Monday, November 01, 2004

The New York Times > Opinion > By BOB HERBERT: Days of Shame

The New York Times > Opinion > By BOB HERBERT: Days of Shame:
"There is a hallucinatory quality to the news as Americans prepare to vote tomorrow in what is probably the most critical election the country has faced since 1932. Osama bin Laden made his bizarre cameo appearance on Friday, taunting the president who once promised to get him dead or alive. Commentators have been compulsively reading the tea leaves ever since, trying to determine who was helped by the video, George W. Bush or John Kerry."

On Saturday, as if to take our minds off the sideshow, nine more American marines were killed in the Iraq slaughterhouse. It was the deadliest day for U.S. forces in six months. The death toll for Iraqis, which the U.S. government has tried mightily to keep from the American people, is flat out horrifying. Unofficial estimates of the number of Iraqis killed in the war have ranged from 10,000 to 30,000. But a survey conducted by scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad compared the death rates of Iraqis before and after the American invasion. They estimated that 100,000 more Iraqis have died in the 18 months since the invasion than would have been expected based on Iraqi death rates before the war.

The scientists acknowledged that the survey was difficult to compile and that their findings represent a rough estimate. But even if they were off by as many as 20,000 or 40,000 deaths, their findings would still be chilling.

Most of the widespread violent deaths, the scientists reported, were attributed to coalition forces. "Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces," the report said, "were women and children."

That people are dying by the tens of thousands in a war that did not have to be fought - a war that was launched by the United States - is mind-boggling.

Also mind-boggling is the attempt by Republican Party elements to return the U.S. to the wretched days of the mid-20th century when many black Americans faced harassment, intimidation and worse for daring to exercise their fundamental right to vote. A flier circulating extensively in black neighborhoods in Wisconsin carries the heading "Milwaukee Black Voters League." It asserts that people are not eligible to vote if they have voted in any previous election this year; if they have ever been found guilty of anything, even a traffic violation; or if anyone in their family has ever been found guilty of anything.

"If you violate any of these laws," the flier says, "you can get ten years in prison and your children will get taken away from you."

In Philadelphia, where a large black vote is essential to a Kerry victory in the crucial state of Pennsylvania, the Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania House, John Perzel, is hard at work challenging Democratic voters. He makes no bones about his intent, telling U.S. News & World Report:

"The Kerry campaign needs to come out with humongous numbers here in Philadelphia. It's important for me to keep that number down."

That's called voter suppression, folks, and the G.O.P. concentrates its voter-suppression efforts in the precincts where there are large numbers of African-Americans. And that's called racism.…

The Bush administration isn't engaged in a war on terrorism, but a war for the definition of reality.

… in a telling new Congressional report, Mr. Bush's secrecy obsession - by now a widely recognized hallmark of his presidency - is truly out of hand.

The 90-page report, matter-of-factly titled "Secrecy in the Bush Administration," was released with little fanfare in September by Representative Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform, and one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration's steady descent into greater and greater secrecy. The objective was to catalog the myriad ways that President Bush and his appointees have undermined existing laws intended to advance public access to information, while taking an expansive view of laws that authorize the government to operate in secrecy, or to withhold certain information.

Some of the instances the report cites are better known than others. Among the more notorious, of course, are the administration's ongoing refusal to disclose contacts between Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force and energy company executives, or to explain the involvement of Mr. Cheney's office in the awarding of huge sole-source contracts to Halliburton for Iraq reconstruction; the post-9/11 rush to embrace shameful, unconstitutional practices like secret detentions and trials; and the resistance and delay in turning over key documents sought by the Sept. 11 commission.

The report lists many other troubling examples as well. Mr. Bush and his appointees have routinely impeded Congress's constitutionally prescribed oversight role by denying reasonable requests from senior members of Congressional committees for basic information. They forced a court fight over access to the Commerce Department's corrected census counts, for instance, withheld material relating to the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and stonewalled attempts to collect information on meetings and phone conversations between Karl Rove, the presidential adviser, and executives of firms in which he owned stock. The administration has also taken to treating as top secret documents previously available under the Freedom of Information Act - going so far as to reverse the landmark act's presumption in favor of disclosure and to encourage agencies to withhold a broad, hazily defined universe of "sensitive but unclassified" information.

Under a phony banner of national security, Mr. Bush has reversed reasonable steps by the Clinton administration to narrow the government's capacity to classify documents. Aside from being extremely expensive, the predictably steep recent increase in decisions to classify information runs starkly counter to recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission geared to strengthening oversight of the intelligence agencies.

Not one for self-criticism - or any kind of criticism, for that matter - President Bush says he's content to leave it to historians to assess his presidential legacy. What he fails to mention is that he has seriously impeded that historical review by issuing a 2001 executive order repealing the presumption of public access to presidential papers embedded in the 1978 Presidential Records Act.
con·cept: The New York Times > Opinion > By BOB HERBERT: Days of Shame