Florian von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others is a fabulous film about surveillance by the Stasi, the East German secret police, and a warning to everyone in the “free” world.
It is not quite impossible to see in G. Bush a new E. Honecker (1912-94, seen here at right), the communist dictator (1971-89) of East Germany (pop. 17 million). He was put on trial for crimes against the state in 1993, but cheated the gallows by acquiring cancer of the liver and died in exile in Chile.
“I want POWERRR!” rasps Jackie in Keating: The Musical. Given half an excuse, politicians will grab any bit of power lying around.
September 11, 2001 gave Bush the excuse to sign a secret executive order giving the National Security Agency the power to surveill without a warrant any of the US’s 300 million citizens.
The NSA’s c.30,000 operatives targeted bankers and, no doubt in true Stasi form, anyone expressing mild dissent, including elements of the media.
Whatever Dick Cheney’s docile Humpties on the Supreme Court eventually find, the executive order was plainly illegal under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment of 1791:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The spy programme was still unknown to the public when it was due to be renewed on Thursday, March 11, 2004. In case it leaked during the election year, Bush wanted the Justice Department to sign the order, but Attorney General John Ashcroft, his deputy, Jim Comey (pic), and FBI Director Bob Mueller all agreed it was illegal.
At the time, Ashcroft was in intensive care in George Washington Hospital following an operation to remove his gall bladder. Acting AG Comey seems to be a straight arrow kind of lawyer: he appointed the relentless Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Cheney’s lackey, I. Libby.
Comey told the White House he would not sign the order.
A scene from The Godfather
What follows derives from Comey’s stunning evidence to a Senate committee on May 15, 2007. US commentators were struck by echoes of The Godfather scene in which Al Pacino saves Marlon Brando from being whacked in a hospital by his enemies.
After 7.30 pm on Wednesday, March 10, 2004, Mrs Janet Ashcroft (seen here with hubby) got a call at the hospital from Bush’s gofer, Andrew Card, to say that he and Bush’s entirely disreputable mouthpiece, Alberto (Seedy) Gonzales, wanted to see Ashcroft.
Janet Ashcroft replied that her husband was too sick but then the President called and told her Gonzales and Card were on their way to the hospital.
Mrs Ashcroft had her husband’s chief of staff warn Comey, who was being driven home by his FBI muscle, of what was unfolding. Comey told the Senate committee:
“I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the Attorney General was, there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me.”
Comey’s driver, instructed to get to the hospital as fast as possible, switched on the siren and the flashing lights. Advised by Comey of what was afoot, Mueller said he too would go to the hospital. Mueller told the agents guarding the hospital, “not to allow Comey to be removed from [Ashcroft’s] room under any circumstances”.
At the hospital, Comey, 6ft 8in, “literally ran up the stairs” minutes ahead of Bush’s apparatchiks. He found Ashcroft in a darkened room hardly aware of his surroundings.
Ignoring Comey, Gonzales, carrying an envelope, “began to discuss why [he and Card] were there, to seek his approval for a matter”.
But Ashcroft: “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view … And as he laid back down, he said, ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the Attorney General. There is the Attorney General.” And he pointed to Comey.
Gonzales and Card left. Card soon after called Comey at the hospital and “demanded that I come to the White House immediately”.
Comey replied, “that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present”.
Bush, apparently urged by Cheney, his shyster, David Addington (Justinian, July 25, 2006), Gonzales, and Card, reauthorized the illegal spy program next day, but on the Wednesday Comey and Mueller separately told Bush that they and other Justice Department officers, probably including Ashcroft, were ready to resign on the issue.
Bush goes to water
Bush knew what that meant. A raft of impeachment bills followed the October 20, 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, in which Nixon dismissed Attorney General Elliott Richardson and deputy AG William Ruckelshaus for refusing to dismiss Archie Cox, the Watergate Special Prosecutor. Solicitor General Robert Bork (pic) was procured to do the dirty work.
Bush buckled. He told Mueller to tell Comey to put the spy program on a proper legal footing.
It’s a pity Bush did not mulishly persist. The illegal spying would have emerged with the resignations; even that dullard, John Kerry, would have won the election in November 2004; the Iraq war would be over.
As it was, the program remained a secret until The New York Times disclosed it in December 2005.
Not the least amazing thing about Jim Comey’s sensational evidence is that it was not mentioned by US TV stations CBS and ABC, or by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, or for all I know other Australian organs of record.
Perhaps the copy-tasters thought it was just too boring.