Read it and weep


10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free

By Jonathan Turley

Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While the administration claims that this provision only codified existing law, experts widely contest this view, and the administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal courts. The government continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

Immunity from judicial review

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy. (Similarly, China has maintained sweeping immunity claims both inside and outside the country and routinely blocks lawsuits against private companies.)

Continual monitoring of citizens

The Obama administration has successfully defended its claim that it can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review. (Saudi Arabia has installed massive public surveillance systems, while Cuba is notorious for active monitoring of selected citizens.)

Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

How an article of clothing brings out the worse in US


What’s the difference between this and that?  What are we told should be our reaction to the image on the right versus the image on the left?  Mankind has been struggling with women’s sexuality since the beginning of time and inevitably we end up objectifying women either as objects of pleasure or revulsion, yet legally speaking, in most western democracies women were allowed the freedom to choose what they could wear and we as a society were told to respect that choice or face legal consequences for our indiscretion.  You will not find one politician who will claim the woman on the right has an ulterior motive to subvert the American way of life by wearing such an outfit in public, yet women who appear as the image on the left we are told want to impose a way of life on us that is akin to the terrorist attacks of 911 and therefore the weight of the law should be brought to bear against them…..not their detractors.  Raising the cry of No Sharia, politicians, pundits and the general public alike have likened such an article of clothing as an act of sedition.  In fact, too many societies in the West are even deciding to remove the right of women to choose what they, women, want to wear or what they should do with their bodies or the bodies that grow inside their bodies.  Legally, no woman is responsible for the inappropriate behavior of a male  towards her if she appeared as the image on the right.  Rape, a crime of violence is rarely if ever excused because the attacker gave in to an uncontrollable desire to ravage a woman’s body because she was wearing clothing that excited him.  As a society, we’ve come to accept the notion that regardless how a woman may appear, we are not to infringe on her ability to appear that way or punish her with our male notions of how we can behave as a result, yet far too many people feel compelled to punish women who wear niqab, either by restricting their right to wear it or denying them access in society.

Authorities have given in to their uncontrollable desire to assault the body of women who choose to wear the niqaab with the full weight of a government that has ingrained in its law freedom of religious and personal expression by removing the freedom or right to those that offend government.   The silence of an American public so beat up with the fear of Muslims and Islam is more than deafening, its complicit.  That no one can see the charade of charlatans who invent an object of fear and then say the only way it can be dealt with is to undo the fundamental precepts on which this country were built in order to make people feel comfortable is not only an absurd notion but highly treasonous.  After more than a decade of intense fear mongering which has produced not one scintilla of an outcome we were told was inevitable, more straw dogs, like the niqab, have been erected to convince a weary public that more needs to be done to assuage their fear and rid us of a menace.  Yet, what we’re being rid of is a woman’s right to choose how she wants to behave in this society. This battle is being fought by Muslim women, pregnant women, teenaged women, of all races and ethnic backgrounds.  They should join one another in standing against a trend that can only lead to them losing control of how they define themselves.  Ours should not be a society that fears or objectifies women.

Spineless


, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

Image via Wikipedia

Rick Santorum is another one of the GOP candidates for president who should be roundly and openly “refudiated” for lacking the moral courage to confront and correct a lie when given the opportunity.  You can read about his cowardly approach to a questioner’s assertion that President Obama is a “Muslim” here. The article goes on to say even John McCain corrected someone when faced with a similar situation during the 2008 campaign, but Santorum chose to play to the fear of the crowd and let the statement go unanswered.  His even lamer excuse that it’s not his responsibility to correct every misguided claim only leads one to wonder if elected how would he address lies that affect the national interest.  Would he be as pusillanimous with them as well?  Would he lead the country into war because he is unable to correct mistaken notions about adversaries, or believe that the people on the other end of the lie  should be thick skinned enough to withstand US military intervention?  America, these are the choices the GOP has presented us;  the likes of people who aspire to be our leaders and lead based on racial animosity, loathing, hatred, and fear.  Perhaps the GOP has become irrelevant to the life of this Nation….perhaps it’s time to “refudiate” the entire Party of people who want to take the country in this direction.  Then of course, there’s Ron Paul……..

Gingrich is back to divisive politics


English: Former U.S. Representative and Speake...

Image via Wikipedia

Newt Gingrich has been reported to have said

I think we need to have a government that respects our religions. I’m a little bit tired of being lectured about respecting every other religion on the planet. I’d like him(Obama) to respect our religion.

This is typical Gingrich cowardice, appearing before a crowd that wants to be pandered too, making divisive and inflammatory remarks to appeal to the very basic instinct of his constituents. Nothing lofty or inspiring about Gingrich during this campaign.

One just has to ask, what religion of his does Gingrich want respected.  First off, let’s eliminate Islam.  It’s not one of the religions he thinks government should respect, even though he spoke in the plural. It should be…it’s one of the many religions that inhabit our shores, but Gingrich doesn’t think it necessarily belongs here and he’s been quite provocative in saying so…likening Muslims to Nazis, promoting the idea that Islamic religious places of worship and where they are built should be determined by the government, that a liberal establishment favors Islam over Christianity, thereby trying to minimize Christian influence while inflating or insuring Muslim domination, etc.  Of course all of this is an indirect reference to Obama’s questionable, in the mind of the Tea Party member, ancestry or origin.  In other words, Gingrich is playing the race card; he’s pandering to the racial and religious prejudices of a certain segment of the population in order to gain political power and or influence.  That’s also known as demagoguery, which has become a staple of the GOP stable in this new epoch.

But Gingrich is also guilty of an even more perverse hypocrisy involving his own Christian faith.  He was raised Lutheran, then became a Southern Baptist in his rise to political power as a congressman for the state of Georgia, and finally upon marrying his third wife  became Roman Catholic.  In other words in his lifetime, Gingrich has embraced three different faith communities while aspiring to become the GOP nominee for president.  In fact, wife #2 asserts his latest conversion is just another attempt at social and political climbing, which also speaks volumes for Gingrich’s sincerity when talking about faith or even public policy. Which one of those “our” religion from the quote above is  Gingrich’s?  Obviously that question is not to be considered. America has been warned repeatedly by people within Gingrich’s sphere of politics, family members, colleagues and pundits of his sinister behavior and duplicity. Let’s hope the repudiation of the Florida electorate to this chameleon is the beginning of the end for his campaign.

How NOT to conduct an interview


Too many in journalism, and especially electronic journalism, think being rude, offensive, is synonymous with ‘hard hitting’.  However, sometimes such behavior on the part of the interviewer might backfire.  Take this interview between CBC’s Kevin O’Leary and Chris Hedges.  O’Leary crossed the line of journalist and tried to become a bully, a la Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly or some of the kind you find on the likes of Fox News, but Hedges was having none of it. He not only replied directly to O’Leary’s crude and crass insults but he then went on to give an eloquent description of the financial crisis happening in America, contrasted that with what is going on in Canada, referred to a Canadian writer that the hosts of the CBC should have been familiar with but probably weren’t and then concluded with how he won’t appear on that program again.  That would be Canada’s loss if he were not to appear again, and so reacting to not only Hedges’ outrage but that of its viewers, CBC’s ombudsman issued a quick apology for O’Leary’s boorish behavior, saying in part

This Office and CBC News received hundreds of comments, many of them demanding an apology and some demanding that O’Leary be fired for suggesting Hedges was a ‘left-wing nutbar…..There is room at the inn for a range of views, but there is no room for name-calling a guest……O’Leary might have been genuinely curious about Hedges’s views, but his opening salvo only fed contempt, which breached policy.

It’s comforting to see that there are some in the news business that not only have standards but hold their staffs to them; something sorely lacking in most major American media outlets.  O’Leary was clearly outclassed and picked a fight with the wrong person.  Hedges and the Canadian viewing public are owed an apology.