The march of individual freedom that is U.S. history has, during the last seven years under the Bush administration, detoured into an American Dark Age. It is hard to believe that we now debate medieval torture methods--the very practices that our ancestors fled Europe to avoid--as if they are common household activities.
Our Founding Fathers clearly banned cruel and unusual punishment, but Congress must take some responsibility for the current state of American values because of its inability to curb excesses in this administration. Members of Congress rightly argue they need a veto-proof majority.
After World War II, according to Human Rights Watch, the United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers for water boarding U.S. soldiers. In 1968, a U.S. soldier was court-martialed for water boarding a prisoner. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain states that it is no different than holding a pistol to a person's head and firing a blank.
Throughout world history, water boarding has been used by the world's cruelest dictatorships. So why can't our Congress come to grips with war, torture, and illegal wiretaps?
War crime prosecutions and impeachment come to mind as solutions, but Congress fails to even seriously debate these issues.
The first impeachment in U.S. history was against Sen. William Blount of Tennessee, who tried to incite the Cherokee to displace the Spanish from Florida. He was impeached for conduct that threatened our neutrality and peace.
Surely, falsely leading our nation and Congress into an unnecessary war for invalid reasons falls within this precedent. In 1974, one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was based on warrant-less wiretaps and illegal surveillance, which were considered serious abuses of presidential power.
Surely, belligerently admitting and vowing to continue illegal warrant-less domestic spying is an abuse of executive power. What does this president have to do to get this Congress to act?
What has emerged from the two recently leaked memos and the president's strident speech on Sept. 6 is a picture of behavior that is reminiscent of the most tyrannical kings of old Europe.
The memos show that in 2005, while publicly supporting and signing the Detainee Treatment Act (which again banned the cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment of prisoners), President Bush's Justice Department secretly issued opinions that allowed brutal interrogations to continue in defiance of the new law, existing prohibitions in U.S. law, and international law.
It would take a stretch of imagination to believe that Bush and his subordinates were unaware of these prohibitions. But again, Congress has failed to act.
Even more recently, it has been revealed that Assistant U.S. Attorney General Daniel Levin in 2004 was given the job of reworking the administration's legal position on torture. His research showed, understandably, that water boarding was, in fact, torture.
Levin decided to experience it himself at a military complex close to Washington and concluded that torture was terrifying, but he was fired before he could complete a second memo on the subject. The import of this is that the administration's own assistant attorney general was advising them that the practice was abhorrent and illegal.
Again, Congress has failed to act, as Congress failed to insist on the appointment of an independent prosecutor to look into the many possible abuses of the Bush administration as a condition to the appointment of the new attorney general.
The people's ultimate check on the power of government is fast approaching with the 2008 presidential and congressional elections. It is an opportunity for Americans to insist that we take the high moral road and follow more than 200 years of laws and traditions, and to insist that we exit the Bush administration's detour into a Dark Age that has led to the wrong war, torture, and illegal wiretaps.
It is an opportunity to insist that we not be diminished as Americans by an out-of-control administration, but to insist that we again be viewed by the world as a beacon for individual freedom.
No doubt exists that we need new leadership in this country that follows and protects our Constitution. The litmus test for our new president and members of Congress should not be whether they are Republicans, Independents, or Democrats, but how they rate on national values set out by our Founding Fathers.
All members of Congress should be accountable for how they voted on these issues. They must have the common sense to know the difference between what is morally right or wrong for America.
Ken McCalip is a North Santa Barbara County native and former principal/superintendent who holds bachelor and doctorate degrees in history, cultural geography, and law from various California universities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.