By Dave Lindorff
Attorney General Michael Mukasey has caught some flak for
proposing, in an address to the American Enterprise Institute, that
Congress should declare war on Al Qaeda.
Instead, he should be applauded for his brilliant idea.
First of all, Mukasey is admitting, whether he wants to admit it or
not, that the Bush/Cheney program of capturing alleged terrorists and
holding them for years as enemy combatants without charge in detention
centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and various
undisclosed locations around the globe, and of torturing many of them,
are illegal actions that violate US law and International Law. So let’s
give him credit for that.
Second, he wants to make these criminal acts retroactively legal
and future such acts legal, by declaring Al Qaeda to be some kind of an
entity and to declare America to be at war with that entity. Of course,
doing this wouldn’t exactly solve the torture problem, since the Geneva
Conventions are fairly clear about the fact that you just cannot
torture. You can’t even treat captives in a war in a degrading manner,
which pretty much rules out things like stress positions and
waterboarding, unless perhaps conducted by polite men in butler
uniforms who address the victims as “sir” and deliver hors derves and
wine spritzers during the process.
But what’s brilliant about Mukasey’s idea is that it could be so easily expanded beyond just terrorism.
Once you accept the idea that a gang of armed men can be declared
war on like a country, it opens up a whole universe of enemies against
which the US could declare war.
Start with the war on drugs. Remember that one? It was never a war,
and no one ever really thought of it as one, but we could now make it a
real one, and have Congress declare war on drugs. Then, using Mukasey’s
war on terror model, we could just have cops grab drug dealers and
suspected drug dealers, and maybe even users, and just lock them up
without charge to be held for the duration of the war, like he wants to
do with terrorists.
But why stop there?
Congress could declare war on drunk drivers. Now there’s a scourge
that is killing Americans at a frightening rate. With a war on drunks
behind the wheel, we would no longer see people hiring lawyers and
getting their charges reduced to some trivial moving violation that
allows them to get back behind the wheel. We’d just lock ‘em up and
hold ‘em until the war was over.
Next we could have a war on littering. I, for one, am sick of
seeing our streets lined with soggy used soda cubs, balled up used
diapers and shriveled wet condoms, and all those plastic shopping bags,
If we could just start locking up enemy combatant litterers, the whole
country would look a whole lot better in no time.
Finally, Congress could declare a real war on poverty. We had one
of those back in the mid-‘60s, but we lost. Not for lack of trying, but
poor people kept getting poor again and dragging the rest of us down.
If Congress would declare war, the government could start rounding up
the enemy combatant poor, and locating them away for the duration. I
understand Halliburton is already building camps around the country
which could be used for this purpose.
Now I admit Mukasey and the Bush/Cheney administration are a bunch
of heartless bastards, and I wouldn’t want to see them treating the
enemy combatant poor the way they treat drug dealers or hardened
litterers, but with the poor, it could be a humanitarian kind of thing.
I mean, the enemy combatant poor would certainly get treated better in
those camps, with three squares a day and schools for the kids, than
they are doing on their own right now.
So I say let’s move forward with this idea. The Founding Fathers
couldn’t have been so blind that they were only referring to nation
states when they talked about Congress having the power to declare war.
They were a bunch of creative, forward-thinking men, and I’m sure they
would have liked the idea of broadening the meaning of war a bit to
include things like international criminal gangs, domestic criminals,
litterbugs and the poor.
I say, declare war and bring ‘em on!
DAVE LINDORFF is a journalist and columnist based in Philadelphia. His
latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and
now available in paperback edition). His work is available at