America Is Losing The Mantle of Liberty
Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley has a nice piece in this Sunday’s Washington Post on an issue most American’s really aren’t paying attention to.
- Assassination of U.S. citizens – Obama has affirmed the right to assassinate any US citizen he feels is in league with terrorists. Really.
- Indefinite detention – Under the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act, the president has the right to indefinately detain American citizens that are accused of terrorism.
- 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 – Companies and organizations can be compelled to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations, including searches of library records, through the use of “national security letters” which require no probable cause and no requirement that the subject of the search receive any notification whatsoever.
- Secret evidence – Used to detain and try the accused in military tribunals. Taking the additional step of classifying evidence, “…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 – In 2009 the Obama Administration gave blanket immunity to CIA agents who waterboarded detainees. “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.”
- Secret court – Being used increasingly, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court‘s jurisdiction has been extend to include searches of people not associated with known terrorist groups, and is not restricted by Congressional limits on surveillance.
- 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.”
- Continual monitoring of citizens – The government can use GPS devices to track a target’s movements without any intervention from a court.
- Extraordinary renditions – Essentially, the US can send any citizen or non-citizen to other countries to avoid our pesky bans on torture. “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.”
Each point is punctuated with a blurb about how each of these policies tracks nicely with such paragons of human rights as China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Syria.
Turley takes politicians to task for helping to create all the makings of an Orwellian police-state:
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.”
Ironically, many of these powers were extremely popular following 9/11, cheered and promoted by the very people who now fear that Obama is a Socialist dictator.
Time will tell if American will come its senses, but for the time being, our reputation as a shining example of liberty and freedom is tarnished.
- One year after FBI subpoena, civil liberties protections in US frighteningly eroded even further (alethonews.wordpress.com)
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