Sunday, October 01, 2006

Doomed to repeat: Germany, 1933

From Daily Kos:

I know how dangerous it is to argue by comparing present events to the Nazi nightmare. But I did a little research, and the comparison between the torture bill that Congress is about to pass and the Enabling Act of 1933 -- the law that gave Hitler his power -- seems inescapable to me.

Hitler was elected Chancellor (a point conveniently forgotten by many) in January 1933 on a platform of anti-communist propaganda. In February, the Reichstag, the equivalent of our Capitol, was destroyed by arsonists, who may or may not have been affiliated with the Nazis. Appropriately cowed by these and other intimidations, the German parliament passed the Enabling Act that March.

The Enabling Act, officially known as the "Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and Realm," was short and simple. Its operative provisions were as follows:

Article 1

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich...

Article 2

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain undisturbed.

Article 3

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette...


That, seasoned with only a soup├žon of legalistic detail, was it. What it meant was that the executive was empowered by the legislature to decide what the law was. He was empowered to ignore the constitution. Neither the courts nor the legislature would have means to check executive power.

When the world saw the logical conclusion of that social experiment, it promised, "never again."

Never again.

That promise has usually been understood to refer to the Holocaust. To that extent, the tragedies of Darfur and Bosnia and Rwanda stand as silent refutation, differing in scale but not culpability. But there was another implicit promise of lessons learned: Never again would the people of a powerful Western democracy descend into the madness of unrestrained dictatorship.
That second promise was largely implicit, because it seemed superfluous. After the obscenity of WWII, the idea that it could be broken by the United States or its allies was unthinkable. And that promise, at least, was largely kept.

Until now.

Forget, for the moment, that the proposed "compromise" torture legislation effectively abrogates the Geneva Conventions. Forget that it effectively licenses torture in the name of every American. Focus instead on the fact that it "vests in the administration the singularly most tyrannical power that exists - namely, the power unilaterally to decree someone guilty of a crime and to condemn the accused to eternal imprisonment without having even to charge him with a crime, let alone defend the validity of those accusations." Focus on this language from the proposed law:

...(N)o court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever, ... including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions under this chapter.
...

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.


The language of the new Enabling Act is a bit more baroque than that used seventy years ago. And, to be sure, it is not as far-reaching as that of its predecessor. But make no mistake: Just as the 1933 Enabling Act created the context for dictatorship, so does this one. The German legislature told the executive that it had the power to make law and ignore the constitution. If Congress passes this bill, the American legislature will second the motion.
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Congress has passed this bill respectively in the House and Senate. It will find its way to Bush's desk very soon. Do you think he'll sign it?

Are Parallels To Nazi Germany Crazy? A SFGate.com article from 2004

Goodbye to our sweet dream,
night has fallen.

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