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Torture, Assassination, and the American Way of Life

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As most everyone knows, the
CIA has been assassinating people practically since the time it was
formed in 1947. By and large, however, the CIA kept its assassinations
secret. Americans, for their part, had a feeling that such things were
being done but didn't ask any questions.

The system was almost in the nature of a secret,
unannounced pact between the government and the people. As part of its
job to protect "national security," the government would have the
omnipotent authority to assassinate people, but it would keep its
assassinations secret from the citizenry. In that way, the citizenry
would be shielded from the unsavory things that government would be
doing in the name of "national security," and citizens wouldn't have to
concern themselves with things like conscience.

The principle, of course, has been the same with
respect to torture. For decades, the Pentagon was secretly teaching
soldiers the principles of torture, including at its infamous School of
the Americas.

Every once in a while, there would be some public
disclosure regarding the assassination program or the torture program.
For example, there was the infamous Phoenix program during the Vietnam
War, where tens of thousands of Vietnamese people were tortured or
killed. There were the CIA's repeated assassination attempts against
Cuba's president Fidel Castro. There was the discovery of the Pentagon's
torture manuals that were being used at the School of the Americas.

When such things would become public, there would
be tremendous shock within the citizenry, especially the mainstream
media. Investigations would be called. Committees would be impaneled.
Confessions and apologies and promises not do it again would issue. The
citizenry would be satisfied. Everything would return to "normal."

No one seemed to notice that through it all --
from 1947 through the present date -- the U.S. national security state
was supporting and training the intelligence and military forces of
foreign dictatorships that were brutalizing their own citizenry with
things like arbitrary arrest, torture, and assassination. Look at Latin
America, for example, where in the name of "anti-communism" and
"national security," both the CIA and the Pentagon were partnering with
and training brutal dictatorships, especially military ones. Or look at
the Middle East, where much of the same thing has been going on.

Why were the Pentagon and the CIA supporting,
training, and partnering with such dictatorships? Because they believed
in them! They honestly believed that such dictatorships were necessary
to hold back the "communist threat" and to protect the "national
security" of the United States. In fact, one of their models was the
Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile, which they helped bring into
existence, because it favored "capitalism" while, at the same time,
arresting, torturing, and killing "communists" without having to deal
with such judicial niceties as trials, due process, and the like.

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and the Pentagon
must have been envious of those foreign dictatorial regimes. After all,
such regimes could exercise their powers openly and above board. They
didn't need to hide them. In Latin America, for example, death squads
consisting of U.S.-trained soldiers and intelligence personnel were
arresting people, raping them, torturing them, and killing them or
simply assassinating them. And they were doing so openly to protect
their "national security" from the "communists."

Or consider the rendition/torture partnerships
between the U.S. government and the dictatorships in such countries as
Egypt, Syria, and Libya. There is a reason that the Pentagon and the CIA
chose those countries to torture its victims -- they're good at it, and
U.S. officials knew that there were good at it. This is especially true
in the case of Egypt, whose military and intelligence forces have long
worked closely with the U.S. national security state. Moreover, for
decades the U.S. government has helped support Egypt's military
dictatorship with billions of dollars in money and armaments.

Of course, 9/11 changed all that. No longer would
the Pentagon and the CIA have to keep secret their torture and
assassination programs. Like their counterparts in Latin America and the
Middle East, they could now be open and above board, at least with
respect to wielding such powers, if not also the exercise of them.

The Constitution, of course, does not delegate to
the federal government the powers to take people into custody, torture
and abuse them, and kill them. There is also no power to assassinate
people. In fact, the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the government
from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due
process of law, trial by jury, right to counsel, and other such
procedures. It also protects people from unreasonable searches and
seizures, especially without judicially issued warrants. It guarantees
speedy trials and prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

So, how did the CIA and the Pentagon acquire such
powers? No, there was no constitutional amendment. They simply assumed
the powers, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment.
That was the secret pact between them and the American people during the
Cold War. "We now wield these powers that the Constitution prohibits us
from exercising," U.S. officials effectively said, "but we must
exercise them to keep you safe from the communists. Don't worry: we will
exercise them secretly and surreptitiously so that it will appear that
nothing has changed in a fundamental way."

Thus, throughout the Cold War Americans continued
innocently believing that they were living in a free country, one in
which the government's powers were limited by the Constitution, even
though deep down everyone knew that the government was now secretly
wielding powers that were inherent to brutal dictatorships.

Then came 9/11, the critical event that enabled
the secret arrangement to now be made public. The Pentagon and the CIA
were now on the same level as the dictatorships that they had long
supported and trained. Like their counterparts in those regimes, they
could now be as open about their powers as their foreign dictatorships
had been. 9/11 enabled the Pentagon and the CIA to not only openly
disclose that they wielded such powers, it also enabled them to openly
exercise them without any fear or concern that they might ultimately be
held criminally liable.

For decades, Americans lived under the quaint
notion that the national-security state would exercise such powers only
against foreigners. With the arrest, torture, and assassination of
Americans in the post-9/11 era, it's finally starting to dawn on many
Americans that they stand in no different position, in principle, from
the citizenry in those U.S.-supported dictatorships in Latin America and
the Middle East.
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Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He (more...)

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