freedom can support the GOP. In fact, any lover of freedom should consider it a duty to defeat them.


Ah, but then you’d be a coward and an appeaser.


Living in banana republic is just no fun.  And Woody Allen cannot make it so.



About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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