Michael Ratner assesses the presidential candidates on civil rights issues in US
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Michael, a couple of weeks ago, Ron Paul was on Meet the Press, and Tim Russert was quite amazed at something Ron Paul said. And I’ll play it for you now.
RON PAUL, (R-TEX) RUNNING FOR REPUBLICAN NOMINATION: We’re not running toward Hitler type fascism. But we are moving towards a softer fascism: Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military-industrial complex; you have the medical-industrial complex; you have the financial industry; you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.
What do you make of his use of the word fascism?
MICHAEL RATNER, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: On warrantless wiretapping, Al Gore used the word tyranny to describe what the president was doing, what Bush was doingï¿½not so far away from the word fascism. You’re talking about a president who’s asserted, in my view, a form of fascism in the United States, and one that you would hopeï¿½you would hopeï¿½that the candidates running for president would try and reverse or say we’re not going to go in this direction of undermining fundamental rights. And that’s going to be the test, I think, going forward.
JAY: But what do you consider the litmus test? What are the critical issues that are most jeopardizing American constitutional rights, and what are the candidates saying about them?
RATNER: One of them, of course, is the right to be free from torture, and that has been much mooted right now among the candidates. The Democrats, even though it hasn’t been widely debated, have uniformly said they’re against torture and against waterboarding. The Republicans shocking to listen to. I mean, at one of their debates, almost none of them said they were against waterboarding, except for McCain, who says he’s against waterboarding because he went through a torture himself in Vietnam. And of course you have Ron Paul out there, and Ron Paul is, of course, a libertarian. He’s against most assertions of governmental power, including being very, very forcefully against torture. But to hear people like Giuliani say that he believes in enhanced interrogation techniques and the president should be able to do anything to prevent terrorism. Similarly, you hear that from Romney. Huckabee has at least said he’s against waterboarding, but he just hasn’t said a lot about it. A second issue, of course, is what we can encompass in the closing of Guantanamo. Now, Guantanamo of course represents a number of things. It represents essentially a detention without trial, a detention without the right of habeas corpus (the right to go to court and test your detention), a detention where you can use the so-called enhanced interrogation techniquesï¿½a number of human rights issues. Once again, here is the Democrats across the boards say we should close Guantanamo. Now, you have to take all of those kind of statements by the Democrats with a grain of salt. Now, I litigated Haitian refugee cases in Guantanamo in the early nineties, and in those cases Clinton, President Clinton, said that he would close the HIV-positive camp for Haitians at Guantanamo. He said that before he took office. And then, when he took office, he refused to do it, and we had to litigate it. On Guantanamo, Huckabee has said that Guantanamo isn’t so bad, that it’s better than conditions in some prisons in the United States. He might bring the people to the US, but he’s not really opposed to Guantanamo.
JAY: Yeah, Romney said the same thing.
RATNER: Romney actually said he’d like to double the size of Guantanamo. So you’re talking about a pretty dramatic difference, assuming you believe the Democrats, that they will actually close Guantanamo, Edwards probably the most believable on that issue.
JAY: And McCain and Ron Paul are both for closing Guantanamo.
RATNER: McCain and Ron Paul are in favour of closing Guantanamo. They’re both against torture. They’re actually excellent on this issue. McCain is very good on it. And, you know, Ron Paul has just actually put in an American freedom bill legislation that he’s trying to get past that outlaws torture, outlaws Guantanamo, gets rid of the Military Commission Act, which is the one that essentially set up so-called mock military procedures for trying people. So Ron Paul on that issue is probably the most comprehensive and the best.
JAY: Michael, talk about the illegal wiretapping.
RATNER: What Bush has asserted is that despite the comprehensive congressional law, in the name of national security, in the name of fighting terrorism, he can go beyond that and simply do whatever he thinks is necessary. That’s a very, very serious issue. And underlying it, of course, is the question of is the president an authority that is under law, or is the president an authority that is above the law? And even though it’s a crime in this country to do that and the president could have been tried under a criminal statute for that, the Congress didn’t do much about it. Sadly, what they did was, even under the Democrats, they gave him a six-month extension while they were trying to figure out what to do. And now in this next week or two weeks, we’ll be seeing Congress again have to deal with the wiretapping statute and see what they do, whether they give the phone companies immunity for the unlawful wiretapping and whether they give the president authority for warrantless wiretapping. But all the Democrats are against warrantless wiretapping. The Republicans, of course, it’s a different story. Romney, all he says, all these guys say, people like Romney and Giuliani, all they say is the president needs to do whatever is necessary to stop terrorism, and he can do whatever essentially he needs to do. And they don’t think he can be blocked by congressional laws. That’s the position, certainly, of Romney and of Giuliani. Huckabee has not answered questions about wiretapping. Huckabee’s position on a number of issuesï¿½he’s been asked direct questions by various press people, he’s been asked to participate in interviews, and he’s refused to do so. So we actually don’t know Huckabee’s position on warrantless wiretapping. We do know Ron Paul is utterly opposed to it. Ron Paul is a libertarian, and he doesn’t believe the government has that kind of right to intrude on your conversations.
JAY: The entrance of the United States into the International Criminal Court. Clinton near the end of his term signed, and then it was never ratified after Bush withdrew the signing. The whole issue, the United States is the only major country not in the International Criminal Court. Where do the candidates shake down on this?
RATNER: Well, here’s an interesting one, of course, on Ron Paul. Ron Paul, as a libertarian, is utterly opposed to the International Criminal Court. He’s good on a number of other issues, on these civil liberties issues, but he’s not good on the International Criminal Court and he’s not good on the United Nations. And a person’s position on the International Criminal Court is really indicative of how they think about international law and whether the US should be subject, essentially, to international rules. And Ron Paul, being the libertarian that he is, does not want the US subject to those kind of international rules. So he’s against the International Criminal Court. The other candidates are the three Democrats, Obama and Clinton, have what you would call almost a wait-and-see attitude. They’re essentially in favour of it, but they think there have to be more protections for US soldiers and US personnel in the court. They buy into that worry, or at least they buy into it for the army.
JAY: Yeah. They’re really quite ambiguous about it, that we’re going to have to examine the record of the court, and they avoid taking any real position. The only ones that seem to have taken a serious position are Edwards and Kucinich and Gravel, of course.
RATNER: Right. Edwards clearly is in favour of the International Criminal Court. All of these candidates who don’t favour the court or equivocate are worried about the fact because the US does and US officials commit international crimes and we don’t prosecute them in the United States, they’re worried the international court could. That’s really what’s going on. So, actually, on the Republican side we have Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani utterly opposed to the court, and we have McCain, interestingly enough, being okay on the court. Interesting. And the problem I think you’re faced with is presidents generally don’t cut back on their own power. And one of the reasons people felt impeachment was so important in this period was impeachment would have taken the president down on the very issue of presidential power to override congressional legislation, from warrentless wiretapping to torture to everything else, and that would have been critical going forward so the next president doesn’t have those powers to use.
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