"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin FranklinSince 9/11, the federal government has set one legal precedent after another abrogating individual rights in the name of fighting "terrorism." With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the passage of the Orwellian "Patriot" Act, FISA courts and the like by the Bush administration, the federal government erected the foundation, both legally and practically, for the creation of a vast police state.
Under the Obama administration, this dangerous trend has only gotten worse.
In 2011, I blogged about the National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA"), which authorizes the arrest and indefinite detention of Americans without due process. In 2010, I blogged about a Washington Post expose on a vast "alternative geography" of top secret governmental efforts to control the internet and to monitor and control the flow of ideas. In the wake of fear unleashed by the events of 9/11, the American public has largely acceded to these violations under the illogical and unprincipled premise that these unconstitutional powers would only be applied to so-called "terrorists" - not to them.
Well, if you ever worried that burgeoning government power erected on the basis of non-objective, arbitrary laws could somehow go awry, then you were onto something.
The latest example comes in the form of a Justice Department white paper which argues for the "extrajudicial killing" of certain American citizens as long as they can be deemed to be "continuing threats." In a recent blog post, Jameel Jaffer, the depuy legal director of the ACLU, writes:
The paper's basic contention is that the government has the authority to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen if "an informed, high-level official" deems him to present a "continuing" threat to the country. This sweeping authority is said to exist even if the threat presented isn't imminent in any ordinary sense of that word, even if the target has never been charged with a crime or informed of the allegations against him, and even if the target is not located anywhere near an actual battlefield. The white paper purports to recognize some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are so vague and elastic that they will be easily manipulated.
Jaffer rightfully concludes that such a power is so broad and vague, that it gives the government essentially unlimited power to kill whomever it chooses. He writes:
....My initial reaction is that the paper only underscores the irresponsible extravagance of the government's central claim. Even if the Obama administration is convinced of its own fundamental trustworthiness, the power this white paper sets out will be available to every future president—and every "informed high-level official" (!)—in every future conflict. As I said to Isikoff, that's truly a chilling thought.So what exactly is a terrorist and how exactly could we be sure that an "informed, high-level official" will recognize one before he decides to kill him? We all seem to think that it is a guy with a bomb strapped to his back standing in Times Square with his finger on the detonator. Fair. But once the concept of "imminence" is eliminated, what exactly are we talking about? Is a "threat" someone who is actively plotting an attack, or, is it simply someone who criticizes the government or is "suspicious" of centralized authority as recent DHS memo classified "right wing extremists?"
As the government blurs the line between someone imminently engaged in violent action and someone who intellectually opposes government policy, at what point could anyone who affiliates with the Tea Party, believes in constitutional government, or defends the second amendment be considered a potential "terrorist" subject to inclusion on a kill list? And, if your not worried about Obama's people, what about the next administration of "informed, high-level officials?" What will their definition be? What will it be in twenty years?
As I have argued in the past, given the legal traditions and relative freedom of Americans over the past two centuries, it is unlikely that America would devolve into a fascist dictatorship overnight. However, America has been philosophically ripened for fascism over the past century as a result of modern philosophy's assault on reason. These trends have eroded the intellectual ability to think in principle and for most to judge the actions of the government from the perspective of morality and individual rights. This reckless disregard of the rule of law and individual rights has already strangled the economic sphere. Now, theory is meeting practice in another way. Dating back to the Bush administration, there clearly is a pattern of policies that use the specter of "terrorism" as a blanket justification for a pyramiding escalation of rights violations and more broadly, the overthrow of the Constitution and the rule of law.
Chilling thought indeed.