As the country enters its second post-9/11 decade, I asked renowned human rights crusader Chip Pitts about what civil liberties/human rights we've collectively lost in the so-called "war on terror" as what was previously legal has now become criminal.
Here's what he said:
"Virtually all of our most fundamental rights and liberties have been affected for the worse, with little or no awareness among the populace at large. The ignorance is no accident, but the product of conscious mendacity, manipulation and complicity among the leading political parties, all branches of government, defense contractors and the entrenched military-industrial-surveillance complex, and mainstream media -- all of which (with occasional notable exceptions) are tragically pulled by various perverse incentives in the direction of trying to out-do each other in pandering to the basest fears and instincts of the American Body Politic".
He added: "A huge number of legal violations have occurred, ranging from the momentous (illegal war) to the mundane (failure to fully notify the appropriate committees of Congress about the illegal warrantless surveillance as required under the National Security Act), but I'll limit myself to highlighting the most significant to the rights of the American public."
How has the "War on Terror' impacted the Rule of Law?
"The first category of infringements I would place under the general rubric of undermining the Rule of Law. Although all the regressions could be put in this category, some strike more than others at the very concept itself. If the Rule of Law means anything, it means that everyone is subject to the same rules of general application and that those rules are fairly applied: a "government of laws, and not of men" as founding father and American President John Adams famously put it.
"Yet we now have a much more arbitrary system of justice, in which people can be deemed second-class citizens and have their assets seized, have their travel and other rights burdened, and be stigmatized, imprisoned, or even killed merely by essentially unreviewable executive fiat."
That's the net effect of new approaches including the following, all of which impose serious burdens without the traditional checks and balances and independent reviews previously enshrined in law:
- Asset Seizure section 106 of the Patriot Act, which has led for example to the closure on legally dubious grounds of nearly all of the major Muslim charities in the United States, among other seizures occurring merely upon executive branch "designation",
- the notoriously error-ridden "watch lists" and "no fly" lists which have thrown certain innocent individuals into a Kafkaesque Hell from which there's no easy escape, setting a precedent for further pernicious "government by watch-list" that extra-legally allocates benefits and burdens,
- the TSA bodyscanners, which don't work to detect the plastic explosives which were their supposed reason for being, as noted by sources as diverse as the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- but have been shown to pose risks to privacy and health, disproportionately burdening vulnerable populations including children, the elderly, religious objectors, and the immune-compromised who risk serious harm from the cumulative effects of long-term radiation exposure,
- the reality of profiling on racial, religious, ethnic, and national origin grounds, despite official rhetoric and policies against it, facilitated by reliance on a (likely unconstitutional) broad exception relating to national security and border-related investigations,
- the risk that anyone could be subject to the military commissions regime, a novel secondary justice system in which the executive branch is judge, jury, and executioner and in which a person may find themselves arbitrarily placed without principled distinction simply because they've been labeled a "terrorist" or "enemy combatant" (thus US citizen Jose Padilla was shifted at the last minute from the military to the civilian regime after years of being imprisoned, tortured, and denied counsel as an "enemy combatant," and shoe bomber Richard Reid was tried in civilian court 400 other terrorists, but others find themselves subjected to the lower evidentiary and justice standards of the military regime, without reasoned explanation),
- Assassination (defenders call it legal "targeted killing") even of US citizens off the battlefield, without due process of law, without lawyers or the right to confront the evidence or witnesses against them, without the right to trial by jury or any of the other protections guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Haven't we also experienced specific infringements of fundamental rights crucial to our national identity and fundamental values?
"We certainly have. Even a cursory review of the Constitutional protections that have been compromised illustrates the point. For example: