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Domestic Terror

Nancy Hormachea
Date Published: 
May 01, 2005

While the occupations rage on in Iraq, Palestine and Haiti, the Bush administration is systematically — and without much notice — putting into place a national infrastructure dominated by right wing extremists who sanction torture and repression and seek to virtually eliminate civil liberties in the US.

In mid-February, Bush’s CIA Director Porter Goss, backed up by several other leading government intelligence officials, told a secretive Senate Intelligence Committee that terrorists were planning another attack on US soil. Goss bluntly claimed that Al-Qaida or other groups might attempt to “use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.” Porter, however, didn’t bother to provide evidence for his grim prediction because the real purpose of his statement was to further instill fear in the hearts of Americans.

Porter’s alarmist assessment paved the way for the Bush administration to introduce a man with firsthand experience in meting out terror. A few days after Porter’s remarks, Bush called a special press conference to announce his nomination of John D. Negroponte as the Director of National Intelligence to oversee the nation’s 15 spy agencies and the National Counterterrorism Center. The new post embodies the most sweeping change in national intelligence operations in over 50 years and makes it legal for the CIA and military intelligence agencies to engage in domestic spying and covert operations.

The CIA Director’s warnings set the stage for Bush to nominate a man willing to overlook, if not enable, gross violations of human rights in Central America. While Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, human rights abuses escalated and CIA activities in the country expanded. CIA operations included the organization, training and equipping of the infamous Battalion 3-16 that carried out the abduction, illegal detention, torture and murder of thousands of Hondurans perceived as opposing the military and US policy in the region.

Negroponte will have to undergo Senate confirmation hearings before he assumes the job of intelligence czar. But, those hearings should not be a problem because Negroponte has received Senate confirmation already twice during the Bush regime. In June 2004 — despite his unconscionable record on human rights in Central America — the Senate swiftly confirmed Negroponte as the U.S.’s first post-Saddam ambassador to Iraq to oversee the country’s “democratization.” Earlier in 2001, human rights proponents attempted to expose Negroponte during Senate confirmation hearings held after his nomination by Bush to be the US’s ambassador to the U.N. The events of 9/11, however, cut short the hearings that raised strong evidence of his complicity in atrocities in Central America — and Negroponte was hurriedly appointed.

Chilling message

Negroponte’s latest nomination now comes on the heels of the conviction of Lynne Stewart, a prominent New York civil rights lawyer. Stewart was convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorism and defrauding the US government during her representation of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart, who is 65 years old, faces spending the rest of her life in prison. Stewart’s conviction has widespread consequences because it further expands what constitutes providing material support to terrorism and sends a chilling message to lawyers who represent clients with views or beliefs criminalized by the Bush administration.

Another new Bush appointee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — who didn’t hesitate to express his approval of the convictions of Stewart and her co-defendants — said the convictions “send a clear, unmistakable message that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals.” This is the same distinguished lawyer who advised Bush that he could ignore the US War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions on torture. Gonzales had earlier advised Bush, when he was Governor of Texas, on 56 death penalty cases that resulted in 55 executions. Gonzales again applied his legal skills in his Senate confirmation hearings to duck responsibility for the “Torture Memo” that sanctioned the use of torture in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The selections of Gonzales and Negroponte to fill key government positions that shape policy on civil rights and liberties in the US are consistent with Bush’s appointment of Michael Chertoff who wasa major drafter, if not the author, of the Patriot Act. This month Chertoff replaced Tom Ridge as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. During his stellar performance as assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department, Chertoff was responsible for initiating roundups that resulted in the pretextual arrests, detentions, deportations and abuse of more than 1200 Arab and Muslim men following the 9/11 attacks.

Records indicate that primary authority was vested in Chertoff who personally decided the fate, including mistreatment, of each 9/11 detainee. In response to criticisim of his actions, Chertoff self-rightously told Congress that he was ready to do the same thing again. Chertoff’s views on torture are also documented. While he was chief of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Chertoff assured CIA officials they would not be prosecuted for using various forms of torture including “waterboarding,” a mock form of drowning.

The agenda for these Bush appointees and others includes an all-out assault on freedom of speech and academic freedom. Republican Governor Bill Owens of Colorado — touted by some as a major emerging leader in America — recently succeeded in getting Ward Churchill, chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado, to resign for making statements critical of US foreign policy and insisting that the US adhere to the rule of law after 9/11. It is no surprise that Owens, who once threatened to call out the Colorado National Guard so a right-wing group could continue to celebrate the genocide of Indigenous People, is a vocal supporter of the Patriot Act.

Churchill, who had made his controversial statements more than two years earlier, was invited to speak at Hamilton College in New York. Some Hamilton College professors seized the opportunity to initiate a national attack on Churchill. Local AM DJs and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly eagerly joined the stampede and were soon joined by Governor Owens who wanted to drive Churchill out of Colorado. Ward Churchill resigned as chair of the department — but as a tenured professor, he continues to speak out against the repression.

Bush’s appointments of Gonzales, Negroponte and Chertoff are meant to silence progressive forces and coerce us into accepting their unacceptable agenda. In shaping our response to the emerging police state it makes sense to remember the words of Malcolm X, “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless s/he has her or his freedom [she and her added].”