December 06, 2011

An American Citizen's Guide to Protecting Oneself from the American Government, Part 2

"When the government fears the people, there is democracy. When the people fear their government, there is tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson.

(Just as an aside: if the current crop of politicians, the ones sporting a sub-10% approval rating with their own electorate, had been in power in 1776, does anyone have any doubt we would all still be enjoying high tea at 4 pm, riding to hounds and saying things like, "Jolly good!" ?)

But now on to the exciting caffeine-driven conclusion: Yesterday we were considering the Senate's decision (by the way, I'm talking about the Senate with the Democratic majority, where no legislation can pass without the enthusiastic support of these great "liberals") to turn the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001, the one used to retaliate against an Egyptian, 15 Saudis, a guy from the UAE, and a couple of other non-Afghan Arabs, by invading, logically enough, Afghanistan - that piece of legislation passed in a fevered rush in that mangled autumn of 2001 - into an authorization to use this same military force right here at home, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Including Americans, because now the "whole world is a battlefield." Thus raising an interesting question or two, such as, how did a President who signed an order fast-tracking the closure of Guantanamo as his first order of business turn into a leader who is enthusiastic about using Guantanamo as a prison for his own people?

Anyway, while they were at it, "broadening the scope" of the AUMF, the Senators, including those liberal Democrats, decided to upgrade the kind of people we ought to use military force against. Well, here we go:

"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); "
As we said yesterday, in fact. Now, I'm a lawyer, so I'll let you in on a little secret, a trick of the trade: lawyers read statutes carefully. Every little nook and cranny might come in handy in an argument. Everything might turn on the use and meaning of one little phrase, artfully deployed. So when I read language such as that last sentence, my mind begins by seeing how far you can extend the meaning while still observing the intent of the legislation. And when you do that, where you wind up is an "enemy of the state" under this expanded AUMF is anyone, including an American, who "substantially supports" a force "associated" with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. It behooves us all to figure out what this sloppy language just might mean, because while travel restrictions to Cuba are still in force, there are exceptions for certain circumstances.

Now, what does "substantially support" mean? And what is a "force" "associated" with Al Qaeda or the Taliban? Not to sound too paranoid, but if a SEAL team shows up in your living room at three a.m., you might want to have a tentative answer on the tip of your tongue. Let us take an example: let's say that you are concerned about all of the Iraqis displaced in the period between 2003 and 2011, the millions exiled or forced out of their homes by the civil war that broke out as the result of the American invasion. You decide to give to a charitable organization named Dar Es Salaam (House of Peace), which putatively provides aid to Iraqi orphans.

Okay, stop right there. I wouldn't do that if I were you. These charities are notorious for operating as funding mechanisms for Al Qaeda. Or so I've read. In fact, if I were you, I would stop giving to charities altogether. Okay, maybe the March of Dimes, or something recommended by Nancy Reagan. But that's it. Nothing with a funny sounding name. Generally speaking, criminal statutes are supposed to be kind of specific, so you are forewarned if you're going off the rails, but "substantially supporting" something "associated with" something else, when none of these terms gets defined, does not comport with this general rule, and the consequences of being wrong could be pretty dire.

How about simple dissent? Suppose you're in a conversation (or, God help me, write a blog) in which you describe your opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Does that "substantially support" the Taliban? In regimes such as the Soviet Union and in Nazi Germany, dissent itself was criminalized, and you can imagine how far you would get splitting hairs about whether your support was "substantial" or not. The truth of the matter is that is how police states work. You don't know whether you have any rights or not, because the system has moved from one where the laws are clear and well-defined to one where we allow individuals, such as the President, to determine unilaterally who is and who is not an enemy of the State. Whether you become a target of the U.S. military, with its new mission, probably depends less on what you have done than on whether you have drawn attention to yourself, because we have eliminated due process. The accusation is the same as a conclusive finding of guilt. That is what is meant by "indefinite detention" without trial.

We have arrived here by a very strange path, but arrived here we have. The spirited opposition to this AUMF expansion was led by Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. He actually wanted to repeal the AUMF for Iraq altogether, given that its mission of eliminating Saddam's weapons of mass destruction had already succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The liberal Democrats were having none of that. I just throw that out there in the hopes of clarifying your voting tendencies.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud3:02 PM

    The problem with allowing this type of legislation is that government, as history has shown over and over, is not an innate moral entity. When legislation is passed, as you state, with subjective words, such as "substantial" or even "terrorist," nobody is safe. Pretty soon, with all the insane political correctness, Christians, such as myself, will be considered problematic. We need to remember that government is not God, although certain elements in our society want to make government God.