When actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln (who was the first US president to be assassinated), this was not an independent action?it was part of an elaborate conspiracy to take down the entire government, one that reverberates with the modern history of 911 and the Iraq war.

It wasn’t just Lincoln who was targeted on April 14, 1865. Secretary of State William Seward almost died after he was attacked in bed with a knife that same night. Vice President Andrew Jackson was supposed to be shot in his hotel room that night, but the would-be assassin lost his nerve. Ulysses S. Grant was to have joined President Lincoln in his box at the theater. If he had, he would undoubtedly have died as well.

In The Independent, Andrew Gumbel writes, “The whole episode was, in many respects, an eerie foreshadowing of what happened to the US almost a century and a half later on 11 September 2001. The country quickly realized it was under devastating attack, but did not immediately know who the attackers were, on whose behalf, if anyone, they were acting, or how much more they had planned after the initial strike.”

During the Civil War, Lincoln, like Bush, did not hesitate to suspend Constitutional rights in order to achieve his goals. After the assassination, he was elevated to the status of a great leader, and the administration was given license by Congress to continue to ignore the Constitution on behalf of national security. The Civil War had just ended and the assassination was part of an attempt to decapitate the federal government and plunge the United States into chaos.

In the case of Iraq, the first Gulf War had ended in aqualified victory for the US, but then the 911 debacle took place and the US government reacted in a similar manner, by suspending constitutional rights for the duration of the emergency. However, this time, the emergency has become open-ended because of the Iraq war, and the suspension of crucial constitutional protections in the United States appears, with the renewal of the Patriot Act, to have evolved into a permanent extension of federal power over the lives and freedom of individual Americans.

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