December 05, 2011

An American Citizen's Guide to Protecting Oneself from the American Government

To get right to it, the Senate, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the American penitentiary system, the American court system, and all the police departments in all the cities and states throughout this great land are insufficient to protect us from, you guessed it, terrorists. If we didn't talk about terrorists, what would we talk about? Our bankruptcy? Public approval of Congress might fall below its current 10% if they start in on that.

Now on a personal note: I'm almost as American as they come. If I trace my lineage back through four grandparents, three strands (both paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother) run very deep into the American soil. Indeed, the arrival of these ancestors from Europe is lost in the mists of time, but it was hundreds of years ago. My "people" (as my people say) have long made North America their home. I really would not know how to be anywhere else, so I feel the need to adapt, right here, to changing circumstances.

And man have those circumstances changed. I suppose the simplest way to say it is that as soon as the first jet hit the first tower at the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001, the country completely lost its mind. I don't know how else to put it. Yes, a lot of people died that day, somewhere around 3,000 souls. To put this number in perspective, about 1,100,000 (one million one hundred thousand) Americans die every year as the combined total for heart disease and cancer. If you divide that number by 365, you get the number... ~3,000. In the same way that the deaths of 9/11 were tragic for the loved ones of the victims, all of these deaths, happening every single day of the year in the same number, are tragic losses for the loved ones of the newly deceased. Yet the country goes on. The loved ones mourn, pay tribute to their lost relatives and friends, and go back to the process of living their lives. That's how life is.

So what ia it about 9/11 that has forced the United States government, and two consecutive presidents, to wage holy war not just on Terrorism, but on the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, its most important charter? Was it the existence of civil liberties and legal due process that led to the attacks of 9/11? I don't think so. I've read the Report of the 9/11 Commission, and the reasons the 19 hijackers succeeded are pretty obvious. The higher-ups at the White House, at the Immigration & Naturalization Service and at the FBI (in particular) fell down on the job. George W. Bush and Richard Cheney were totally negligent and derelict in their duty to protect the country. The field agents, particularly of the FBI and CIA, did good work. They suspected something was up, detected the mysterious presence of Arabs taking flight lessons in American schools while omitting instruction on taking off and landing, and reported it up the chain of command. But no one in the White House did anything.

With such an embarrassing breach of duty to explain away, Bush & Cheney did what politicians usually do: they created a distraction by starting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is harder to understand is why, ten years after 9/11, we're still going insane. Thus, we have the Levin/McCain bill in the Senate, which will formalize and codify the madness. Here's what it will do:

"renews the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) with more expansive language: to allow force (and military detention) against not only those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and countries which harbored them, but also anyone who “substantially supports” Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” (Sec. 1031); "
Now, when they say "anyone," they mean anyone. This law will permit the U.S. military to deal with Americans whom the President, in his discretion, designates a suspected terrorist. An American can be taken into custody by the military, detained indefinitely, sent to Guantanamo, and disappeared forever. Or an American can simply be shot dead. It is a repeal of the concept of Posse Comitatus, which used to forbid the use of the military in domestic law enforcement; indeed, the concept of "law enforcement" has actually been superseded by this bill. Realistically, was the Gestapo engaged in "law enforcement" or something else entirely?

To give you an idea of how bad all of this is (in case the above isn't bad enough), Senator Carl Levin, a co-sponsor of this bill (working with the deranged senator from Arizona, John McCain), has, I suspect, good motivations for this legislation. Under this bill, an American will at least receive the protections of a "prisoner of war," and thus be entitled to the Geneva Convention's accountability rules. An American (if he survives the initial encounter with the military in his front yard), will have the right of habeas corpus. The nebulous designations of suspected terrorists as "enemy combatants," etc., the netherworld which allows for so much extra-legal mischief, will at least be reined in somewhat. I think this is what Levin is doing; he's a guy I've generally respected, and he's probably thinking this is as good as it gets. We've arrived at the point where we allow the President simply to gun down Americans who are designated as suspected terrorists, so any kind of "formality," even something as nuts as this, is better than nothing.

Our President and former Constitutional law instructor, Barack Obama, has threatened to veto this bill. If you're deluded enough to think he would veto it because it deprives Americans of civil liberties protection, then I hate to disturb your sweet dreams, but that's not it. No, he's concerned about his "flexibility" in dealing with terrorism, and if Americans, at the very least, can claim to be "prisoners of war" then it will be harder to ship them off to black sites in torture-friendly countries to "extract actionable intelligence."

I trust this was the Change you were Hoping for. I think I'll do a Part 2 to discuss the vagueness of the actual charging elements of the new, expanded Authorization for Use of Military Force -- including Americans this time.

No comments:

Post a Comment