Martin Garbus / New York Observer – 2006-01-07 07:20:04
Police-State Powers Are Our Biggest Threat
Martin Garbus / New York Observer
(December 28, 2005) — What has happened in this country?
The Pentagon has a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (FISA). The courtroom is in a windowless room on the top floor of the Department of Justice. There are seven rotating judges. The court meets in secret, with no published opinions or public records. No one, except the FISA judge involved and the Department of Justice, knows what is done. No one, except the government and the FISA judge, knows at whom the warrants are aimed. There is no review by anyone.
Over 12,000 search warrants permitting eavesdropping, surveillance and break-ins have been sought by the government. Only once has the FISA court denied a warrant.
The FISA court has issued more warrants than the more than 1,000 district judges in the federal system.
The Pentagon has already expanded its domestic-surveillance activity beyond any previous time in history. It breaks into homes, wiretaps and eavesdrops at will, and builds secret dossiers on citizens while arguing that there can be no judicial review of its activities. President George W. Bush argues that there can be no judicial review of any decision he makes when he decides whether an alien or an American citizen is or is not an enemy combatant. Congress supports this; so does the judiciary.
The expansion of Presidential powers and the expansion of police powers is the single most important issue facing this country. It is safe to say the new Supreme Court and a majority of Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) are prepared to give Mr. Bush a blank check. On Nov. 15, Carl Levin, the liberal Democratic Senator from Michigan and an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, joined his Republican counterpart from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, in supporting legislation validating the President’s Alice-in-Wonderland legal system and the expansion of his police powers. The Senate vote was 79 to 16 in favor.
What’s more, the Patriot Act had been extended. For the last three years, the President has justified torture, and Congress will soon give him legal permission to use it.
If or when there’s another terrorist attack, the government will seek more powers, claiming that it shows current laws are inadequate. We will certainly see, as we recently saw in Britain, the head of government ask for 90-day detentions of terror suspects without access to court. The attempt to end habeas corpus started at Guantánamo; it is now spreading to the rest of America.
Five years after we opened the Guantánamo prison, not one person in that prison has been found guilty of anything.
The legal system to treat the new prisoners of the war on terror, created out of thin air, disgraces us. No one ever before suggested such a legal system-not during the Civil War, not during World War I or World War II, and not during the Cold War.
We are better than military commissions, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the Patriot Act and “rendition”-the sending of prisoners overseas to be tortured at C.I.A.-controlled prisons.
This country is approaching a dangerous turning point. There has long been a desire and a political movement in America for restrictions on democratic rights, for an authoritarian government propelled by a combination of religious and nationalistic fervor. The helplessness caused by the events of Sept. 11 and the domestic and international war against Muslim “terrorists” deepened this desire. Never before was there such a possibility of such long-term constitutional violations, because there has never before been such an open-ended war.
In Weimar Germany, a feeling of helplessness led to Hitler’s rise and the creation of the ultimate police state. There are similarities-and, of course, very significant differences-between America in the 21st century and Germany in the 1920’s.
Mr. Bush has suggested that he was chosen by God to lead the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The Nazi government, against religion, saw the salvation of the German people in messianic terms.
Many liberals and conservatives are concerned where all of this might lead. Professor Fritz Stern, a professor of German studies at Columbia University, pointed out that Hitler saw himself as “the instrument of providence” who fused his “racial dogma with Germanic Christianity.” Paul Craig Roberts, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former Wall Street Journal editor, writes of the “brownshirting” of American conservatism-he says the hype about terrorism serves little or “no purpose other than to build a police state that is far more dangerous to Americans than terrorists.”
The pressure for fascism comes not just from the top. Without the people’s support, the Weimar government would not have been overthrown.
The change here is incremental and harder to see.
How we conduct the “war on terror” tells the American people who we are and what this country stands for. America has the oldest and most dynamic democracy in the world. It can right itself if the people want it bad enough to fight harder.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Big Brother Is Watching
(December 23, 2005) — It took 21 years longer than expected, but the future has finally arrived. And we don’t like it. Not one bit.
We are fighting a war with no end to create a peace with no defined victory.
We occupy a foreign land that doesn’t want us, while at home our civil liberties are discounted.
We are told that it’s better not to know what our government is doing in our name, for security purposes. Meanwhile, our government is becoming omnipresent, spying on us whenever it deems it necessary.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
George Orwell was right after all.
In 1949, Orwell penned “1984,” a dark, futuristic satire in which the totalitarian government used indoctrination, propaganda and fear to enforce order and conformity. His “Big Brother” – the face of this all-knowing regime – was never wrong, and to make sure of it, history was constantly being rewritten.
Orwell wrote his book as a cautionary tale to underscore the insidious danger of slowly eroded individual liberties. His Thought Police may not yet be on the march, but it’s not hyperbole to point out the eerie parallels with today’s America.
In America today, Big Brother is watching.
He’s watching because President Bush told him to. Shortly after 9/11, Bush secretly authorized warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens making or receiving international calls and e-mails.
When it comes to fighting terror, Bush is totalitarian – remember, you’re either with us or against us. Trust me to get it right, he says. Debate on the law is not only not needed, it’s evil.
“An open debate about the law would say to the enemy, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.'” Bush said recently. “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.”
Then there’s the Patriot Act, also created in the days immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate and House of Representatives voted Thursday to extend the law by a month. President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insist it’s an indispensable tool in the war on terror and want it extended permanently.
“I’m as concerned about the privacy of American citizens as anyone, but we cannot allow libraries and use of libraries to become safe havens for terrorists,” Gonzales said in July, defending one of the act’s most controversial provisions.
Remember, too, that we invaded Iraq primarily because we were told Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat with his weapons of mass destruction. Now the Bush administration acknowledges that wasn’t so, but insists there were (are?) other reasons to invade. History is malleable.
Orwell wrote of war without end; we’re told the war on terror will last decades at least. Orwell wrote of a dumbed-down “Newspeak,” and who could argue that our national discourse hasn’t slumped? Orwell’s “Ministry of Love” tortured dissidents real or imagined; our government decries Iraq’s secret torture prisons while arguing over whether to ban torture. Meanwhile, we maintain our own secret CIA prisons.
Bush is unapologetic. The president believes he has the legal authority to spy on American citizens without a warrant, and he plans to continue to reauthorize the program “for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.” But when the enemy is poorly defined, who determines when the threat is over? In this case, the same government that secretly taps our phones.
Turns out the truth is no stranger than fiction.
We think it’s time for Congress to heed the warning of George Orwell.
To that end, we’re asking for your help: Mail us or drop off your tattered copies of “1984.” When we get 537 of them, we’ll send them to every member of the House of Representatives and Senate and to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Feel free to inscribe the book with a note, reminding these fine people that we Americans take the threat to our liberties seriously. Remind Congress that it makes no sense to fight a war for democracy in a foreign land while allowing our democratic principles to erode at home.
Remind President Bush that ours is a country of checks and balances, not unbridled power.
Perhaps our nation’s leaders can find some truth in this fiction and more carefully ponder the road we’re traveling.
Oakland Tribune, 401 13th St., Oakland CA 94612.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.