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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 02:20 pm

For peace on earth

If Santa won’t take George W. Bush away, Congress should

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If you’re old enough, news that President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency, apparently without legal authority, to monitor the private communications of American citizens must seem awfully familiar.
This sort of monitoring has been pursued before, when technology was less sophisticated and less intrusive, becoming especially notorious during the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Details were divulged in the mid-1970s, during congressional hearings that revealed exactly how fragile the Bill of Rights is in the face of a determined, politically motivated executive branch.
It is true; we live in dangerous times. Our nation faces real threats from forces we don’t fully understand. It is also true that certain individuals in our nation may pose a threat to our national interest. And it is appropriate for the government to take steps to protect our security and ensure that another 9/11 never occurs. But we are, first and foremost, a nation oflaws — laws based on our shared tradition of respecting free speech and assembly and of allowing people to hold views that are hostile to those in power, no matter how offensive or alien those views might be. This is our heritage; this is our birthright. In March 2003, our nation was pushed into a terrible war — a war that has cost tens of thousands of lives — by the Bush administration. The president based this war on bad information and outright falsehoods, and he has tried mightily, in recent weeks, to justify his actions, repeatedly shifting the focus of debate. Most Americans no longer believe him, no longer support this war. What credibility he has is eroded further each time he opens his mouth. He is, in my view, the worst leader this nation has elected in modern history — worse even than Nixon, a paranoid fabricator who at least knew when he was lying; worse than Bill Clinton, whose transgressions were the stuff of which bad country-music lyrics are made. The toll of this war hasn’t just been the loss of lives, including the more than 2,150 American soldiers who have died in a mission that still has no clear objective. This war has cost us our credibility. We’ve become a nation that imprisons people indefinitely, without charges, without the opportunity to obtain legal counsel. We’ve become a nation that degrades and tortures captives. Until recently, our president justified these extraordinary measures that are foreign to the traditions and the sensibility of our nation. We have become repugnant in the eyes of the world, and we are ashamed of ourselves — or should be. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, has been the Svengali to this bungling incompetent — and, in that regard, is even more noxious. Remember, it was Cheney who urged members of Congress not to support U.S. Sen. John McCain’s resolution banning the use of torture. I met recently with Mary Ann McGivern, a nun with the Sisters of Loretto. She was in Springfield last month to give a talk at an event sponsored by Pax Christi and other local peace activists. I became acquainted with McGivern when she headed a group pushing for economic conversion of the defense industry, particularly McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics, two old-line St. Louis military contractors that have since been gobbled up by other companies. When she came to Springfield, McGivern had just left her job with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as the group’s New York liaison to the United Nations. We spoke about how the U.N. functions, how the world views the United States, and, mostly, how bad things had gotten here. “The nightmare,” she said, “goes on and on.” I tried to sound a hopeful note — our nation had survived many, many dark times, and yet we’ve persevered. Good people will not be silenced, even in the darkest of times. And I was sure we’d survive the Bush administration; after all, there wasn’t much time left. It wasn’t until later that it hit me: Bush would be in office until January 2009. Three more years of governance by an administration of liars and incompetents is simply unfathomable — and downright unacceptable. You know the old adage: If you want peace, work for justice. We have a moral obligation to seek peace and to seek justice. Justice means holding people accountable. George W. Bush must be held accountable for directing agencies of the federal government, without any judicial oversight, to spy on citizens, including peace activists who have no ties to terrorism and whose ideology and beliefs are fundamentally opposed to violence. This revelation has understandably outraged well-meaning folks of all political persuasions, from the left to the right. Outrage, however, has not yet translated into meaningful action. If our elected representatives refuse to act, we must. If “peace on earth” is more than a holiday greeting-card slogan to you, it’s time to demand justice. It’s time to impeach Bush.
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