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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/17/11

Reversing the Erosion of Civil Liberties

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Message Coleen Rowley
From Consortium News

--Politicians who constantly stoke the fear of terrorism while forcing underling officials to promise they can protect the public by "pre-empting" all threats (hyped and un-hyped);

--The erosion of the prior legal safeguards, including even the firmly engrained ethical and legal principles of jus cogens, i.e., internationally accepted legal standards like repudiation of torture and aggressive war;

--A "green light" on mentality prompted by the broad legal authority given to the executive by Congress enacting such laws as the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act, but also warrantless monitoring and offshore, indefinite detentions, authorities abrogated by the White House under theories of unlimited presidential war powers;

--Perverse, counterproductive job and profit incentives for the 854,000 agents, analysts, operatives, and private contractors/consultants who have been set to work in the new "Top Secret America" surveillance-security complex;

--Lack of any effective, independent oversight (despite the 9/11 Commission's prescient and serious concerns enumerated years ago, and the creation of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2004);

--The political need for war presidencies to maintain momentum in the face of popular disapproval of the United States' nearly decade-long, ongoing wars and occupations in the Mideast.

Such systemic forces will always produce a bad result.

Even the rather conservative Washington Post is quite worried about what's likely to result in this clearly out-of-control pressure cooker they called "Top Secret America." If it cannot be quickly reined in, we are almost certain to suffer replays of the worst of examples of Cold War McCarthyism and Vietnam COINTELPRO abuses.

That prediction is based on what has happened before when the militaristic forces of war got turned inward on U.S. citizens. Even if government officials are otherwise well intentioned, these forces will increase the chances for error and opportunism.

Some would say we've entered this perfect storm already, given the numerous examples of improper targeting of various domestic advocacy groups coming to light, most recently the FBI searches and seizures of various anti-war activists' offices and homes in Minneapolis and Chicago.

Let's not forget how the "war on terror" was originally sold to the American public as "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here." But now the "war on terror" is increasingly being turned inward on "homegrown" American citizens.

FBI agents are motivated, for instance, to try to check off "statistical achievements" by sending well-paid, manipulative confidential informants into mosques and apparently also into various advocacy and anti-war groups.

Even in the Iowa heartland, FBI surveillances, trash searches, terrorism database paperwork and statistical accomplishments for disseminating information back and forth about a few student protesters in Iowa City before the 2008 Republican National Convention filled hundreds of file pages without ever providing or demonstrating the slightest justification or suspicion.

Relatively simple ways to address and reduce each of these counter-productive forces, which followed the 9/11 attacks, do exist, however. If these remedies are applied, we shouldn't have to endure the worst civil-liberties abuses that have historically fallen upon common citizens merely attempting to avail themselves of their constitutional right to dissent.

These remedies also would not sacrifice our collective security but actually could and would greatly enhance it. The list below outlines the most serious current civil-liberties problems and the potential fixes.

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Retired FBI Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel.
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