Neoconservatives hate liberty as much as they love war

While neoconservatism is most frequently criticized for its militaristic foreign policies, it embraces with equal fervor serious abridgments of political liberty.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published February 14, 2007 12:37PM (EST)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

Frank Gaffney, one of the country's most influential and well-connected neoconservatives, has a column in today's Washington Times in which he argues that the debate taking place in Congress over the war in Iraq constitutes treason. Gaffney specifically argues that the condemnations of Douglas Feith from Sen. Rockefeller Levin "really should be a hanging offense."

Gaffney begins his column by purporting to quote Abraham Lincoln. Gaffney claims that Lincoln said:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

This quote has become a favorite weapon for those who want to criminalize criticism of the Leader and the War. Jack Murtha's opponent in the last election, Diana Irey, cited this quote while discussing Murtha's opposition to the war.

But this quote is completely invented. Lincoln never said it. This "quote" was first attributed to Lincoln by J. Michael Waller in Insight Magazine, in a 2003 article revealingly entitled: Democrats Usher in an Age of Treason. But as Waller himself now admits, the quote attributed to Lincoln is completely fraudulent. Waller wrote in an e-mail to (h/t William Wolfrum):

The supposed quote in question is not a quote at all, and I never intended it to be construed as one. It was my lead sentence in the article that a copy editor mistakenly turned into a quote by incorrectly inserting quotation marks.

It was Waller, in The Washington Times' Insight Magazine, urging that anti-war Congressmen be hanged -- not Abraham Lincoln. But to justify their plainly un-American assault on our most basic constitutional liberties, neoconservatives like Gaffney simply invent quotes, attribute them to Abraham Lincoln, and continue to use them long after they have been debunked. Gaffney continues:

It is, of course, unimaginable that the penalties proposed by one of our most admired presidents for the crime of dividing America in the face of the enemy would be contemplated -- let alone applied -- today.

Still, as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate engage in interminable debate about resolutions whose effects can only be to "damage morale and undermine the military" while emboldening our enemies, it is time to reflect on what constitutes inappropriate behavior in time of war. . . .

The Journal has properly warned that Senator Ahab's [the Wall St. Journal's name for Sen. Rockefeller Levin] misbehavior is likely to have implications far beyond the immediate disservice it does to Mr. Feith and those who labored so ably under him. It will likely also have a severely chilling effect on the willingness of policymakers rigorously to challenge, and thereby to improve, the quality of the intelligence they are getting about tomorrow's threats.

If there's one thing that really should be a hanging offense, it is behavior that results in our being even less equipped to deal with such threats than we were before this phase of the War for the Free World began on September 11, 2001.

None of that is meant figuratively. Gaffney is really arguing that Senators who speak out against the President and the war are committing treason and that -- just as Lincoln "argued" -- those who are particularly obstructionist of the Leader's efforts to protect us, such as Sen. Rockefeller Levin, by virtue of his criticism of Gaffney's "old friend," Doug Feith, all should be hanged.

Shouldn't it be considered more notable when such a well-connected figure as Gaffney -- with close relations to some of the administration's most powerful figures -- expressly accuses Senators of treason and calls their criticism a "hanging offense"? Why does advocacy of ideas this extreme provoke so little reaction, and why are advocates of such measures treated as serious and respectable political figures?

And none of this is new. This is what the neoconservative New York Sun editorialized about pre-war opposition to the invasion of Iraq, and specifically the dispute over whether war protesters should be allowed to march through Manhattan to protest the war:

So long as the protesters are invoking the Constitution, they might have a look at Article III. That says, "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies,giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."

There can be no question at this point that Saddam Hussein is an enemy of America. . . . And there is no reason to doubt that the "anti-war" protesters -- we prefer to call them protesters against freeing Iraq -- are giving, at the very least, comfort to Saddam Hussein. . .

So the New York City police could do worse, in the end, than to allow the protest and send two witnesses along for each participant, with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution. Thus fully respecting not just some, but all of the constitutional principles at stake.

The idea that war opponents were committing treason by virtue of marching against the invasion of Iraq -- or that Senators who currently criticize the war should be treated as traitors -- is as repugnant to our political values and as radical and dangerous as anything which, say, the widely discredited Joe McCarthy ever urged. Yet the individuals who have argued, and continue to argue, for such un-American abridgements of basic liberties are not castigated or scorned at all, but instead continue to occupy perfectly respectable positions in what is deemed to be the mainstream.

Not only is none of this new for neoconservatives and the hardest-core Bush supporters, it is not isolated either. Countless other examples of similarly radical and freedom-hating incidents have passed more or less unnoticed.

After Howard Dean, in November, 2005, pointed out the obvious -- that the U.S. would not be able to "win" in Iraq (a fact which William Buckley, among others, repeated a few months later) -- Ronald Reagan's son and frequent Fox News guest host Michael Reagan said this: "Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!"

Ben Shapiro, writing on Townhall, urged that Dean, Al Gore and John Kerry -- just as a start -- be criminally prosecuted for sedition. And none of this should be the slightest bit surprising since the "Father of Neoconservatism," Irving Kristol, has long expressed disdain for America's most basic freedoms, as illustrated by this belief: "I don't think the advocacy of homosexuality really falls under the First Amendment any more than the advocacy or publication of pornography does."

It is true that neoconservatism poses a grave danger to the U.S. as a result of its insatiable quest for more and more war in the Middle East. But inextricably linked to that foreign militarism is a boundless hostility to the liberties and political values that have defined this country since its founding. All of the liberty-infringing radicalism of this administration -- its radical lawbreaking theories, its lawless and indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and "alien unlawful combatants," its use of torture both directly and via rendition, its secret and illegal surveillance programs -- all stem from the same neoconservative mindset which fuels its endless pursuit of wars. The latter is used as the pretext to justify the former.

This is yet further evidence of the corruption which lies at the heart of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Its wars cannot possibly lead to the spreading of freedom and democracy because the people who advocate these wars, and who are implementing them, are about as hostile to those values as one can be.

UPDATE : Attaturk makes the excellent point that the inconsequential use of vulgar words or "offensive" comments about religion from bloggers will provoke all sorts of hand-wringing and media attention. But truly indecent and dangerous ideas flowing from some of the country's most influential political figures in mainstream media outlets -- justified by fabricated quotes -- are treated with respect, and trigger almost no controversy and never any consequences for their advocates.

As Attaturk correctly notes, while low-level bloggers for the Edwards campaign were recently forced from their jobs, "Frank Gaffney will suffer no ill affects of this incredible wank-a-riffic behavior as he goes on FoxNews and fill-in-the-blank right-wing radio bloviators and as he continues to get his paycheck from some ironically named 'think-tank'."

Nonetheless, you can demand that the Washington Times retract its falsified Lincoln here.

UPDATE II: While Gaffney and his liberty-hating comrades are forced to rely upon fabricated quotes from former Presidents, there is a real quote from a former President highly relevant to our current political landscape. The following observation is from Theodore Roosevelt, written in the middle of World War I, as part of a 1918 Op-Ed for The Kansas City Star. It couldn't be more applicable to the Bush movement and to the accompanying neonconservative belief that anti-war sentiments constitute treason:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

Base. Servile. Unpatriotic. Morally treasonable. That about covers Gaffney and his fellow anti-liberty crusaders who seek to stifle criticism of the Leader by equating the most fundamental and defining American freedoms with "treason."

UPDATE III: It is notable that the Gaffney Op-Ed still remains unchanged, with no retraction or acknowledgment of error. It seems highly likely (though admittedly not definite) that The Washington Times is now aware of the fictitious nature of the Lincoln quote. Multiple readers here have indicated that they sent e-mails to the Times. I also called the Times and left a voice mail message (a couple of hours ago) for Commentary Page Editor Mary Lou Forbes, detailing the error and directing her to this post as well other sources for finding the proof that the quote is fake. And yet, the quote remains.

UPDATE IV: I spoke with Mary Lou Forbes, the Commentary Page Editor of the Times, who said that she contacted Gaffney about the e-mails she received and that he has now confirmed that the quote is fictitious. Forbes said Gaffney intends to "run a correction at the bottom of his next column."

When I pointed out that this did not really seem to be a sufficient correction, and suggested that they ought at least to append a correction to the top of the online version, she said that she had not thought of that -- pointing out that she was "an old print journalist" -- but said that perhaps it was a good idea and that they might do that.

I had intended to ask her whether they had any position on Gaffney's call for Jay Rockefeller Carl Levin to be hanged and whether that was the type of column their newspaper thought it appropriate to publish, but, to be perfectly honest, after chatting for a couple of minutes with the very amiable if slightly confused Forbes, it seemed clear that that line of inquiry was going to be futile.

Glenn Greenwald

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