Zealously hunting for a rationale to indict Julian Assange for the Wikileaks documents reveals the obsession of presidents to suppress information exposing improper or illegal conduct. They treat the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment as privileges to be withdrawn when those freedoms threaten to cause them a serious problem. Their pretext for their response is to blur the distinction between subversion and dissent.
Together with the suppression of individual freedoms, Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, unwarranted search and seizures, assassination squads, harsh response to protests and the designation enemy combatant are part of a security regime that leads Americans on a dangerous path to tyrannical government, some might even say dictatorship. Ironically, the structure of American democracy was heavily based on the fear of monarchies and the accumulation of too much power at the highest levels of government.
A healthy democracy is based on an open society with a free exchange of ideas and tolerance of dissent where seeking the truth is considered the noblest pursuit. John Adams warned us about the dangers of tyranny even in a democracy when he uttered the words: "The Jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arms always stretched out if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing." Former British foreign secretary Robin Cook postulates a far grimmer scenario when he claimed that: "All the checks and balances that the founding fathers constructed to restrain presidential power are broken instruments."
At the extreme end of the spectrum are those who believe that the United States is becoming or is a police state. Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant, argues that: "It is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps [to becoming a fascist state] have already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration." As well, Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, worries that: "It is no exaggeration to say we are moving toward a police state."
There have been numerous attempts since 1798 to suppress dissent in the United States but in recent years the sophistication of technology, a corroborative media, a climate of fear and the abdication by Congress of its critical role as a check on the powers of the president, not to mention its collaboration in the expansion of his powers, has resulted in significantly greater powers of the chief executive to suppress dissent.
Previous attempts to suppress dissent usually occurred when perceived internal or external threats induced fear over the security of the state in the same way that terrorism justifies the extreme security measures that are in place today.
When the United States was on the brink of war with France in 1798, the Federalist Party passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to safeguard the union from internal threats. The Alien Act targeted immigrants who might side with France and the Sedition Act criminalized malicious writings which defamed, brought into contempt or disrepute, or excited the hatred of the people against the Government, the President, or the Congress, or which stirred people to sedition.
Then in 1962, President Lincoln facing an armed rebellion within the United States suspended habeas corpus, the foundation of all the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.