Benjamin Franklin warned us more than 250 years ago that those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety deserve neither.
The daily revelations about the National Security Agency's (NSA's) secret and unconstitutional military surveillance of the telecommunications of millions of Americans and Europeans confirm what many of us have known for years, but have ignored or tried to forget: No government can be trusted with absolute power.
We wanted to believe our government could be trusted, and that the major erosions of our constitutional rights enabled by the Patriot Act were necessary evils required to protect our freedoms. To ensure we didn't question the law -- in an Orwellian twist worthy of "1984" -- the act forbids those under surveillance, and those who are compelled by law to spy and report on others, from even disclosing the existence of such investigations.
In the shock and awe in the aftermath of 9/11, we, as a nation, believed our government's top officials when they justified this unconstitutional power grab as necessary to protect our safety in the never-ending war on terror.
We bought the Big Lie -- hook, line and sinker -- and swallowed the continuing lies from our leaders in Washington, who denied the very existence of a growing militarized, corporatized, national police state that illegally spies on its own citizens, kidnaps suspects globally and imprisons them indefinitely without charging them with any crimes.
Oh, no, these same officials told us repeatedly: Your government doesn't torture, as our government water boarded prisoners (a war crime that the Japanese were convicted of by the U.S. after World War II), and kidnapped "suspected terrorists" globally and handed these innocent civilians over to friendly countries for torture in a gulag of secret, Soviet-style prisons.
Now, these same former administration officials -- including the president and vice president -- can't travel freely overseas for fear of being arrested and convicted of torture and war crimes in an international court of law.
Our current White House resident, who campaigned on hope, change and transparency in government, reassures us -- like President Richard Nixon in his infamous "I am not a crook" defense of Watergate -- that he is not Big Brother, even as he expands the surveillance state created by his predecessor that he opposed as a candidate. It's for your own good, he tells us. Trust me.
Before he left office, President Dwight Eisenhower, a former military man and decorated war hero, warned us about his distrust of our government's growing lust for absolute power: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
What will it take for us, as a people, to get our elected officials to fix this mess, repair the damage, and restore our trust in government?
We must demand that our leaders in Washington act immediately to:
End the manufactured global war on terror;
Repeal the Patriot Act and related Executive Orders;
Stop prosecuting journalists for doing their job;
Dismantle the surveillance state and prosecution of whistleblowers;
Close Guantanamo Bay and free innocent prisoners -- many of whom have been scheduled for release for nearly a decade;
Put suspected terrorists on trial in a civilian court of law;
End the military commissions and their abuses;
Outlaw indefinite detention and protect habeas corpus;
Abolish the targeted assassination of Americans overseas;
Halt indiscriminate drone attacks that kill innocent civilians;
Renounce torture and abide by international law; and,
Investigate all of these past abuses in public and create additional safeguards to prevent them from occurring again.
What must each of us do going forward? Constantly be on your guard and speak up. Our forefathers warned us that constant vigilance is the price of our freedom and liberty. "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right," advised Thomas Jefferson.
We must demand that the corporate bean counters who manage mainstream media -- the vaunted "fourth estate" and check-and-balance against tyranny -- allow journalists to do their jobs once again. Report real news and stop feeding us hourly Kardashian updates and alerts about celebrity wardrobe malfunctions.
Celebrity infotainment, by its very nature, is designed to take our focus off government abuses, Wall Street crimes and news that really matters to Main Street Americans. It's cheaper and more profitable to disseminate than real news and distracts the masses from the depressing realities of an American empire in decline. "Nothing new here with this NSA secret surveillance. Move along. OMG, look over there: a new Justin Bieber meltdown!"
Each of us must hold the mainstream news media accountable for doing its job. Until it does, stop tweeting, turn off your iPods, and talk to your kids. We need to remind the next generation: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Or in the words of President Eisenhower, "A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."
And as Jefferson advised: "When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty."-
Our liberty and freedom are at stake. When our government threatens to prosecute a whistleblower for telling the public the truth, strips him of his citizenship without trial, and forces him to seek asylum in the former Soviet Union, our system is broken.
Let us agree, on this 4th of July, to demand, without fear, that Congress and the White House promptly set aside their petty partisan squabbles, stand together, and investigate and dismantle this unconstitutional national police state run by private contractors, and enact real reforms to prevent future abuses (http://wh.gov/lO5an) . That is a 4 th of July observance worthy of those who died to protect our freedom.