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Mukasey's Excellent Idea: War All the Time, Enemy Combatants Everywhere

by Dave Lindorff
Tue, 07/22/2008
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.

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 locking 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!

Lindorff speakingAbout the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at

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This story was published on July 23, 2008.