"[F]orce alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war -- through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments -- will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways."--Barack Obama, May 23, 2013
President Obama's declaration that "America is at a crossroads" in the fight against terror, a fight that is increasingly turning inwards, setting its sights on homegrown extremists, should give every American pause.
We have indeed reached a crossroads. History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom. Certainly, this is a time when government officials operate off their own inscrutable, self-serving playbook with little in the way of checks and balances, while American citizens are subjected to all manner of indignities and violations with little hope of defending themselves. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age, let's call it the age of authoritarianism.
with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and
government has become America's new normal. Don't believe me? Let me take you
on a brief guided tour, but prepare yourself: the landscape is particularly
disheartening to anyone who remembers what America used to be.
The Executive Branch: Whether it's the
Obama administration's crackdown on whistleblowers, the systematic surveillance
of journalists and regular citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay,
or the occupation of Afghanistan, Barack Obama has surpassed his predecessors
in terms of his abuse of the Constitution and the rule of law. Despite his
prior stint as a professor of constitutional law, President Obama, like many of
his predecessors, has routinely disregarded the Constitution when it has suited
his purposes, operating largely above the law and behind a veil of secrecy and
specious legal justifications.
Drone Strikes on American Citizens: For almost two
years, the United States government has been targeting American citizens abroad
for death by drone, with at least four American citizens assassinated by drones
outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. These assassinations of individuals
entitled to the full protection of the Constitution have been carried out
without any due process whatsoever--no charges detailing their alleged
wrongdoings were brought before them, no trial was conducted to determine their
guilt or innocence, and no convictions of guilt were found. Obama has also gone
to great lengths to give the impression that the drone assassination program is
a carefully controlled, highly selective process, within the bounds of the rule
of law. Yet when hundreds of individuals, innocent women and children among
them, are being killed as a result of these drone strikes, clearly the process
is far from controlled or selective. These "signature strikes," which involve
targeting groups of unknown men who resemble al-Qaeda members, are the
equivalent of bombing a fraternity house because there are young men inside who
may be up to no good. It is a practice that is inhumane, immoral and illegal,
and no amount of legal parsing or political whitewashing will remove this particular
photo of drone prop used at protest against the planned opening of a Drone Command Center at WIllow Grove Naval Air Base
(Image by Rob Kall) Permission Details DMCA
photo of drone prop used at protest against the planned opening of a Drone Command Center at WIllow Grove Naval Air Base by Rob Kall
Expanding the War on Terror: Although Obama insists
he has no intention of continuing the wars in which the United States is embroiled,
administration officials are sending an altogether different message--namely,
that America's engagement in the ongoing war on terror spans the entire globe. At
a recent congressional hearing, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of
defense for special operations, cited the Authorization to Use Military Force
(AUMF) law as justification for the administration's ability to send American
troops to places such as Yemen and the Congo without first seeking
congressional authorization. Sheehan also asserted that the United States
conflict with al-Qaeda will last for another ten or twenty years. As Senator Angus
King (I-Maine) remarked to Sheehan: "You guys have essentially rewritten the
Constitution here today... I don't disagree that we need to fight terrorism.
But we need to do it in a constitutionally sound way."
Law Enforcement: By and large the term
"law enforcement" encompasses all agents within a militarized police state,
including the military, the police, and the various agencies such as the Secret
Service, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Having been given the green light to probe, poke,
pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit
in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts,
America's law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people
entrusted with keeping the peace, are part of an elite ruling class dependent
on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and
enemies rather than citizens.
The Legislative Branch: It is not overstating matters to say that
Congress may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in
America. Abuses of office run the gamut from elected representatives neglecting
their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the
misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal
contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having
inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely
disclosing financial information. Pork barrel spending, hastily passed
legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic, graft and moral turpitude
have all contributed to the public's increasing dissatisfaction with
congressional leadership. Thus, it is little wonder that a recent Gallup poll
shows Congress with a 79 percent disapproval rating.
The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court
was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the
people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds.
Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over
freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and
expediency, the justices of the United States Supreme Court have become the
architects of the American police state in which we now live. As a result,
sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism
and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized
and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests.
A Suspect Society: Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Making matters worse are Terrorism Liaison Officers (firefighters, police officers, and even corporate employees) who have been trained to spy on their fellow citizens and report "suspicious activity," which includes taking pictures with no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements and drawings, taking notes, conversing in code, espousing radical beliefs and buying items in bulk. TLOs report back to "fusion centers," which are a driving force behind the government's quest to collect, analyze, and disseminate information on American citizens.
haven't even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex,
SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in
the schools, overcriminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few,
but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our
freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no
doubt continue to deteriorate, unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control
of their government and reclaim their freedoms.